Digital Assessments Lagging in K-12

SIIA LogoWe’ve been discussing assessment technologies in my EdTec 685 class this summer, and one of this week’s Top News Stories on eSchoolNews notes how schools are falling short in using digital assessments to target instructional needs. According to a July 1 report from the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), “K-12 schools in particular are focusing primarily on mandated testing procedures, which require that every student take the same test, instead of using computer-based adaptive testing, which can provide a much more detailed view of a student’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The results from SIIA’s report stemmed from its “Vision for K-20 Education Initiative” which calls for every K-20 institution, by the end of the decade, to use technology and eLearning to increase student engagement and achievement; provide equity and access to new learning opportunities; document and track student performance; empower collaborative learning communities; maximize teaching and administrative effectiveness; and build student proficiencies in 21st-century skills.

Within K-12 education, there seemingly has been a “that’s the way it’s always been done” approach or mentality with regard to assessing student learning. Stiggins (2003) notes that “educators still assess student learning the way their predecessors did 60 years ago because they have not been given the opportunity to learn about new insights and practices.” In its current form, I definitely think there has been too much emphasis on the role of summative assessments (based on standardized test scores); albeit, as a consequence of NCLB. Last year, Congress attempted to pass a rewritten version of NCLB with an emphasis on college and workforce preparedness, 21st century skills, and the use of data to inform instruction. It is this latter component that would offer greater flexibility in assessing and measuring school and student progress, especially for special needs and ESL students. Furthermore, it would allow states the freedom to use more than a single test for accountability purposes, to consider more than just reading and math test scores, and to include students’ growth over time in their definition of Adequate Yearly Progress. For ESL students, it would attempt to measure how well they are doing at acquiring language skills, and not just judging them on standard reading tests.

These reform efforts would allow truly more individualized instruction AND (formative) assessment. While it’s important to establish a baseline of how students have done within a given subject, it is equally important to understand how they are doing currently – even more so, though, is to understand a way to close the gap between the two. This allows the teacher to provide intervention (not the test itself) to improve student learning. Assessment then becomes a part of instruction and not as something perceived as testing that takes time away from instruction.