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Why Technology-Based Assessments Fill an Important Role in Instruction

Assessments get a bad rap, but they're as critical as instruction tools.

by / January 20, 2016
Tests are an important tool in educators' arsenal. Photo by Andy Rennle/Flickr CC 2.0

We live in an age of assessment in education. One of my friends -- who happens to be a vice president of a large banking institution -- loves to post about the paradox of assessment. We need to know how students are learning and if they are mastering concepts and skills, and we often use that information to determine teacher effectiveness. Though assessment has become a high-stake component of education, it hasn’t always been that way. But in its most basic form, assessment is part of good instruction -- and technology offers teachers quick and efficient ways to incorporate assessment into instruction.

With the move to online testing, technology, of course, plays an integral part of high stake assessments -- which were designed to provide more immediate feedback to educators so that accommodations and learning strategies could be designed for the following year. As a district administrator, I reviewed assessment data to identify gaps in curriculum and instruction, and then designed professional development to attend to these gaps. As a technology director, I would look for hardware and software solutions that could help teachers and students. But high stake assessment is typically summative, and little can be done to recover from these gaps that have accumulated over the course of a year. The best form of assessment is formative -- an iterative assessment woven into instruction to check for understanding. Technology solutions offer tremendous possibilities for formative assessment.

Hardware solutions for formative assessment include the clicker systems incorporated into so many interactive whiteboard solutions. These typically allow an entire class to see graphs and charts of students' understanding. This works well on a few levels, namely that teachers can quickly assess whether the class is understanding the concepts and skills being presented, and that the class can view charts and graphs and offer interpretations throughout the day, thus providing practice in math on a regular basis.

Software solutions for formative assessment are numerous. When looking for software, be sure to review for the integrated assessment components. Quick formative assessments should be incorporated throughout delivery of the content. In many pieces of software, the assessments appear in game form so students don’t even realize they're encountering an assessment. This helps tremendously with test anxiety. The formative assessments shouldn’t be long or extensive, and they should cover material presented within five to 10 minutes of encountering the assessment. Some assessment items will include recent and contextual content presented in another module of the software, or content considered foundational to the concept being presented. Most software companies will provide examples of assessment items on their website, but if they don’t, make sure you see the test items prior to purchasing.

Using formative assessment hardware and software in classrooms increases teacher efficiency in diagnosing mastery and enables instructors to have a greater knowledge of learner deficiencies when working with students individually.

In K-12, formative assessment solutions (hardware and software) are bountiful whereas in higher education, they are typically incorporated into the adopted text. That said, many college professors are using interactive formative assessment tools in which students use their cell phones as clickers or selection devices to report general understanding. Formative assessment tools are not only informative to instruction, but also can be very engaging for the learner.


Kecia Ray Contributing Writer

Kecia leads the Center for Digital Education's efforts to bring together thought leaders in education. She is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and lives in the Greater Nashville area with her husband Dr. Clark Ray and their son Wes. 

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