This article is cross-posted from my class blog, Spring 2012.
Reading through what the U.S. Department of Education considers the direction that we should be heading with the use of technology to aid in student assessment, I am reminded of just how far we still have to go with technological advancements in this country. The article justifiably puts a heavy emphasis on using technology to feed formative assessment, and not simply streamline summative assessments. In my own personal experience and observations (granted, a couple of years outdated), schools are greatly improving if not excelling in the use of technology in summative assessments, but are either not progressing or completely lacking in formative assessment technology. I’ve seen many a math test software and online science projects, and I’ve seen lots of English blogs and history video projects. What I have not seen much of is the use of technology in everyday classroom use to inform the teacher of student understanding or achievement gaps in near real-time to provide feedback to the teacher or learner and direct instruction.
In some bizarre way, it almost seems as though our schools have gone backwards in this way. When I was in elementary school, there was little or no summative assessments performed using any technology other than a pencil (maybe a calculator if we were lucky). However, we used computers–in a lab, mind you–on a fairly frequent basis that allowed our teachers to see gaps in our understanding of basic learning principles (math drills, logic puzzles, etc.). While these assessments were very basic, often cumbersome, and definitely not real-time (for the teacher, anyways), they were indeed formative assessments that aided the teacher in finding those gaps in understanding. These simple computer games (let’s call them what they were) were such a far cry from what is available to today’s students; as the US DoE put it, “Technology makes it possible to assess students by asking them to design products or experiments, to manipulate parameters, run tests, record data, and graph and describe their results.”
As I’m not currently teaching or working in a school, I will only be able to speak from my observations and memories from when I was in that situation. The five action items that the Department of Education outlined at the end of its article in many ways can be seen as “yet another thing that schools have to do to comply with public education mandates,” but in my opinion these items actually have the potential to effect the most change in the types of students our schools produce.
Item 2.1, regarding technology providing teachers with “timely feedback” that can be used to drive instruction, is very lackluster in our schools. Whether it is a lack of resources or a lack of professional development is a discussion for another time, but a large majority of what technology is used for in schools today are summative assessments and major end-of-the-unit projects, not day-to-day formative assessment. Item 2.2 feeds into that one, insisting that resource be made available to produce both formative and summative assessment technology solutions. I feel that schools are making headway in this area, though in many cases, financial and human resources may end up being “thrown” at projects without much data behind the development.
Item 2.3, for research and development of the use of virtual worlds and educational games in assessment, is the item where most (if not all) schools are by far the most deficient. There is a high cost involved with this action item, and likely not enough experts to aid in the development part, so it is easy to understand why most schools would neglect or avoid this area.
Items 2.4 and 2.5, addressing assistive technologies and privacy concerns, respectively, are the two areas that many schools are actually progressing or even excelling. Even twelve years ago when I was first working on my Masters degree, assistive technology in use during assessments was relatively common. Likely the reasons for the advancements in these areas are legal mandates such as FERPA or lawsuits brought about by the ADA. Schools have responded to these action items out of necessity rather than out of a desire to improve the quality of education.
Ryan Corcoran (2012)
Featured image by Jerry Bunkers, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons 2.0.