The days of giving students tests on paper are coming to an end. More educators are exploring assessment options using students’ 1:1 devices to streamline the assessment process. To save teachers time and effort, some content providers have expanded their platforms to provide users with pre-built assessments, assignments, and activities designed to personalize learning by increasing the frequency of assessments. Here, two classroom teachers discuss how they are making the transition from bubble tests to built-in formative assessment.
Jeanette Bratcher, 6-8th Grade Math and Science Educator St. John’s Academy (FL)
Looking back at my 20 years in the classroom, I’ve seen assessments transform from traditional paper and pencil, to student portfolios, and now to interactive assessments. Instead of having folders and three-ring binders filled with students’ work, today’s digital platforms and virtual grade books allow us to collect this same information with less hassle. In today’s 1:1 classroom environments, I’m able to use student devices to assess classes immediately and focus my lesson on their level of understanding.
I’ve found a variety of digital tools to easily assess my students. Plickers allows me to send out polls to students’ 1:1 devices and get immediate results. Using the results of the poll, I can instantly gauge if students understand a concept. If they do, I move on. If they don’t understand, I can immediately review that material or present it in a different and more understandable manner prior to the formal assessment.
Another interactive assessment I plan to start using this year is through Kids Discover Online. It’s even easier than Plickers, in the sense that I can choose from a variety of preset questions or include my own, and have students complete the assessment on their own time. Kids Discover offers a wide array of interactive nonfiction material that I use to supplement our science curriculum. I can use the platform for whole-class instruction, or assign individual readings and assignments for students to complete in class or at home.
Since interactive assessments yield immediate results, I look forward to assessing students and providing faster feedback, enabling them to focus on areas of weakness. Students sometimes ask if they can retake a quiz or test they did not do well on. If it were a paper test, I would have to redesign the questions, which is time-consuming. With a digital platform, I can choose similar questions or change the style of the question, and allow the student to retake the assessment with a faster turn-around time.
When searching for a digital assessment platform, I have learned to look for a few core features.
Having a wide array of pre-built questions readily available reduces prep time and makes it easy to choose only the most relevant questions for the lessons. In platforms like Kids Discover Online, I’m able to choose from more than 5,000 discussion prompts, multiple choice, short answer, or true/false questions aligned with classroom content.
While pre-built assessments provide a great starting point, customization is an essential feature when creating in-platform assessments. Instead of building assessments from scratch, I can spend my time adding custom questions, changing the wording of existing questions, or adjusting the format to fit the needs of my students and lessons.
Receiving immediate results is the key to providing instant feedback for students to focus on the areas they need to improve. With Kids Discover, I can create an answer key so that, as students take the assessment, the platform automatically grades the work and presents the information in a clean, easy-to-analyze format.
Frequent assessments encourage active learning.
I believe assessments encourage active learning. Students should be assessed in a variety of ways throughout the week to bring value to their assignments. If a student doesn’t see value, they tend to disengage from the learning process. For example, in my math and science classes, students are assessed through daily homework assignments, in-class exercises, note-taking, and mini and weekly quizzes.
These daily and weekly assessments encourage active learning and prepare students for the larger and more formal cumulative tests. I typically give summative or project-based assessments after longer units, either monthly or bi-quarterly. Offering students a variety of quizzes prior to the cumulative test helps students to evaluate themselves and determine their weaknesses in order to focus their studies.
Tracy Cantrell, Gifted Language Arts Educator Snelson-Golden Middle School (GA)
When I first started as an educator, digital assessments simply did not exist—and we didn’t think they would for a very long time. I remember using teacher-prompted and teacher-graded curriculum materials to assess students. This was only done at the end of a unit or semester.
With digital assessment tools and 1:1 devices, we now have the luxury of assessing our students every day if we want. More frequent assessments allow us to get to know our students better and provide a more personalized learning experience customized to fit their needs. On the flip side, students also benefit from more frequent assessments because they take pride in their ability to monitor growth and progress on their own.
Assessments at the Students’ Fingertips
Tracking literacy rates is extremely important to make sure students are reading at grade level, meeting standards, and on the path to graduation. My students read every morning for 25 to 30 minutes. It is important for them to see reading as part of every school day— not just something to do in their spare time. During their quiet reading time, I take the opportunity to meet with students one-on-one to discuss their reading progress, Lexile® scores, and overall learning goals.
We use myON’s digital literacy environment to assess students’ literacy levels. The platform offers quizzes at the end of each book and frequent in-platform Lexile assessments to give me a snapshot of each student’s ability level. As time goes on, students are prompted to take Lexile assessments after a certain number of hours or books read, allowing me to have a clear look at each student’s improvement over time. Although every student may not be reading at the same level, I am able to track overall improvement of an individual student and provide additional intervention when needed.
The platform also measures reading with reading by providing not only quiz scores, but metrics like time spent reading, books read, and pages read to ensure students are ultimately engaged with text—not just passing a test at the end of a book.
If students are only assessed at the end of a semester or during state tests, we aren’t allowed time to provide remediation on specific skills and we are unsure if a student is truly learning and understanding material. Liberty County Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee works with each school in our district to ensure we assess often, we are able to get to know our students and personalize their learning experience to match their needs.
Using 1:1 devices and digital learning platforms not only gives students the freedom to work at their own pace, but also lets them have their school resources accessible at home.
At Snelson-Golden Middle School, educators can easily flip their classrooms using digital assessments, and many of them are. Instead of taking time during class to assess students, I can assign assessments to be completed at home, analyze the results, and provide feedback and remediation the next day. Doing this has provided me more time to focus on the students while they’re in my class and to see if students are grasping a concept or not.
Students absolutely love using the online assessments better than paper. Today’s generation of students are tech-savvy and enjoy the opportunity to use technology whenever they can. The assessments are quick and provide students with immediate feedback, and the best part is no more bubble forms!
Jeanette Bratcher is a 6-8th-grade math and science teacher at St. John’s Academy in St. Augustine, Florida.
Tracy Cantrell is a gifted language arts teacher at Snelson-Golden Middle School in Hinesville, Georgia.