Assessment

ETS to Enter Formative-Assessment Market at K-12 Level

By Lynn Olson — March 01, 2005 3 min read

The Educational Testing Service was expected to solidify its foray into K-12 education this week by unveiling a new, online “item bank” that teachers can use to produce classroom assessments aligned with state academic-content standards.

The ETS Formative Assessment Item Bank includes more than 11,000 standards-based mathematics and language arts questions that teachers can use to craft classroom tests and quizzes to track student performance throughout the year and modify instruction when necessary. Districts also can use the item bank to design benchmark, or interim, assessments aligned with their states’ end-of-year tests.

The formative-assessment market is one of the fastest-growing segments of test publishing. And the nonprofit ETS, of Princeton, N.J., joins a growing list of companies that are already offering such services, including CTB/McGraw-Hill, based in Monterey, Calif.; the Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Cos.; and Kaplan K12 Learning Services, in New York City.

Deloris Flint, the executive director of K-12 program development for the ETS, said that what sets its item bank apart is that all the test questions were written specifically for formative assessments by ETS researchers. “It was not an item bank that we found somewhere in our vaults,” she said.

In addition to covering the topics in state content standards, the items address the various levels of cognitive difficulty demanded by the standards.

The first round of standards-based items will be available for California, New Jersey, Nevada, and Texas. Items for Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia are slated to be added within the next month, with additional states’ items available later this spring. Over time, the ETS plans to add items in science and social studies.

Online Data System

Teachers can access the item bank through data-management software, the Instructional Data Management System, offered by ETS Pulliam, a subsidiary of the ETS. Through that software, teachers can select the grade levels, subjects, content standards, and difficulty levels they want and then either build tests themselves from the available items or have tests formulated automatically.

Students can take the tests online, or their answer sheets can be electronically scanned into the system, with the results available within 24 hours for an entire district, school, or class, or for individual test-takers.

The data-management system also enables teachers to pace the curriculum throughout the year, draft lesson plans and specific interventions for students, compare results across assessments, and produce grade books and report cards. Teachers receive reports broken out into three ability groups of their choosing; within each group, teachers can drill down to do an analysis by student, by standard, and by the number of items answered correctly.

Access to the online data-management system, including the item bank, will cost about $9 per student per year.

Clark County Experience

One of the largest clients using the system and the item bank right now is the 281,000-student Clark County, Nev., district, which includes Las Vegas. Working with the ETS, the district devised interim assessments in math and language arts for grades K-8 that are being given systemwide this school year. Working with the ETS, the district also provided teachers with interpretive guides for each grade level that offer advice about how to tailor instruction, based on how students answer particular items.

Next year, teachers in the district will have access to questions in the item bank that are not part of the interim assessments to craft their own tests and quizzes.

Karlene Lee, an assistant superintendent for the district, said the ETS wrote test questions to match Clark County’s specifications, including items that demanded higher-order thinking skills.

“In some cases, we’ve had teachers look at the standards and look at the questions, and say, ‘We need a new question written,’ and they’ve written them,” she said of the testing service. “[The ETS] has been very responsive to the individual needs and the specifications that we had.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as ETS to Enter Formative-Assessment Market at K-12 Level

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