Formative assessment is critical to a teacher’s ability to adapt lessons and check for student understanding. New technology has made it easier to do this more often and collect significantly more information about where a student is in the learning process. But education technology that enhances formative assessment also presents challenges, including the fact that many of these digital tools do not easily talk to each other or share data.
“There’s a whole new paradigm of teaching and learning where to be truly personalized, we need these assessments to be part of an integrated model of education,” said Julia Freeland Fisher, the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a San Mateo, Calif.-based think tank that studies blended learning.
Characteristics of today’s ed-tech formative assessments include:
Some online and blended-learning curricular products are collecting data continuously, in effect doing ongoing formative assessment all the time. They may assemble hundreds of data points that reveal how a student moves through the curriculum and at what pace. Digital platforms can allow teachers to drill down and provide very specific glimpses of how a student is mastering (or not) a particular concept or standard and can even show a teacher how long a student takes to read a page of text or do a math problem.
Sample products: DreamBox Learning, Knewton
Formative assessment here acts as the gatekeeper, checking for understanding before the student moves on and may determine where the student moves to next within the digital curriculum. A tool like the online reading curriculum LightSail provides each student with individualized libraries and reading lists that change based on student-assessment results. Other formative-assessment tools choose the questions that are presented to students based on their previous answers.
“This could not be done without ed tech,” said Tracey Roden, the vice president of curriculum at the adaptive e-learning company Istation, another company that specializes in adaptive testing. “Algorithms provide differentiation without a human-timing barrier.”
Sample products: Istation, LightSail, ST Math
Sometimes, teachers just want to know right then which students “get it” and which don’t. Some products can provide teachers with this on-the-spot, at-a-glance information. The free app Plickers, for example, has students hold up cards in response to teacher questions. Using the app and a smartphone, teachers scan the cards, and the results are displayed on a smart device or screen. Clickers (similar to television remotes) can do the same thing.
Vicki Davis, a teacher at the private Westwood Schools in Georgia who also writes the well-known ed-tech blog CoolCatTeacher, often uses Socrative for a similar check-in. “I put the problem on the board, and everyone types in an answer. At that moment, I know exactly how many kids got it.” These quick-hit formative assessments “collapse the remediation and feedback cycle,” she said.
Sample products: ExitTicket, Plickers, Quizlet, Socrative
Formative assessment in the form of games feeds on students’ love of competition and digital gaming. Inherently, digital games are designed to show learner progress and to conduct assessment: Players earn stars or get to new levels when they master concepts.
“By definition, a game is assessing a player all the time,” said Barry Fishman, a co-author of the 2015 report, “The A-Games Project.” The report found that educational games can enhance formative assessment, but need design improvements to help teachers dig into and collect information on student progress connected to specific concepts.
Sample products: BrainPOP, GlassLab Games, Kahoot!, MathBlaster, MIT Education Arcade, SimCityEDU
New software and apps now allow teachers to embed formative assessment within video lessons to gauge student understanding in real time, not at the end of a lesson or the end of a class period. Teachers say these programs keep students on track and engaged throughout a lesson.
Sample products: eduCanon, HapYak, Zaption
A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2015 edition of Education Week as Tech-Powered Teacher Tools