Tech for Student-Centric Instruction & Assessment Models

GUEST COLUMN | By Nick Gaehde

Data-driven instruction is an approach embraced by most educators, but establishing a process and a school culture truly focused on data has proven to be an elusive goal for many schools.  However, when you begin to examine the process of assessment, one finds it to be very time-consuming, expensive and, quite often, ineffective. Rather than adhere to these antiquated routines, we need to be focused on more student-centric methods of developing and measuring student proficiency.

The old model of “teach, test, re-teach” is based on the concept of providing a monolithic approach to instruction, waiting to see which students struggle, and then trying to provide the right intervention to help struggling students reach proficiency. Often called the “waiting to fail” approach, it assumes all students learn in the same manner.

However, research has proven the opposite to be true. Not only does this model overlook the individual learning styles of each student, but it also requires spending an inordinate amount of time testing and retesting students.

In December 2011, Lexia Learning conducted a survey of K-12 educators regarding the commonly used reading assessments.  The survey was completed by more than 7,600 educators with the analysis of the data focused primarily on educators of students in grades K-5.  The respondents were asked to estimate the amount of time spent administering, scoring, entering and analyzing data for the four types of assessments: universal screening, progress monitoring, diagnostic, and outcome.

The study showed that educators spend, on average, nearly an entire instructional month (20 days) focused on assessment of reading skills.  Respondents indicated they spent the majority of this time correcting the tests, entering the grades in electronic grade-books and conducting analysis — with more time still needed to plan differentiated instruction.

For many, this raises serious concerns regarding the significant amount of time and resources dedicated solely to testing, rather than using student data to inform better instructional strategies.

In a March 2011 USA Today article, former Austin Superintendent Pat Forgione said it best when he referred to the testing reports he used to receive each spring as “autopsies,” because the test results came too late to do anything with the data. He went on to say, “What I needed was some leading indicators . . . We’ve got to find ways to make the tests more useful and to inform instruction” throughout the year.

Educational technology is taking an increasingly prominent role in the classroom as a way to better serve the assessment needs of all students and educators. It is critical that this trend continue to gain momentum.

In an educational environment in which resources are scarce and every minute of instructional time counts, technology provides a more effective way to provide individualized instruction and performance data that schools need. When we empower students with their own instructional path, we give them the opportunity to develop their strengths, pursue interests, and experience success at their own pace. A technology-based, student-driven program, like Lexia Reading, can also gather proficiency data as students work, without stopping to administer a test.

This approach, known as embedded assessment, has enabled schools to reduce the amount of testing by gathering student performance data on an ongoing basis during the learning process. In an embedded assessment model, teachers do not need to stop the flow of instruction to measure student proficiency. Instead, they can review real-time performance data and adjust instruction accordingly. Embedded assessment also provides a more accurate measure of student progress, basing conclusions on hundreds or thousands of student responses, rather than a narrow snapshot in time.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of an embedded assessment model: teachers can focus the vast majority of their time on teaching — using performance data to see which students have hit an obstacle, and providing instruction to help them progress, in real-time.

A growing number of schools throughout the nation are delivering instruction and assessment in a more seamless manner through the use of technology. As a result, they are finding they are able to reduce dependence on traditional testing methods, and reclaim as much as one month of instructional time over the course of the year. More importantly, this approach allows them to focus their attention and their resources on supporting student achievement.

Although the concept of “test less, teach more” sounds enticing, it requires school districts to make a significant leap from timeworn traditions that have been ingrained in our educational system for decades.  With thin budgets and teacher resources stretched to the maximum, districts are starting to more effectively integrate a technology-based approach to providing individualized instruction while reducing the time and resources spent on testing. Not only does this method present a more efficient and cost-effective solution, but it places the student at the center, serving our shared goal to help students reach their highest level of proficiency.

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Nick Gaehde is the CEO of Lexia Learning, a Concord, Mass.-based reading software company. Prior to joining Lexia in 2005, Nick served as President of Educators Publishing Service, Inc. (EPS), a publisher of literacy solutions for the K – 8 market. Prior to his tenure at EPS, Nick held various sales and marketing positions at Vertigo Development Group, Lotus Development Corporation, and New England Business Service. Contact him through Lexia.

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