Cool Tool | Common Core Quest

CREDIT opened Common Core QuestOpenEd, the world’s largest catalog of educational videos, games and assessments recently launched Common Core Quest – a free app available on the App Store and Google Play that can test and track the mastery of Common Core Standards. With millions of U.S. teachers implementing these rigorous standards in their classrooms, they are faced with the challenge of tracking learning gaps and personalizing learning to ensure all students are on track to meet and exceed the goals. With this fun, ad-free app, students have the ability to take quizzes and practice problems that demonstrate full understanding of the required math and English/language arts standards. When learning gaps are identified, Common Core Quest immediately links the learner to resources from OpenEd’s library of millions of videos and games for practice, allowing students to understand and complete difficult homework, or practice for an upcoming quiz or test. As student’s progress, they are rewarded with ribbons for each Common Core standard met, and badges for entire strands. In addition, the quizzes in Common Core Quest feature Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) style questions, helping students prepare for the rigors of the high-stakes assessments they will face in the spring.

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In Control

Virtual server hosting for schools and colleges: mitigating security risks.

GUEST COLUMN | by Adam Stern

CREDIT InfinitelyVirtualIt’s now part of the conventional wisdom that cloud computing has altered the information technology delivery model. The steady embrace of the cloud among schools and colleges does not, however, mean that educational institutions can or should let their guard down on matters of security and data protection. While cloud server hosting provides compelling benefits, security is an essential part of any discussion of cloud adoption. Mitigating security risks is imperative to creating a comfort level among CIOs and CISOs, to transition applications and data to the cloud.

Now more than ever, cloud service providers are realizing that managing security is fundamental to facilitating cloud adoption.

Applications, systems and data all have different security thresholds. For example, web, mobile and social can be moved to a virtual server without the same degree of security concern as there is for regulated information or mission-critical applications – an especially relevant concern for public institutions. When deciding whether an application, product or service belongs in a cloud server, CIOs and CISOs must consider:

  • Type of data or application
  • Service-level agreement
  • Security environment

The decision to move to the cloud, especially the public cloud, should depend on the sensitivity of the data and the level of security offered by the cloud provider. The final question should be whether the value offsets the risk.

Cloud service providers (CSPs) are beginning to put a greater emphasis on security protections, with technologies like clustered firewalls and IDPS (intrusion detection and prevention systems). In the cloud’s infancy, CSPs touted scalability, initial cost savings and speed. But the prospect of enhanced security in the cloud – indeed, that the better cloud deployments now mean that data is safer in the cloud than on a typical unsecured desktop – has altered the conversation. Educational institutions assessing cloud service providers can now seek out CSPs whose security controls mitigate the risks of moving to the cloud. Increasingly, schools are facing the challenge of dealing with outdated modes of storage and finding affordable, practical, secure solutions that meet their needs.

When considering a move to virtual server hosting, CIOs and CISOs need to check for audits of a CSP’s security controls. Look for providers who have passed the SSAE (Standards for Attestation Engagements) No. 16 Type II audit, one of the most rigorous auditing standards for hosting companies. The audit confirms the highest level of service and reliability attainable for a virtual server hosting company. To be SSAE compliant, a hosting provider should offer SSL capability, enterprise-level, application level protection, hardware firewall, IP-restricted FTP, managed backups with 14-day retention, advanced monitoring and multi-level intrusion prevention.

In addition, an increasing number of CSPs are using the American Insti­tute of Certified Public Accountants’ Service Organization Control process (SOC), the organization’s certification of controls with verification for cloud environments. Some of the larger cloud service providers now publish SOC reports on their security controls. Mandates from CIOs and CISOs may be required before SOC reports are published by all cloud providers.

Now more than ever, cloud service providers are realizing that managing security is fundamental to facilitating cloud adoption. Those cloud providers concerned about safeguarding their clients’ data and applications – so vital in schools and colleges, public and private – are taking steps to mitigate those risks with tight security controls and transparency regarding those controls.

Adam Stern is founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual ( in Los Angeles. Find Adam on Twitter @iv_cloudhosting

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Blendered Learning

A practical perspective on what it takes to make it from an edtech entrepreneur.

GUEST COLUMN | by Aaron Michel

CREDIT PathSourceThere’s a reason why edtech angel and venture capital are desperate for some major success stories. They are extremely few and far between. Why is this the case?

I launched PathSource a couple of years with the belief that we could approach K-12 schools with an amazing career education product and immediately disrupt this huge billion dollar marketplace. Within a couple of years we’d be a juggernaut, changing lives for the better in every school across the country. And then I could become the next Bill Gates. Total timeline: approximately 5 years.

Shockingly, things didn’t go as planned. We did succeed in creating an awesome career exploration product with excellent efficacy data. In San Francisco, 50% of students who didn’t know what they wanted to do said that they found a career that excited them after using PathSource for 1-2 hours. Over 90% of students said that they would recommend us to a friend. In the Chicago Public Schools, in a multi-school pilot, 100% of teachers who used PathSource said they would recommend us to a colleague. All of this was great! We were changing lives. So why were we still in under 50 school districts? Why was this still so hard?

I’ve gotten to know a lot of the top companies and investors in edtech over the past couple of years and have come to the conclusion that there’s a confluence of challenges that make K-12 a uniquely difficult market for entrepreneurs to build a big business.

Here’s what I see as the most significant challenges:

  1. In K-12, everyone pays lip service to the importance of new technologies, but few people are willing to be the first to try something.

In K-12 public schools, as a mid-level decision-maker, you usually don’t get rewarded for technological risk-taking. If things go well, everyone will claim credit. If things fail, and you were the one who made the push for the brand spanking new technology that didn’t work, then you take the fall.

So truly brand-new edtech companies with interesting new technologies often spend months or even over a year looking for their first pilot. Many of these companies run out of runway (funding) by this point and simply cease to exist before they can prove their product works.

  1. IE6 and IE7

There’s a disconnect between Silicon Valley and most of America’s public schools. In the valley, edtech entrepreneurs read articles written within their bubble and think that every U.S. public school either has or is getting the most up-to-date equipment and every student has an iPad.

That’s fool’s gold. The reality is that many — if not most — U.S. schools have dilapidated equipment. I can’t tell you how many computer centers I’ve seen that still only have IE6 or IE7. Until we fund better devices for students across the country and get tech-savvy teachers to use them, all of the cool new software we develop in the Bay Area, New York and Boston (the major edtech development centers in the U.S.) isn’t going to mean squat.

  1. Tech-savvy teachers vs. entrepreneurs

I came across an edtech company recently that had an amazingly cool product that any technologist would love. Unfortunately, it required that every teacher be uber technology-enabled in order to use it. There are super technology-savvy teachers in schools across America. They are not yet in the majority.

Edtech entrepreneurs must understand that a good UX in K-12 education means creating a product that your grandmother could easily use.

  1. Lengthy relationship sales

The sales cycle to get a pilot running is often 6+ months. To get a district-wide purchase could take a year or more. These timelines should be terrifying to K-12 entrepreneurs and investors. An early stage company is lucky to get a year of initial funding in which to prove the product and business model. With a very long sales cycle, edtech companies are walking on the knife’s edge of the funding cycle.

Not only that, but often edtech sales are won by salespeople who have been in the industry for 10-20 years and can call their buddy the superintendent to get a meeting the following week. In K-12 education, the Old Boys Network is alive and well. The 22 year old nerd in Silicon Valley with the neat piece of software is at a distinct disadvantage. S/he lacks time, team and distribution. K-12 is an uphill battle.

Today, K-12 is facing a host of powerful trends. The industry isn’t being disrupted so much as thrown into a blender with the impact of free content, charter schools, weakening unions and MOOCs — all starting to shred the status quo, bit by bit. Change won’t be fast, but it will come.

In the meantime, my company has grown past its infancy. We’re in a number of America’s largest districts and are having a major impact. It’s not as fast as we’d like, but it’s happening. At the same time, we’re rolling out a Kickstarter campaign and microsite in September ahead of the planned November release of a free mobile app for 18-30 year olds. We’re connecting the dots between education, careers, lifestyle and budget. The road is long, but it is passable.

We’ll see what comes out of the blender.

Aaron Michel has started multiple online education companies, raised capital and was accepted into the MassChallenge accelerator. In the past three years, Aaron and his companies have been featured in USA Today, ABC, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal and other outlets. Most recently, Aaron received the Boston Business Journal and Mass High Tech’s Innovation All-Star award. Aaron graduated from Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He can’t wait for PathSource’s Kickstarter campaign to get rolling. He lives with his wife Susan, with whom he is contemplating one day buying a dog, or if she gets her way, a cat.


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In With the New Assessment

Naiku founder discusses integration of new technologies for better assessment.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Adisack of NaikuAdisack Nhouyvanisvong is an expert in computer-based and computer-adaptive testing. He is the co-founder of Naiku, a next-generation student assessment platform. He most recently served as the senior director of psychometric quality at Data Recognition Corporation. After listening to Adisack, it makes sense that naiku means “teacher” in Lao. Over his 12 year career, he has created and ensured psychometric integrity for both large-scale educational assessments and professional and certification organizations and has taught at the University of Minnesota. He is also an adjunct faculty at Metropolitan State University. Adisack has published in peer-reviewed journals and regularly speaks at education conferences. In this interview, he discusses the impact that technology has made in our daily lives, how it is starting to make its way into education and the implications of this for assessment, for students — and for a group he has dedicated his life to helping — teachers.

Teachers need to know what their students know and don’t know, in order to make appropriate and effective instructional decisions.

Victor: What is Next Generation Student Assessment and why should we be moving that way now instead of later?

Adisack: Next generation student assessment is the integration of new technology and better assessment techniques that allow teachers to know more about their students. Teachers need to know what their students know and don’t know, in order to make appropriate and effective instructional decisions. Through new technologies like tablets, ultraportable laptops, and even smartphones that are becoming more and more ubiquitous in schools, teachers now can use next generation assessment software to engage their students in frequent and effective assessment practices. The new technologies allow teachers to give meaningful and immediate feedback to students after every assessment and will free teachers up from the menial tasks of hand scoring and grading exams. Next generation assessment technologies also give teachers more instructional time because they don’t have to recreate the wheel each time they want to create or administer an assessment. The new assessment technologies make it easier for teachers to share and collaborate with their peers.

Next generation student assessment is more than just moving traditional paper-based assessment practices online. With next generation student assessment, students aren’t merely filling in bubbles on a computer. Students are more engaged in the assessment process; they are actively setting goals and conducting self-assessment and evaluations of their progress towards those meeting those goals. In addition, students engage and develop their metacognitive abilities through techniques such as confidence prediction and reflection. These better assessment techniques, coupled with new technologies, allow teachers to engage in effective and frequent assessments of their students, giving them insightful data about what their students know and don’t know, and what they think they know and don’t know.

Teachers and students should be moving towards this next generation assessment model now rather than later because they can significantly increase student learning, save themselves time and because they can easily do it now. Whether it’s an iPad implementation across the school, classroom sets of Chromebooks that teachers share or a BYOD program, schools now have the hardware and infrastructure to implement and support next generation classroom assessment tools. Well designed next generation assessment software not only drives student learning and saves teachers time, but it can be adopted by teachers in stages to facilitate the transition from traditional assessment methods. Lastly, schools need to implement next generation classroom assessment now to accelerate student achievement as American students are already behind their international cohorts and we can’t afford to let them fall further behind.

Victor: What does next generation student assessment actually mean?

naiku logoAdisack: Next generation student assessment means the utilization of new technologies and better assessment techniques that engage and inform teachers and students about what students know and don’t know for informed and personalized learning and instruction. It’s using the power of technology to transform the assessment experience into a learning experience in an engaging and efficient way, not simply digitizing the traditional print-based assessment experience.

This is what we mean when we call Naiku the next generation student assessment platform. Naiku helps teachers, through technology, to easily identify and track student proficiency by standard in any subject or grade, not just simply collect a number of scores on a test. Further, teachers can get deeper insight into student performance and students are engaged in the assessment process. For example, when taking an assessment on Naiku, students not only select or fill in an answer to the question. They engage in the assessment process by predicting their performance and confidence on the question. They journal and justify their answer selection. They self-assess and reflect on their performance, allowing them to engage both cognitively and meta-cognitively through the assessment process. This is how teachers know more about their students through the Naiku next generation student assessment platform.

Next Generation Assessment is using the power of technology to transform the assessment experience into a learning experience in an engaging and efficient way, not simply digitizing the traditional print-based assessment experience.

Victor: What role do you see student assessment data playing in improving teaching, or even in personalizing learning for individual students?

Adisack: There’s no doubt that student assessment data plays a huge role in improving teaching and personalizing learning for individual students. To improve teaching and personalize learning, teachers must know what their students know and don’t know. They must know their strengths. They must know their areas of weakness. They must know what they like. They must know what they don’t like. And teachers can’t know these things about their students without assessing them in an efficient and meaningful way.

I’m not simply advocating for more assessments of students. I’m advocating for better and more meaningful assessment practices. With today’s advances in technology and the science of assessment, we know we can get more meaningful information about our students than a singular test score. We know we can get a better and more timely picture of the whole student for informed and personalized instruction through frequent formative assessment, goal setting and self-evaluation and self-reflection and bi-directional feedback between teacher and student,

In addition, student assessment data aids teachers in their own development. Through bi-directional feedback and sharing student performance data within PLCs, teachers can increase and strengthen their professional development opportunities.

Victor: How important is technology for the future of assessment, keeping things like PARCC and Smarter Balance requirements in mind?

Adisack: Technology is and will be an important component of assessment. Technology allows teachers to collect more students’ information in more engaging ways. Technology can automatically grade almost any assessment for a teacher. Some technologies will even grade student essays. Though for that, I’d always advocate that teachers manually read and score student essays, especially for classroom assessment. Reading and scoring student work is how teachers know more about their students.

Technology-enhanced items surely have their place on assessments such as the PARCC and Smarter Balance assessments. Requiring students to solve problems through active interactions can be more engaging for students and can provide teachers with more meaningful information about student skills and knowledge. However, the key component is the cognitive complexity and authenticity of the interactions that’s required to solve the assessment problem. Using technology-enhanced items for the sake of using the technology in and of itself will not necessarily lead to better information and to better learning and instruction.

Victor: Do you see that role increasing in the next, say 5-10 years or staying roughly the same as today? 

Adisack: Technology continues to change and increase at a rapid pace. So in 5-10 years, I’d expect the role of technology to increase in student assessment. I’d expect better and easier tools for teachers to create technology-enhanced and more authentic assessment questions. I’d expect better technology to capture, score, track and monitor student learning behavior. Through better assessment technology, we will be able to deliver on the promise of adaptive and personalized learning for all students.

Victor: Can you give a classroom example of how this works from implementation to the actual changes this student data should drive? What do admins, teachers and students have to do differently, will their roles change in the future?

Adisack: When schools implement next generation student assessment practices with Naiku, it is quite easy for them to collect and use meaningful assessment data to inform instruction. First, Naiku connects with the school’s student information system. Therefore, teacher and student accounts and class rosters are already set up for them. All they need to do is login with a username and password.

Teachers start the process by creating and assigning an assessment to the students. Teachers can create a brand new assessment, use their existing assessment that they have in Word or PDF format or search for an assessment already created by other teachers in or outside their district. The assessment questions are aligned to national, state or local standards as chosen by the teacher. Optionally, test questions can have answer rationale that can be given to students for immediate feedback and instruction.

Students then log into Naiku to take the assessment that has been assigned to them. Before they take the assessment, they have the option and are encouraged to set goals and expectations for the class. When they take the assessment, they can also be asked to rate their confidence in each answer they provide. Additionally, they can write and journal about their answer/s to provide justification and/or additional feedback to their teacher.

After finishing the test, students receive immediate results. When answer rationale is included in the test questions, these are provided to the students for immediate feedback and instruction. While reviewing their results, students are asked to reflect on their performance – both on the test overall as well as on each question. In addition to providing the teacher with deeper insight into student performance, this provides students the opportunity to reconcile their prediction with their actual performance on the question; a process that research has found to improve student learning and retention of knowledge.

After the students complete the assessment, teachers are immediately provided with reports on student and class performance, by state standards or local learning targets, and students are automatically grouped into proficiency levels. These reports provide useful feedback to teachers to help them make appropriate instructional decisions immediately – even during the current class period.

As they provide additional instruction, teachers can then check for understanding immediately with Naiku Quick Question. This is online student response system allows teachers to conduct frequent formative assessments to check for student understanding.

As teachers assign and give more assessments to the students, they can track the students’ overall performance across time or across standards. This type of feedback allows teachers to track and monitor student progress towards achieving proficiency or master of the standards.

If the assessments are meant for summative and grading purposes, the teacher can export the test scores into their gradebook with the touch of a button. If the school uses standards-based grading, then the students’ proficiency scores can also be exported to the gradebook.

With Naiku, teachers receive meaningful data about what their students know and don’t know. Not only do they get the students’ scores on the test and by standard, they also receive insights into student thinking through the students’ confidence ratings and reflections. This data, aggregated over time and disaggregated by standards, allows teachers to make appropriate instructional decisions for each and every student.

With Naiku, the roles of teachers and students do not change. Teachers are just given more time to do the things that matter (i.e., make appropriate instructional decisions). They don’t have to waste time creating and grading tests. Students are given the opportunity to do more and learn more with Naiku. Currently, most students view test taking as a chore and a moment filled with anxiety. With Naiku, students view test taking as an additional opportunity to learn and reflect. This is how better assessment leads to better learning.

Victor: Could you discuss the research you have used at Naiku to ensure that your platform helps educators and students alike reach their goals and realize their full potential?

Adisack: Naiku was built with a foundation of assessment and instructional best practices shown through years of educational research. The research of Black and Wiliam (1998) on formative assessment is a key component of Naiku. So is the research of Hattie (2009, 2012) on the most effective instructional practices as summarized in his books, Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers.

To summarize, Black and Wiliam, in their seminal paper Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment, revealed formative assessment to be an essential and the most highly effective instructional strategy to raise student achievement. This finding was further supported by Hattie in his meta-analysis of more than 900 educational studies involving over a hundred million students. Hattie also found formative assessment to be one of the most effective instructional practices. He also found other instructional strategies, including student self-reported grades and self-assessment, feedback and metacognitive strategies to be highly effective in raising student achievement.

These four effective strategies (i.e., formative assessment, self-reported grades, feedback and metacognitive strategies) are built-in and embedded throughout Naiku. Teachers can implement frequent formative assessment with Naiku Quick Question to check for understanding at any time. They can engage students in self-reports, self-assessment and self-reflection to develop their metacognitive abilities. Feedback is built into Naiku in a bi-directional way, such that teachers can provide feedback to students, while students can also provide feedback to their teachers. It is this feedback loop that is at the heart of formative assessment and of Naiku. Through the use of test-elicited evidence both students and teachers can adjust their learning and instruction appropriately.

Victor: Do you feel that, as it exists today, student assessment or even next generation student assessment is here to stay?

Adisack: As it exists today, student assessment in the form of paper-and-pencil tests, bubble sheets or even student response systems is on its way out. Teachers are busier than ever. Students are more demanding of instant gratification and feedback. Neither can afford the old and slow way of doing things.

Next generation student assessment is here to stay and will only get better in the future. The future is about Big Data and personalized data. Big and personalized data can only be acquired through effective and efficient next generation technology and better assessment practices.

Victor: Any other thoughts on education or the role technology will continue to play in the future?

Adisack: Technology in the last 5-10 years has had a huge positive impact on our daily lives. Through smart phones, social media platforms and the Internet of things, we’re able to do more, connect more and learn more. The impact that technology has made in our daily lives is starting to make its way into education. Now we can expect our students to do more and learn more in school. It’s through both better learning platforms and better assessment platforms that we will continue to see technology play an important role in education.

Victor Rivero is the editor in chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:


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Genius is a Choice

Students attaining learning objectives via real world objectives.

GUEST COLUMN | by Angela Maiers

The two most important words anyone can hear are “You Matter.” Unfortunately, most of us go through life without hearing this nearly enough. Somehow, we begin to believe we don’t matter, we’re not enough. This stops. Right now, right here.

Students are willing to not only be the change we need; they are willing to lead the change. They are not asking for permission. They are asking for respect. They want their voices to be heard. They want to express their passions in meaningful ways. And yet too many students’ authentic voices remain silent.

Choose2Matter is the response to this silence. It is a global movement that challenges students to work collaboratively to develop innovative solutions to social problems. It is an affirmation that students have a contribution to make to the world—not later in life, but right now.

When an educator gives their students the time to matter, they inevitably choose to matter.

Three Questions that Transform Students

At the start of my teaching career, I had the realization that my students needed to know they matter. Over the course of 25 years in education, I developed a formula that leads students to this realization and moves them to action.

(1) What matters most to you? Why?

(2) What breaks your heart about that?

(3) What are we going to do about it?

Answering these questions brings amazing beliefs, cares, and ideas to the surface—the exact things we want students to express. These questions connect students to what lies in their hearts. From there, energizing them to action is as simple as making time for it.

Genius Hour: Mattering Enters the Classroom

Once students have answered the questions above, an educator’s primary role is to organize the time and space for them to act on their answers. This happens through a practice I call Genius Hour. Teachers implement Genius Hour by devoting regular time for their students to pursue passion projects. During this scheduled time, the typical constraints of the classroom are lifted so that students can have agency over their project. It breaks the routine and teaches students to embrace uncertainty.

Through Genius Hour, students attain learning objectives via real world objectives. Students who care about endangered habitats learn critical reading skills as they research polar ice caps. Students who care about getting sports equipment to children in need learn to apply math as they create a budget. Students who care about veterans with PTSD learn to use social media to connect to mental health experts. As students accomplish what they need to in the classroom, their passions bring them to places outside the classroom where their impact is felt.

Choose2Matter has organized these passions into a single online community through our Yoursphere page. This is where students share their project with other passionate young people and receive support from mentors and fellow students.

Educators looking to engage their students in this movement can take the following steps:

  1. Review our curated resources on starting Genius Hour, and schedule time for your students to pursue what matters.
  1. Create a class on Yoursphere that serves as the hub of your students’ projects and connects them to other engaged learners.

When an educator gives their students the time to matter, they inevitably choose to matter. Insist on their genius. This transforms the expectations students have for themselves and the impact they envision for their actions.

Angela Maiers has been an educator for more than 25 years. Her passionate pursuit of literacy and learning gave her the healthy dose of courage and skills that have led her through a wonderful variety of experiences, including classroom and university-level teaching, instructional coaching, research, writing, publishing, corporate training, and starting her own business. As a social media evangelist and consultant, she helps learners and leaders understand the transformative power of technology. Follow her @AngelaMaiers

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