The Process of Assessing Student Learning Is Broken

A product strategist’s perspective on data for teachers.

GUEST COLUMN| by Hilary Scharton

CREDIT Canvas K-12.pngIn the current assessment landscape, all schools are required to assess students because of past and recent legislature — the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Because of this mandate, teachers and district administrators receive massive amounts of data from these assessments on several occasions within the school year. Unfortunately, this data isn’t delivered fast enough and in the right quantities to truly impact curriculum and instruction, even when using assessment management systems (AMS). Currently, educators aren’t empowered by the data they receive to make changes that will lead to improved student success.

Instructure recently performed a national survey of K-12 public school teachers to see how they feel about the current use of assessment data and how it can be improved to lead to better data-based decisions. The survey also asked for respondents to be candid in expressing their top challenges when it comes to assessment and the AMS. The findings paint a clear picture of what teachers want from their data and what they aren’t receiving. These gaps show opportunities for great improvement in assessments, the data it provides, and the technology that delivers it.

Teachers Need Personalized Performance Data

Teachers aren’t receiving the kinds of data they need to identify student needs. In the survey, only 50 percent of teachers reported receiving individual student performance data from their current AMS. Of all the types of data, teachers said access to this individual student performance data would be most helpful to them. Delivering this particular set of data is essential to not only teachers, but parents and students themselves as it helps them identify which subjects need extra attention and care.

It’s virtually impossible to effect positive change in student progress if mentors and students are not clearly shown personalized information on their performance. What’s more, providing personalized data empowers students themselves to own their learning process and take the lead on improvements.

Teachers Need Access to Data Faster

While current assessments are not providing teachers personalized student data, they also aren’t receiving the data fast enough to influence instruction and make needed adjustments to curriculum. If they received results sooner, 60 percent of teachers would individualize student learning plans, 58 percent would intervene with targeted instruction for struggling students and 43 percent would make changes to the curriculum. Rather than receiving hefty mounds of data weeks or months after the assessments have been administered, there needs to be a shift in which educators can access this data — if not instantaneously — than rapidly enough to empower them to modify instruction.

Teachers Need Tools to Help Them Analyze Data

When teachers do ultimately receive the assessment data, in whatever timeline that may be, they face the challenge of analyzing and converting it into actionable items for their classroom and each of their students. This analysis requires teachers to shift time from more impactful activities like providing feedback. In fact, analyzing data was among the top four challenges for both formative and summative assessments within the survey results.

A likely culprit is the lack of adequate technology to help visualize and organize the data. Most AMSs today are clunky, inconvenient, hard to use, and district-mandated ones no longer are up to par. They’re not working on behalf of the actual educators, but rather are a Monday morning quarterback, telling the real educators what they should’ve done a year ago. The edtech industry has seen this needs gap and has delivered new AMS technology like Gauge that is scalable, easy to use and easily customizable. Data is captured immediately, stored forever, and accessible via easy-to-read reports.

We need to move the needle forward in terms of advancing data technology implementation in the classroom. But the biggest hurdle isn’t in getting student data from A to B, it’s convincing school administrators to overcome their hesitancy to switch software. Forty nine percent of teachers reported their colleagues are reluctant to adopt digital tools like a new AMS. However, as data and AMS challenges like the ones outlined here come to light, perhaps more decision makers will best this caution to give teachers the data they need, when they need it, and how they need it. Our teachers will be better equipped to improve achievement if we give them the tools they need to make good decisions.

Hilary Scharton is VP of K-12 product strategy at Canvas by Instructure.

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