I read an article the other day about a Bluetooth toothbrush. I initially could not think of a reason to have Bluetooth in a toothbrush, but as the article went on, it made perfect sense. The toothbrush acted as an agent to improve its purpose. It was giving you feedback as to how well or how poorly you were brushing your teeth. Do I need to brush longer? Am I pressing down too hard? Now most of you reading this article would say that you do a good job brushing your teeth and do not need feedback as to how well you are doing (some dentists may disagree) but this is the world that we are living in. We are in a world of constant connection, the information age, where you can collect, analyze and put to use data in almost every realm of our lives.

Technology and Assessment

These are two words that strike fear into most people. When you look at their purpose, it should be surprising that this is the reaction you get. With technology and education, the same purpose exists; they both seek to make life easier, and to make it better for the people it serves. When dealing in an educational setting, you have multiple groups of stakeholders, from the teachers and students, to the parents and the central office. Each of these groups benefit from a culture that promotes both technology and assessment; tools to communicate and grow.

Teacher Benefits

It consistently amazes me to have conversations with teachers who are of the impression that “if they would just let me teach, I would be fine”. They do not see the value of assessment. They feel that it is another “thing” in their day keeping them from the all-important task of teaching. This is definitely the old way of thinking. Assessment keeps me from my lecture time. It keeps me from the time that I should be imparting knowledge on my class. This is the teacher-centered mentality that holds back optimal growth in the classroom. If we are truly going to be student driven, we must approach it from the standpoint that we need as much real time data from each student to gauge understanding and address his or her difficulties at the point of need. Formative data that is produced through these types of assessments are the only way to truly meet a student at their current level and address individual concerns.

Many teachers I talk with feel like they are not comfortable with creating assessments on the computer but they would like to have the ability to quickly grade and analyze data for student benefit. That technology is currently available as noted in this article about Apperson’s web enabled scanners. Teachers can create any type of paper and pencil assessment and quickly scan the assessment to gauge student understanding and guide their instruction for remediation and enhancement purposes.

When you can pinpoint the specific needs of a classroom and individual students, it takes the guesswork out of planning. You no longer have to hope that you are meeting the needs of a large group of students. You have the data to back up your plans and push towards your goals. This is a tremendous benefit to teachers who are already stretched for time in both their professional and personal lives.

Will this help our Students?

One of the biggest reasons we, as a school, use technology in our assessments is to familiarize our students with the rigorous testing environment. With the advent of online testing steadily approaching, it is imperative that we teach our students how to interact with the technologies that will drive these tests. Test taking anxiety is at an all-time high. The more often the students can familiarize themselves with the environment with which they will be working, the better off they and school systems will be when it comes time to tackle high stakes testing.

As I was speaking with one of our teachers the other day, she brought out another positive aspect of online assessment for the students. She told me that the students actually came back to her and told her that they enjoyed taking the test. It was a break from the norm for them. They enjoyed interacting with the computer instead of just sitting, facing forward in their classroom. It gave them a different way to show what they have learned.

Why should a parent care?

It seems these days that parents are busier than they have ever been. When a teacher is able to use technology as an assessment tool the parent benefits as well. Teachers are able to communicate to the parent specific difficulties that students are having. This instills confidence in the teacher from the parent’s standpoint. It also provides the next step for the parent. When you are provided with the best information available, you are able to make the best decisions for possible remediation, placement, and possible tutoring. Instead of being surprised by a grade on a report card every nine weeks, parents can get up to date information at the touch of a button with the minimum amount of time invested by the teacher. Having accurate personalized information about students creates a dialogue with the parent and creates a confident understanding between the parent and the teacher.

Data Driven Decision Making

While all of the groups that have been mentioned benefit from technology-driven assessment, the biggest advantage possibly goes to the central office. By using technology, such as Datalink Evo, districts are guaranteed that the assessments are linked to the standards that are being taught. They are also given real time, district-wide assessment data. This data can be used to inform and direct new district initiatives, collect data on current initiatives and strategies, as well as determine the effectiveness of leaders and teachers in the schools. Instead of using autopsy data provided by end of term testing, districts can use data that is current and make an impact on actual teaching. When data is used this way, it can still be used constructively, for a purpose to improve, instead of punitively as data is often used, because it surfaces after the fact.

So what does it all mean?

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what type of impact we have made. That is the question that we have to answer. In my world, I am glad that I am able to point to the tools that make this happen in Datalink Evo. I am able to provide support to struggling students and teachers. I am able to point to valuable information when conferencing with parents and I am able to provide important information to our central office about the wonderful things going on at our school. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you on the sidelines. Make the step and inform your decision making process. The time is now!

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Aaron Barr, M.Ed., is an elementary school principal.  Previously, he has served as a teacher and an Instructional Technology Specialist and has a master’s degree in Instructional Technology.  He has taken classes in computer programming and is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership.  His goal as an administrator is to use technology to level the playing field for all students and to coach teachers to use those resources to help students reach their full potential.