The urgency of formative assessment technologies

July 8, 2020

The word “assess” is derived from the Latin verb “assidere”, meaning “to sit with”. I have always found this fact to be so powerful when talking with folks about the importance of assessment for learning versus assessment of learning. Whenever assessment gets a bad rap, I argue that they are simply not being used the way true assessment should be. They are a crucial tool that teachers can use to help students achieve better educational outcomes. In this context, assessment technologies are becoming vital to make education more effective.

The role of formative assessments in achieving learning goals

As a proud advocate of formative assessment, several years ago I started teaching teachers about formative assessment strategies in the classroom, and it was there that I was asked “Do you do this with each of your students in your classes?” By “this”, they meant sitting with each student to ask them questions, listening to their reasoning and thought process for tackling an assignment, providing them with feedback on ways to approach it, and then continuing to sit and work with them until the “aha” moment occurred. The challenge of course is how to accomplish this in 60-90 minutes for a typical class size of over 25 students with varying degrees of skill attainment, learning styles, individual education plans, engagement levels? It is here that technology can play a key role.

Such assessments will be even more important this fall, as teachers return to their classrooms (live or virtually). They will find ever-greater academic disparity between students – between those who had access to high-quality learning materials with support from educated and available parents, to others who had limited access to high quality instruction.

 The use of tech-enhanced formative assessment practices such as pre-assessments and feedback could be a game changer for educators and students in bridging the gaps that are so varied.

EdTech plays a crucial role in the effective use of formative assessments

Although there are many elements that only a human teacher can deliver on: empathy, patience, personal relationships, there are many other aspects of the formative assessment cycle where assessment technology can help:

Evaluate existing levels of learning and identify gaps

If we know what we want students to be able to do by the end of the lesson or unit, maybe we should first find out how much of this they already know. In my experience, setting online pre-assessments before a new unit allowed me to work smarter not harder. They supplied me with instant information on how I could group my students and provide the right level of support early on. The results of the pretest provided insights on which concepts were most challenging. I could then find online resources for those students to work on early so that they came to the unit on a more level playing field.

Provide timely, relevant student feedback

A key differentiator of formative assessment technologies is providing timely and specific feedback on student work. Some types of student work require extensive, personalized feedback. For these assignments I would utilize Google Docs so that students could see my comments, rework their responses, and ask me to review it again, all from my laptop rather than sitting with them physically during class time.

Many other assignments simply require a check for accuracy. For these, I used online resources that allowed students to get the practice they need while learning if their work is correct and why. For example, my students had access to an online writing program that utilized automated essay scoring technologies to rate their writing and gave ideas on how to improve.

Use assessment results and feedback to adjust teaching and learning

Data from formative assessments provide teachers with details on which curriculum standards will need reteaching and help with finding appropriate instructional resources. I used formative assessment data to help form flexible groups; allowing students to move in and out of reteaching groups fluidly as their learning progresses. Formative feedback can be used by students to self-assess their learning, give insights on what needs improvement, and offer opportunities to iterate on work produced while in groups or independently.

Teachers will embrace and use formative assessment technologies

There are an increasing number of technologies available to help teachers diagnose students’ learning levels and to help align high-quality resources. Here at Globant, we are exploring how products and underlying technologies that exist in other industries could be used in the educational space to help with this important area. If you have any ideas, or would like to discuss further with our experts, please contact us!

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