New report offers guide to getting more out of online assessments


The shift by schools from paper and pencil to online assessment technology has started yielding significant benefits for schools, teachers and students. But school districts continue to struggle trying to harness the full potential of online assessment tools, according to a new report from a consortium of education groups.

Districts have reached something of tipping point, the report suggests, as educators move beyond the mechanics of implementing online assessment platforms and focus more on how the data collected on those platforms can help teachers do a better job helping students learn. At the same time, school leaders still need help developing strategies for achieving what many see as a transformational opportunity in education using online assessments.

Those conclusions and a series of recommendations on how schools can gain better traction with online assessments are part of a new report released Wednesday by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), AASA – The School Superintendents Association and the National School Boards Association.

The report, Online Assessment: From Readiness to Opportunity, highlights the evolution of online assessments, identifies some best practices and provides the K-12 education community with a new Online Assessment Planning Tool.

The report breaks fresh ground in reflecting a shift in how schools view online assessments, “from being a postmortem look at student performance to being more of a tool for enhancing instruction, intervention and support for personalized learning,” said Tom Ryan, CEO of the eLearn Institute. Ryan served as a lead investigator and analyst in preparing the report.

“We have to get off having a number representing performance — that says X percent of students were proficient in a subject, or X percent weren’t — and get to where we use this data to help students improve,” he said in an interview with EdScoop. The challenge, and the point of the report, is how to help schools do that, and do it at scale, he said.

This latest report from the education groups “gives a more holistic perspective of what we’re trying to accomplish with digital technology and what online assessments can do to make that happen,” Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, told EdScoop.

“The new online assessment planning tool is particularly important because it allows school districts to put in real data about where they’re at and project where they want to go,” he said.

That remains a prevailing challenge for school administrators, according to Ann Lee Flynn, director of education technology for the NSBA.

“Assessment tools have to be better refined and aligned to what we are asking teachers to teach and children to master,” she said in the report.

The new report looks at different approaches being taken by the national assessment consortia, Smarter Balanced, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and at public school systems in Houston and Santa Fe.

It also provides school systems with nine recommendations for carrying out successful efforts in establishing and using online assessments, along with questions district leaders should consider and a checklist of options to pursue. The recommendations include:

1. Create a cross-functional strategic planning team.

2. Secure funding sources for modern learning environments.

3. Embed technology in instructional practice.

4. Invest in effective, ongoing professional development for teachers, administrators, and technical staff.

5. Build out a robust infrastructure.

6. Select devices that meet instructional needs and assessment consortia requirements.

7. Communicate – a lot.

8. Pay attention to logistics.

9. Prepare to use the assessment data effectively.

The report notes that online assessment tools not only give students and teachers feedback more quickly and efficiently. They also provide educators an opportunity to “rethink the role of assessment from summative to formative, which has a greater potential to significantly improve teaching and learning.” They also can help teachers and other stakeholders in the education community “make better decisions.”

“The possibility of transformation now extends beyond classrooms, schools, and districts by expanding student access and the use of high-quality digital learning resources to the home,” the report added.

But “moving from online ‘readiness to opportunity’ takes the collective leadership of superintendents, technology administrators and school boards,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA.