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Mobile Assessment: Working Smarter, Not Harder

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->With new assessment technology providing instant feedback on their students,once-skeptical teachers now have no desire to return to the way things were.

Mobile AssessmentWHEN BLANCHE KAPUSHION first introduced mobile assessment tools to teachers at Kyffin Elementary School in Jefferson County, Colorado, she didn’t think the tools would last long. “The teachers just weren’t comfortable with the technology,” says Kapushion, principal at Kyffin. “It took too much time for them to get up to speed, and they got frustrated. They weren’t used tousing technology in class, and it didn’t look like that was going to change.”

But it did. Teachers at Kyffin now use Mobile Classroom Assessment (mCLASS) Reading and Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) software, both from Wireless Generation, to conduct mobile assessments and progress checks in all of their K-3 classrooms. They regularly use the mCLASS Reading program to check reading comprehension and fluency, and to target or track areas where students are lagging. According to Kapushion, the breakthrough came when teachers realized the technology helped them work smarter, not harder. “The teachers now feel that the mobile assessment tools make their jobs more manageable,” she says. “They feel valued as educators because we have given them tools that allow them to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.”

Now that the technology has had some time to mature, many teachers, administrators, and students believe mobile assessment devices are here to stay. Indeed, the market has seen a continuous expansion, with more and more players tapping into it over the past few years. Companies continue to work closely with educators and even students to understand and respond to their needs, and teachers who once pooh-poohed the tools now say they are unwilling to give them up.

Instant Fixes

“Getting instant feedback has been invaluable,” says Iris Higashi-Oshiro, a fifth-grade teacher at Konawaena Elementary School in Kealakekua, Hawaii, where teachers and students have been using the Indigo Learning System from LearningSoft for the past six months. “There is no better way to respond and adapt to your students than to have that kind of immediate data at your fingertips.”

Teachers at Konawaena Elementary choose from a bank of standards-based questions and other assessment content aligned with national and state standards for math, language arts, science, and social sciences, then wirelessly send the questions to each student’s Indigo unit. Students enter their answers, and their results appear immediately. Those results are used to observe improvement over time, or to project how students may score on state tests. “The kids are excited to use something new and technology-based,” says Higashi-Oshiro.“The surprising thing is that they also really enjoy the immediatefeedback and finding out how they did right after they’vefinished their tests.”

Been There, Assessed That

About to introduce mobile assessment tools into your district? Heed these words of advice from school officials who have already gone down that road.

Provide adequate professional development. Understand that technology is still new to some teachers. Implement a solid training program and ensure it is suitable for the size of your district. “In a system our size,” says Ann Bedford, director of curriculum products and intervention for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MD), the 17thlargest school system in the US, “professional development has been a challenge because this can’t be done in a train-the-trainer model; it really has to be done one-on-one. Both the introduction of the technology and the assessment we introduced was new to them. Our new teachers coming in seem just fine, but some of the existing teachers struggled with the technology.”

Make sure the solution can be scaled to your district. Mobile assessment tools are often used initially in one grade or one school until adequate data is collected to justify expansion of their use. Be sure the solution you select can be scaled adequately to facilitate eventual districtwide use. Says Blanche Kapushion, principal at Kyffin Elementary School (CO), “You don’t want to fall in love with a product and then have to start all over from the beginning because it isn’t scalable enough.”

Involve teachers and principals from the beginning. In the run-up to its purchasing of mobile assessment tools, Montgomery County was on a tight timeframe and didn’t involve teachers or principals in testing and purchasing decisions, explains Bedford. “The teachers would have been more supportive had they seen for themselves how great these tools are. Your job will be much easier if you get people in the schools to buy in and advocate for these products from the ground up.”

Get technology that works for you. Put work in up front to make sure the technology works, connects, syncs, integrates with existing curriculum, and is compatible with teachers’ technology skill levels. “Nothing is worse for a teacher than getting all this great data and then not being able to sync it or thinking they lost it,” says Iris Higashi-Oshiro, a teacher at Konawaena Elementary School (HI). “Having a well-aligned technology system really helps teachers adapt.”

Ann Bedford agrees. “The number-one positive thing about mobile assessment tools is the immediate access to data,” says Bedford, director of curriculum products and intervention for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in Maryland.“Technology has given our administrators immediate data on allour primary students—what level they are reading at, whethertheir progress monitoring is working, whether we are fixing anissue or we need to try something else. Using these tools, we cannow make adjustments faster to ensure kids don’t fall behind.”

MCPS is using mCLASS:Reading 3D software, a product developed through collaboration between the school district and Wireless Generation. It enables teachers to administer two kinds of assessments—DIBELS and a set of measures from the MCPS Assessment Program in Primary Reading that is based on balanced literacy, an approach to reading instruction which blends phonics lessons with more holistic activities that emphasize understanding meaning through context. The technology lets teachers capture data from both assessments in one place, for a full picture of a student’s reading development.

Teacher Evaluations

Interestingly, mobile assessment tools can be used to monitor the performance of teachers as well as students. Stacey Franks, project director of technology for Jefferson County Public Schools in Missouri, runs a program called SuccessLink, which provides professional development for teachers and schools that want to use handheld technology. Franks says administrators in her district are using GoObserve, a mobile assessment tool from GoKnow, to observe teachers in the classroom.

“Like many states, Missouri requires teachers to be regularly observed in their classrooms in order to maintain their teaching certificates,” says Franks. “We found this tool, and our principals fell in love with it. It’s a much more streamlined and easy way for them to conduct teacher evaluations.”

GoObserve was developed in conjunction with the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, a group that was looking for an assessment instrument to use throughout the state. The association paid GoKnow to develop the tool on the condition it would be made available for free to all secondary schools in Michigan upon completion. The state also gets a royalty fee as GoKnowexpands the use of GoObserve in other states, such as Missouri.

Franks says previously it could take weeks for feedback from teacher evaluations to make their way back to the teachers. But today, using mobile assessment, teachers can modify their methods in the classroom immediately based on the instant data they receive. “Time is at such a premium, and teacher evaluations normally require a lot of paperwork,” says Cathie Norris, co-founder of GoKnow. “Mobile assessment tools greatly reduce the amount of paperwork that needs to be completed.”

GoObserve can also be used to observe and evaluate students as they deliver speeches or conduct experiments—or to assess how students with learning disabilities are progressing. “We have found many different ways to use mobile assessment tools,” says Franks. “They are very customizable and very effective. Some of our school counselors are even using them to track the time they spend conducting various activities during the day.”

Technology Bonuses

The value of mobile assessment tools goes beyond providing instant feedback to improve the educational experience for both teachers and students. They also generate time and efficiency savings. Before Montgomery County started using mobile assessments, teachers juggled paper, pencils, and clipboards and had to perform their own percentage calculations, score comprehension questions, and so on. “Technology has saved teachers a tremendous amount of time,” says Bedford.“The less time teachers have to spend conducting assessments,the more time they have to spend improving student learning.”

DIBELS assessments are particularly challenging to do manually, says Kapushion. “You have a clipboard, booklets, directions, and timer—it’s very labor-intensive. With a handheld you have everything right there with the touch of a button. Also, I think you get more-accurate results—the timer is built in and it’s all automated. There’s little room for teacher error.”

AT A GLANCE

Wireless Generation CONTACT: 212-213-8177 PRODUCTS: Early reading assessments on the mCLASS platform, including TPRI, DIBELS, PALS, Reading 3D, Reading Records, CIRCLE, and Tejas LEE

LearningSoft CONTACT: 866-550-3922 PRODUCT: Indigo Learning System

GoKnow CONTACT: 734-786-4026 PRODUCTS: GoObserve, GoKnow Handheld Learning Environment

Vantage Labs/Vantage Learning CONTACT: 267-756-1125 PRODUCTS: IntelliMetric, My Access!, Learning Access, The Assessment Cart, the Vantage Learning Platform, VanScan

Many makers of mobile assessment tools enable the data gathered in classrooms to be shared via websites. Wireless Generation’s website, for example, displays data digitally and through graphs. Parents can go online to examine the data and find suggestions for helping their children improve their skills at home.

Looking Forward

The use of mobile assessment tools is expected to expand dramatically as educational technology companies continue working with educators to develop products that meet their needs and make their jobs easier.

Josh Reibel, president and chief operating officer of Wireless Generation, says his company is working on a math assessment product that promises to be a breakthrough in the way early math assessment is conducted. Reibel predicts the mobile assessment arena will not only grow but will broaden its focus to a few key areas that have traditionally cost states the most money, such as special education. “The way special ed is implemented in this country is changing,” says Reibel. “Everyone recognizes that if we did a better job of initial screening in kindergarten and administered the correct ‘fixes’ immediately, it would save a lot of money and spare students a lot of challenges. Mobile assessment screening and monitoring can be key in this area, where traditionally an enormous amount of money has not been well spent.”

As mobile assessment grows, teachers will have more and more data to manage. Accordingly, ed tech companies are developing products to convert data into information that can easily be translated into meaningful change.

“This market is going to continue to expand,” says GoKnow’s Norris. “Everyone needs time, so they are looking for tools that make their jobs easier. The new generation of teachers is tech-savvy and is looking for the fastest ways to do things. These new teachers are accustomed to small screens— this won’t be a big leap for them.”

As for Kapushion, she’s already seen the transformation.“Teachers now love the instant reporting, the instant lessons, and the instant results,” she says. “If I were to take the mobile assessment tools away from them now, they would not be happy.”

::webextra:: For more on this topic, visit www.thejournal.com. In theBrowse by Topic menu, click on Wireless Technology.

Justine Brown is based in Cool, CA, and specializes in writing about technology, education, and government.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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