Assessment Packages: Technology Helps Determine Mastery

As far as assessment g'es, there are two basic camps: Those that support traditional exam measurement, and those who attest to performance-based assessment. All state and national large-scale standardized testing conforms to the former. According to the folks at SUNBURST/WINGS for learning, performance-based assessment seeks to assess students' ability to translate knowledge and understanding into action. Teachers measure progress by observing student performances and using professional judgment to apply a careful and thoughtful rating criteria. Another applicable term is authentic assessment, which mirrors real-life settings through relevant student tasks that emphasize contextualized and complex problems. Great strides have been taken to maximize the potential of the above processes; technology can help. Concrete Examples Portfolio-based assessment provides a complete picture of how individual students have progressed throughout their school career. Rather than ranking a child to indicate where he or she stands compared to other students in the country, portfolios provide concrete examples of students' work, be they written, oral or video. Issues such as who decides what g'es in the folder and who owns the folder as well as the contents should be resolved. This method of assessment works on the philosophy that learning is not a function of answering a question correctly. Rather, what is important is how students perceive and solve a problem. Also, students can work in clusters, thus fostering cooperation and group skills, plus all learning styles are supported. This type of assessment is greatly assisted by multimedia. Instructors can scan images of student's written work or art, capture audio of students reading, and include word processing and hypermedia files. Also, with the advent of QuickTime and Video for Windows, instructors can digitize video of students' performances via computer; another option would be to save performances on videotape. All of these items can be compiled into a students' portfolio. Educators can save all electronic files to a CD-R, Photo CD or WORM disc. The Packages Several companies offer portfolio assessment software. Synapsys Software, for example, provides Portfolio, a Windows package that allows educators to compile audio files, pictures, slide shows, movies and text about a student's performance into an electronic scrapbook. The program also provides a long-term view of the student's educational history. The portfolio becomes a showcase of students' talents, where they become responsible for self-assessment and tracking their own performance. Included in Portfolio is a module that creates assessment models that apply to all curriculum areas by designing outcomes and rubrics for each topic. A second product is Grady Profile, Version 2 from Aurbach & Associates. It stores actual exhibits of student work into a portfolio; provides unlimited room for anecdotal comments, notes and reflections from teachers, students and parents; and provides a checklist of learner outcomes by subject area that can double as progress reports. Program highlights are room for 1,960 skills, descriptors or evaluation standards so instructors can tailor the program to their curriculum; a checklist of past assessments available from a pop-up menu; and several report formats. Performance Plus from National Computer Systems (NCS) collects individual and group observations of student performance and generates reports of those observations. A variable rating scale and scoring rubrics established by teachers facilitate that assessment. An IEP module with goal statements and enabling objectives tracks skill mastery. Diagnostic statements can be linked to scales; prescriptions are linked to objectives and inventory items. The program also accommodates holistic writing assessment via scannable forms. Software with unique support for field-based assessment is Learner Profile from SUNBURST/WINGS for learning. The program not only provides a computer-based method for producing assessment tools like checklists and notes, it now comes in a version that can be downloaded to Apple Computer's Newton MessagePad. Learner Profile is loaded onto a desktop Mac computer, where plans for conducting observations are created. That information is downloaded to the Newton, which teachers use to collect and organize data by tapping the hand-held unit's touchscreen; handwritten notes for unplanned observations can be recorded as well. At the end of the day, the data is uploaded to the Mac computer, where it becomes part of Learner Profile's database. A second implementation supports bar codes. Instructors print out a barcoded sheet of students' names and the skills they want to assess, then utilize a lightweight and portable credit card-sized scanners to record observations. The devices are then docked into a reader unit and information transferred to the Mac at the end of the assessment period. Although not assessment packages per se, Apple Computer's HyperCard and IBM's LinkWay Live! programs can be used to maintain electronic profiles because of their multimedia support. As an example, a HyperCard stack could be created for each student, with links to the different elements. For schools interested in learning more about implementing these types of assessment, The Video Journal of Education has released the third and fourth issues in Volume Three entitled "Performance Assessment" and "Portfolio Assessment," respectively. Bena Kallik, an educational consultant, covers assessment issues as well as how to improve techniques and practices. The Race to Be the Best The prevailing thought is, so many students graduate from high school but are unable to read or lack mastery of the "basic skills" needed to hold a job and be productive citizens. In addition, U.S. students are not performing as well as their counterparts in other industrialized countries in various disciplines. How do we remedy this? Currently our educational system implements a set of national standard exams. In addition, all schools periodically test students on a nationwide basis to determine mastery plus ranking compared to other students in the same state and across the globe. Thankfully, the current administration has realized that a federal position needs to be taken in respect to educational reform. Goals 2000 is one step toward establishing national standards for student performance; it outlines the federal government's role in assisting in the movement. Technology has been identified within Goals 2000 as an integral part of this equation. One common problem identified is that what one teacher in Georgia covers in his Biology I curriculum differs from what another instructor in Nebraska covers. How do educators ensure that all students learn the information necessary to progress to the next level of instruction? Is one group better prepared for national exams than another? Perhaps enhanced methods for preparing students for those exams at both pre-testing and curricula stages can be found using technology products. Aligning Curricula One solution lies in curriculum alignment to national assessment tests. Several companies offer products and extensive, tailored services that help districts align their curricula to state and national exams, and in turn align the texts and materials used to the new curricula. Take Evans Newton Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz. Their Windows-based program, TargetTeach VII, includes a new relational database software management program, customized alignments and inservice programs to assist districts. The program supports both objective- and authentic-based assessment; the latter are scale scored via barcode or OMR technology. At its heart is a library of customized, aligned databases that include virtually every K-12 textbook, ILS, and norm and state test. The company's staff uses this library to provide districts with pre-loaded, aligned curriculum databases that function with TargetTeach's management program. Aligning scope and sequence with resources through an Electronic Curriculum Guide, Tools for Instructional Excellence (TIE) from CEO Software is a collection of modular tools that also generates individual student IEPs and teacher lesson plans. In addition to numerous instructional management tools, a curriculum alignment module maintains an electronic curriculum guide that aligns multiple sets of goals or objectives to instructional resources. A performance tracking tool, testing tool and many more complete the package. Provided by McGraw-Hill is TestMate, useful for creating, validating and reporting curriculum-aligned, criterion-referenced tests and performance assessment materials. TestMate consists of four basic packages: TestMate CRT (criterion-referenced tests); TestMate Aptitude; ReportMate; and TestMate NRT, which scans, stores and generates reports for numerous norm-referenced tests from all major test publishers, including California Achievement Tests, Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and Stanford Achievement Tests. Key features of the latter module are the ability to track up to seven years of test data for each student, disaggregate both demographic data and scores, and produce the figures required for Chapter I state and federal reporting. The results of standardized tests can be customized in a curriculum-aligned, skills mastery-based format. Assessing Student Skills A second set of products test students' knowledge based on the topics covered in national tests to determine 1) How students are performing, 2) How they will do on the tests and offer prescriptives, and 3) Provide outcomes based on national objectives from which to create curriculum. One such product, the Curriculum Manager Series from Quality Computers, assists districts that implement standardized objectives and who need to see how their curriculum compares to those standards. Available in Math and Science versions, the programs help instructors design, evaluate and teach curriculum around national objectives. Features include generating tests and worksheets from pre-written, objective-aligned questions; customizing those questions; developing progress reports; and allowing instructors to add correlating explanations and prescriptions from textbooks or other materials. Another option is Grade Level Evaluation (GLE) from Tudor Publishing. This criterion-based reference exam for elementary and secondary schools is coupled with an in-depth curriculum that covers basic computational and critical thinking skills for each grade. Identifying the skills a student has or has not mastered, GLE can be designed to align directly with a district's curricula. Not only do these tests help in overall assessment, they aid in placement. Test-fright is taken into consideration too; students' individual speeds are timed, without restrictions, so instructors can separate material knowledge from anxiety. In addition, the program prints out a detailed report highlighting students' deficiencies for both teacher and parent use, plus prepares a tutorial. Aligned to match objectives covered in the TASS proficiency test, HeartBeeps from Lindy Enterprises covers basic skills for grades 2 to 10. Two approaches are supported. One program takes a student through a complete year of instruction on a remedial basis, assessing mastery. The second offers diagnostic practice tests on mixed objectives. Important to note is that this program is not an integrated learning system&emdash;lessons are not presented and students are not instructed on how to perform a task. Instead, mastery is assessed and remediation suggested. ILSs often contain testing and reporting capabilities, some aligned to national tests, however they are not covered in this article. And lastly, national exams are getting a facelift the technological way. Educational Testing Service has announced that the GRE General Test will be available in a computer adaptive format. The five national paper-based administrations of the General Test will be phased out during the 1996-97 academic year. Replacing them will be adaptive tests that tailor questions to how examinees perform. All students start out with a randomly selected question. Answering that first question correctly will lead to a more difficult question while an incorrect response will bring up an easier one. This electronic version adds benefits such as shortening test times, providing a precise measure of skills acquired and immediate scoring. Also, new kinds of questions can be introduced specific to different majors. n Specific Proficiencies Holistic assessment to national standards provides certain information. Different, specialized tools are also available to assess specific types of proficiencies. Some of these are paper-based. For example, ETS has announced a new computer-based certification program that assesses high school students' business skills. Called AEQUITAS, it measures word processing, spreadsheet, typing, data entry, and basic workplace reading and math skills. Assessment takes place onscreen; those who pass receive a certificate useful when seeking employment. The program also contains a prescriptive component that correlates directly to software manuals. For instructors who not only want to learn what students know but also the level of doubt or certainty about their responses, there is SACAT from Human Performance Enhancement. The SACAT test is administered via special scannable forms. The program hopes to identify about what students and groups are misinformed, allowing teachers to then modify instruction to remedy any misperceptions. And two paper-based assessment packages are available from Gateway Marketing Group that assess technology needs and competencies. Staff Technology Needs Assessment by Technology Surveys is a tool useful for districts planning a staff development project. It ensures that a district or school's technology plan is based on local data rather than perceptions. The Student Technology Competency Assessment instrument gathers information about students' degree of computer use, how well students can discuss technical issues, troubleshooting, and other computer skills on PC and Mac systems. Both tests are sent to Gateway for scoring and reporting purposes.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.

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