THIS WEEK’S TOPIC
How have you and your school helped students prepare for computer-based assessments this spring? What have you learned as you have incorporated technology into your assessment practices? How have your students responded?
TEACHER NOTES FROM THE FIELD
Tricia Ebner: Gifted and talented middle school teacher in an ELA-based program in Hartville, Ohio
Computer-based testing is going to be a change for my students, who are used to the paper-and-pencil approach of our current assessments. I’ve been transitioning my students by encouraging them to do all of their writing on computers. For years, I followed the paper-and-pencil writing approach: kids drafted by hand, made revisions by hand, gave each other feedback by hand, made edits by hand, and then typed their final drafts on the computer.
Two years ago, I started using a collaborative folder on the computer. Students access each other’s papers and use the “review” ribbon in Word to give praise and suggest changes. What I am asking kids to do with their writing — drafting, revising, editing — is no different than before, but my students’ view of writing is so much more positive and enthusiastic. They are excited about having rough drafts ready to share with peers and they give each other more feedback (and higher-quality feedback) than before. Instead of seeing my students breeze through peers’ papers and slap Post-it notes with “Good job!” scrawled across them, I’m watching my students spend time carefully reading papers, pausing to make specific suggestions, or asking questions to help each other make the writing stronger. In fact, I’ve watched the kids create a dialogue based on other kids’ comments, adding an “I agree with her!” or “I’m not sure I would make that specific change, but I agree the word needs to be changed.” This is the kind of feedback I have always encouraged my students to give, but technology makes it so much easier. The quality of the kids’ writing is improving so much through this.
In mid-March my 7th graders used the 7th grade PARCC ELA sample items as an on-demand writing assessment. The kids are much more comfortable with the idea of drafting, revising, and editing on the computers now. If you haven’t yet asked the kids to use computers for a full drafting-editing-revising-publishing cycle, give it a try!
Christina Suarez: High school social studies teacher and 11-year veteran teacher in Vermont
The process of incorporating technology into my assessment practices is discombobulating, but ultimately wonderful. We’re working on three goals simultaneously: comprehending a text, analyzing it, and learning about technology. As students become accustomed to annotating a text, they all have a method they prefer. When working with a text, my students readily pull out their cell phones to quickly find a definition for a word, or to check a historical term they’re unsure of.
In fact, my students are becoming so accustomed to working with technology, that as we began preparing for an AP Exam that is not computer based they protested! “We have to type every paper in your class! Why do we have to write this by hand? I can’t get my thoughts out as fast when I’m writing by hand!”
I’m still learning, too. Which online annotation tool should I provide for students? What will be compatible with their word processing program? How can I check their work in an organized and timely fashion? What about the student who doesn’t have reliable internet access at home?
Some kids know which online tools they love; other kids are unsure. The students who are savvy love having an opportunity to help their peers, which in turn inspires those who are less savvy. I’ve found that using one app and making every student stick with it is the most successful. (Tip: It needs to be phone compatible!) They need to be able to work together and collaborate, and the technology platforms help them do just that.
Em LeBlanc: Grade 3 math, science, and social studies teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The worst part about using technology in the classroom? There are SO many choices and ideas. I hate picking! The possibilities are endless, but my goal is to expose my 3rd graders to as many different technology tools as possible (besides the things they already know, like Candy Crush).
I have had my students type their writing samples and turn them into books and blogs, create PowerPoint presentations, and use Excel to make graphs. I also try to have my students use computers for formative assessments — I want them to feel comfortable using common programs. I want them to be able to navigate the internet and troubleshoot. I often use a site called Glogster to assess student learning. My kids LOVE this and even use it at home! Glogster is an online interactive poster maker, and it gives students practice manipulating digital tools, which they will have to do on an online standardized test. They can create a Glog and then post it online to share with the world, and present it to their classmates using our ActivBoard.
We do not have iPads at my school, but I did get two for my classroom by using Donors Choose. I downloaded a bunch of free educational apps for my students to use as an early finisher task or to extend learning. Having them use the iPads improves their computer literacy. It has also helped with behavior management.
Now, about these standardized tests! For years Louisiana gave teachers technology-integrated assessment tools. One resource is Louisiana PASS, a site students can access from home or school to practice taking standardized tests. I, along with a team of teachers from across Louisiana, also developed a test question database called EAGLE, which provides literacy and math questions for all grade levels. Teachers can create online assessments by choosing questions by standard. Students log in to take the assessment and the scores are available to the teacher with reports that can be printed. These two tools give our students practice taking assessments online. If you’re not a Louisiana teacher, you can replicate this system by using PARCC and/or Smarter Balanced practice tests and sample items, Illustrative Mathematics tasks, or Student Achievement Partners’ mini-assessments for math and ELA.
Using different types of technology-based assessment tools has created a rich learning experience for my students. They use technology as a tool now, not a toy.
Cay Freeman: Grade 6-8 math intervention teacher and 28-year veteran teacher in Windsor, Connecticut
Currently, my district is developing quality performance-based assessments that will prepare our students for the rigors of the Common Core-aligned assessments next spring. In math, teachers are writing assessments to conclude each unit, which will require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This assessment will help prepare our students not only for the SBAC next spring, but for the 21st century expectations that await them after high school.
We need to do more to fully prepare our students for the computer-based assessments. I have taken a Smarter Balanced practice test, and I fully recognize the difficulty that many students will have with technological issues — using the on-screen tools to navigate through the questions and record the answers. For example, I found that in math, the diagram tools that are needed to draw figures are quite tricky to use. In reading, I had to scroll up and down to read an entire passage. In addition, I had to read the directions for both math and ELA questions more than once to properly understand what was being asked. All these things will take some getting used to.
As teachers, we need to become familiar with the new types of questions that our students will have to answer next spring by going online to both the PARCC and Smarter Balanced websites. If we’re not proactive in effectively preparing our students and giving them sufficient opportunities to practice with these types of questions, the information we get from the assessments next spring will be more a measure of a student’s familiarity with the technology than it is an evaluation of a student’s math or ELA skills. Here is a collection of resources to get you started.
Next year in my school, each student will have a Google Chromebook that will help them incorporate technology in their learning. Teachers will need training in the ways they can use these Chromebooks to promote student learning that will prepare them for these new assessments. For example, in math, we can ask students to work with interactive applets to understand math concepts. This lesson on circumference is a great example of integrating technology.
How are you preparing for computer-based testing? Share what you’re doing in the comments section below.