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February 11, 2010

Table of Contents

TOOLS FOR LEARNING: Assessment Tools

TOOLS FOR LEARNING: Assessment Tools

According to Vision K–20, a spring 2009 survey of a cross section of more than 500 U.S. educators and administrators by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA; the principal trade association for the software and digital content industry), the highest score for its Five Measures of Progress is for Enterprise Support (70%), followed by the widespread use of 21st-century tools for teaching and learning (67%). The lowest level of progress (toward what officials at an institution feel their overall success has been in the area) is in the use of technology-based assessment tools, with an average score of just 46%.

In these times of ever-challenging No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, assessment is no small part of how a school district goes about winning funds and influencing student achievement. If the Vision K–20 survey is any indication of how most educators and administrators feel, at best it is not exactly a vote of confidence for such a key area, to say nothing about how badly districts need to show adequate yearly progress to get funding. At worst, it’s an admission of certain weakness with a recognition that the use of technology-based assessment tools is in dire need of improvement.

Further, on the you-get-what-you-measure principle, having no measurement or an inaccurate measurement of student achievement is not a good indication of things to come. Sure, technology-based assessment has been with us for nearly a century, if you count the IBM Type 805 Test Scoring Machine that first hit the market in 1938. Such pre-World War II technologies are still in use today—but really! Times have changed, and what we know about how students learn and what they use to learn has too.

Knowing more about technology-based assessment tools is a good first step to using them to your advantage. Ignorance is certainly not bliss; whoever said that was covering his or her tracks. Properly used, these tools will save both money and that most precious of commodities, time.

Of course there is formative assessment (ongoing evaluation of student progress, e.g., quizzes and immediate feedback), summative assessment (after-learning evaluation, e.g., a major test or a grade), criterion-reference tests (CRTs, e.g., measuring how well a student learns a specific knowledge or skill set), standards-based assessment (a CRT based on expectations for a student in a particular grade), performance assessment (show that you know it), authentic assessment (demonstrate real-world application), portfolio assessment (collect evidence to show what you know), and more. Rubrics (teacher’s guides for grading tests or student work) also figure in.

Granted, assessment can get rather complicated. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

The following is but a sampling of some of the more recent excellent products and services you may find useful when it comes to gaining much-needed assistance with assessment. While they can seem complex, look through to their simplicities and you’ll soon see that they have much to offer.


A comprehensive system perfectly suited for Response to Intervention (RTI) implementations and differentiated instruction, AIMSweb ( provides multiple assessments for universal screening and progress monitoring, as well as web-based data management, charting, and reporting. Results are reported to students, parents, teachers, and administrators via a web-based management and reporting system to determine response to instruction. Initially created in the late 1990s by Gary Germann, a former special education director in a school in Minnesota, and Steve Jennen of Edformation, AIMSweb is now a product offered by Pearson.

At its heart, AIMSweb is curriculum-based measurement (CBM), the method of monitoring students through direct, continuous assessment of basic skills. Based on 30 years of scientific research, this type of assessment model (problem solving, progress monitoring, etc.) using CBM (quick, accurate, and reliable measures of basic skills) has become the de facto standard for RTI where all students receive appropriate instruction based on need through data. CBM is effective for universal screening and frequent monitoring for all students, identifying at-risk students, indicating those who may be gifted and talented, and writing individual education plan (IEP) goals and monitoring progress in special education and remedial programs. With teacher- and parent-friendly reports, the system correlates with state test performance and determines the probability of passing high-stakes tests.

AIMSweb has a variety of available subscription options. Customers receive unlimited access to downloadable, reproducible assessment probes for reading, language arts, math, and early literacy skills; use of an online data management and reporting system; and self-produced training materials. Spanish versions are also offered for early literacy and reading. Cost ranges between $3 and $6 per student, depending upon the options or how many academic areas a customer wants to assess.

Test Packs With Prescriptions on Plato Learning Environment

Formative assessment tools offering state-specific, standards-based assessments in reading and mathematics for grades 2–8, as well as high school level assessments, PLATO Test Packs with Prescriptions on PLE ( also provide national tests in science, social studies, and writing. Plato Learning, Inc. has created and maintains the assessment content, the prescriptive learning content, and the learning management system.

The system provides three comparable forms of a standards-based assessment in each grade. Results can be analyzed by student, by class, or by school to find strengths and needs in the standards used as a basis for state testing. This allows the teacher or administrator to analyze results in terms of which learners need instruction focused on which standards; it also provides autogenerated assignments of PLATO instructional content to give each learner individualized practice on just the skills he or she needs to build in order to improve performance on future tests. Developed over the past 7 years, it was initially formulated for a few states; in 2008, the company released hundreds of new tests. It regularly maintains and updates content to match state standard, revisions.

PLATO is a subscription-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, and pricing varies depending on the number of student licenses, solutions provided, and professional services. General scenarios follow this pattern: Schools will administer the first form of the test. They analyze the data using PLATO reporting tools to make data-driven instructional decisions for classes and learners. The instructional support may come from district resources or from prescriptions to PLATO Learning, Inc. content, which is automatically provided through the PLATO Learning Environment. A school can use different, comparable forms to assess learners after some time and confirm progress toward the standards.

STI Assessment

A web-based system that enables educators to create and administer formative and benchmark assessments online (as well as on paper), this solution allows for instant results, generates customized reports, and monitors student progress. An important component to STI Assessment ( is STI Achievement Services, a customized professional development and coaching program educating teachers on how to create valid tests, collect and analyze data, and modify instruction accordingly. The program also assists school and district leaders with high-level data collection and analysis in various areas of school performance to determine the effectiveness of programs and to provide evidence of accountability. STI (Software Technology, Inc.) developed these solutions. Through STI Achievement Services and STI Assessment, educators are able to do the following:

Develop formative assessments or benchmark tests for any subject using the system’s large bank of questions that are correlated to state standards, to create their own questions, or to use a combination of both

Conduct tests online or on paper and receive immediate results regardless of the testing method, as well as administer continuous assessments to see where their students are versus where they need to be

Create a living record of students’ progress over the span of their academic careers

Quickly and easily create meaningful assessment reports of aggregate and disaggregate data to meet local needs and NCLB reporting requirements that can be accessed online by administrators, teachers, and (with district permission) even parents

Implement the assessment system districtwide if desired, since the system is scalable to any school level or district size

Not subject-specific like many assessment products currently available, STI Assessment offers robust, best-in-class reporting tools and integrates with student information systems, including STI’s own student information system, InformationNOW, to create a longitudinal data system of student progress. First released in the summer of 2004, the Achievement Services component was later added in the summer of 2007. The assessment system and PD program are available in select states from STI. Pricing is based on school or district size and specific, personalized needs.

GlobalScholar’s Pinnacle Suite

From GlobalScholar (formerly Excelsior Software;, the foundation of the Pinnacle Suite is Pinnacle Grade, a classroom solution allowing educators to enhance student learning by providing access to the right information through user-friendly yet robust technology. This component of the Pinnacle Suite combines formative assessment and standards-based grading into one platform. Fully web-based, the intuitive interface provides instant calculations of standards mastery to aid instructional decisions on a daily basis.

Pinnacle Instruction, another module within the suite, also offers tools for educators to generate assessments tied to state and national standards based on preloaded questions, to design customized assessments, to segment lesson plans and activities, and to provide supplemental resources based on performance measures for their students.

The Pinnacle Suite integrates critical data sources for each student—learning standards, assessment results, and other benchmarks—giving teachers the information they need to differentiate instruction and to create successful learning paths for each student. Teachers give formative assessments throughout the year, review the data, report back to the student immediately, and adjust teaching practices for remediation or future lesson plans. In addition to teachers and administrators, parents and students have access to assessment and attendance through up-to-date online progress reports.

First introduced nearly 15 years ago, the standards-based focus, features, and functionality of the Pinnacle Suite have grown through collaboration with Dr. Robert Marzano, a pioneer in developing and advocating alternative grading methods that more precisely pinpoint individual student strengths and weaknesses. It’s now offered by GlobalScholar as part of a comprehensive group of products in the Pinnacle Suite. Modular in its design to accommodate scaling to district school improvement plans, the Pinnacle Suite is offered at $2–$4 per student per module.

Discovery Education Assessment

This comprehensive collection of academic progress-monitoring tools for kindergarten through high school students helps teachers assess student knowledge, focus instruction, and predict student performance on high-stakes exams with a reported 80%–90% accuracy. Discovery Education Assessment ( is available from Discovery Education, which is in more than half of U.S. schools.

Discovery Education Assessment was developed at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., in 2000; at that time it was called ThinkLink Learning. It was acquired in 2006.

Aligned to each state’s academic standards, this solution provides educators with easy-to-read, color-coded reports that identify students’ strengths and weaknesses. Benchmarks are available for the subject areas of reading/language arts and math (as well as science in some states) and are given three to four times a year, allowing teachers to continuously monitor student progress and adjust instruction to help each student meet his or her full academic potential. Benchmarks can also be used by teachers to predict high-stakes test scores.

The Progress Zone service offers more than 60,000 items for teachers to make practice tests; what’s more, it connects with Discovery Education streaming to make available high-quality digital content for remediation. RTI services also are available.

Discovery Education is a division of Discovery Communications, which owns networks including the Science Channel, Animal Planet, and, of course, the Discovery Channel. The cost ranges from $8 to $11 per student, depending on how many tests are ordered and whether they are delivered online or via hard copy. Additional options include a fourth assessment, science assessments, RTI curriculum-based measures, and professional development.’s 21st Century Skills Assessment and TechLiteracy Assessment

Finally, here’s a little something for school administrators and teachers who need to know exactly how their students rate when it comes to those all-important 21st-century skills (learning, innovation, information, media, and technology) as well as how proficient they are with basic technology tools (spreadsheets, word processing, database, multimedia, internet, and online communications). Leave it to Portland, Ore.-based to address such issues.

Two products accomplish this: 21st Century Skills Assessment ( is a criterion-referenced assessment providing psychometrically valid data on how well fifth and eighth grade students grasp critical 21st-century skills (aligned with 24 ISTE NETS-S 2007 standards as well as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Student Outcomes). Blending interactive, performance-based questions that require students to perform authentic, software simulated tasks with multiple correct answers, it uses text and graphic knowledge-based questions.

TechLiteracy, the other assessment product, measures and reports students’ technology proficiency in using basic technology tools. Aligned with the original ISTE NETS-S and state technology standards, it too is criterion-referenced and blends interactive and performance-based questions and tasks. Both of these assessments provide valid and accurate standards for tech literacy, as well as tech proficiency data necessary to show progress toward accountability goals; they also enable districts to inform instruction to integrate technology into core instruction. The 21st Century Skills Assessment enables districts to measure and report proficiency in creativity, innovation, information fluency, critical thinking, decision making, and digital citizenship. After beta tests on thousands of students nationwide, independent psychometricians removed all poorly performing questions. Both assessments show comparative data, so educators see how their results compare to global averages. Costs vary; they’re priced per student.

Assessment, in all its forms, can be made much more efficient through the use of technology, but with any transition, complexities can arise, resistance can happen, and what might be a hopeful solution can soon dim.

Nonetheless, in its simplest form, assessment is a way to discover what students know so that teachers can improve student learning. Keep yourself educated about these vital tools, and you’ll pass into the 21st century with flying colors (never mind that it’s a 17th-century nautical expression).

Victor Rivero is a contributing writer for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools. He is based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Reach him by email at

Extra Credit: GradeCam

Teachers are well-known for having massive amounts of paperwork to grade and tediously enter into roll books. GradeCam image-recognition software ( works with a camera to grade tests from bubble forms and to generate statistics and reports on student performance. Users purchase an inexpensive camera ($98) or use their existing document camera if they prefer. It also works with iSight and other built-in computer cameras.

Offered by GradeCam Corp., Robert Porter is the original creator and patent holder. Though still in his teens when he developed it, he was working as a software developer for a national laboratory and saw his parents (both teachers) collecting 500 to 1,000 pieces of student work each week. With a camera, the software makes it easy and affordable to collect and analyze vast quantities of data on student performance daily. Many schools already have compatible document cameras and may not know it; Tami Porter (Robert’s mom), GradeCam executive vice president and a high school English teacher, says it’s the “most affordable assessment solution on the market.”\

Teachers can print forms; everything is reproducible. Using the item analysis feature, within seconds after students have completed a test, teachers can know that only 40% of the class got question 4 right, as well as who does or doesn’t need help. Tami also allows students to use it as a self-assessment tool, scanning their own practice exams for the upcoming College Board Exam and restudying what they may have missed.

A district license is $2 per student for the software, and a school site license is $3 per student (a one-time fee). Camera kits are available for $98 each. The software/standards upgrade and support contract is 20% of the initial cost (the first year is free).

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