Monday, 30 April 2012

Assessing students up to age 14 - A better future. Part 5 - More about online testing

This blog is subject to these protocols

When designing a system for online testing the following questions will need to be considered:

1. If the results of online tests are to lead to formal accreditation, how should they be administrated?
2. Should it be possible to do tests which do not lead to formal accreditation as well as those which do?
3. Should tests auto-adjust so that if students get many questions wrong easier questions appear?
4. Will the teacher be able to specify which questions should appear on the test?
5. Will the teacher be able to print paper tests?
6. Will criteria be accredited based on a single correct answer, a variety of correct answers, correct answers sustained over time, correct answers in contextualised or connected questions....
7. How will results be viewed and how will this interface with skills which cannot be effectively tested online?

Companies which are already well established in this field include:

Khan Academy :
Originally designed for teaching using YouTube videos rather than for testing and tracking, Khan Academy has set up a substantial infrastructure for online testing and tracking to work in parallel with its videos.  Khan Academy covers many subject areas to a very high level and is well resourced, so it is likely that schools and educators with limited resources will use it, but it does not interface with other student teaching and tracking resources and it may be weak in the specific teaching area which is most important to a group of students.

MyMaths is well known for its high quality interactive teaching resources.  It is very popular in UK schools and has a substantial tracking infrastructure which teachers can use to rapidly see the progress of all their students with their tests and homeworks in specific subject areas.  However the tracking is by lesson rather than by specific learning point and only maths is available.  MyMaths was rapidly adopted by word of mouth because at an annual subscription of only around £400/year per school it was within the budget of a typical secondary school maths department.

Alfiesoft differs from the products above because its design and emphasis starts from testing rather than teaching, so its designers have thought in more detail about the questions at the top of this blog rather than focusing on creating a system to assess an already designed system of online teaching.  Alfiesoft has an interface with SIMS.  It covers maths, English and science but it does not link to an online teaching system.

Assessing students up to the age of 14 – A better future  QUICK LINKS

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Assessing students up to age 14 - A better future. Part 4 - Being allowed to test what is testable.

Reflection and Context:

It's been our habit in the past to try and create a single method for assessing academic progress in mathematics and this has tended to swing between testing everything and getting the teachers to observe everything the student does.

As a head of mathematics I wanted to be able to efficiently and effectively test those aspects of mathematical progress which are easily testable so that my teaching of core techniques could be efficient and needs based, leaving as much time as possible for the nurturing of those skills students need to develop which cannot be easily tested. 

When we focus on teaching methods which allow students to connect maths and work out which mathematical techniques they need, a great deal of learning of mathematical techniques and vocabulary takes place but this progress is difficult to track.  Having a system which takes care of that tracking process for teachers empowers this type of learning.

In an article in MT210 (as Rebecca Teasdale), I described how I used MyMaths tracking to achieve this shift in teaching in a school where I was head of Maths.  We rapidly positively transformed results at this school to surpass all targets and re-engaged disaffected students. 

MyMaths had, at that time, interactive lessons and assessments on all national curriculum topics.  By requiring students to complete them I could ensure they studied all these topics at their own pace and that I had detailed information regarding gaps which needed to be filled.  But far more importantly, we could focus on creating lessons which properly engaged all students by subordinating teaching to learning, teaching with rich and applied tasks and teaching core vocabulary and techniques only when it was clear they were needed.

Key Recommendation:

That to accompany an electronic system which defines the skills students should be acquiring, automatic testing systems should be created which test and automatically accredit those skills which can be easily tested online.  

Subsidiary Points:

- It should be possible for teachers to manually accredit these skills should they wish to do so with alternative evidence.
- Students could be tested in a 'low stakes' way approximately once a term.  Tests should be created which are responsive to students' progress - seeking to test gaps which clearly need to be filled but adjusting during the test to ensure that students do not have overly negative experiences where they fail to answer any questions.  
- Teachers could select core or optional modules of work which would be in each students' test in a class to ensure that focused student preparation brings rewards.

Something a little more challenging:

I think most testable techniques and vocabulary could be accredited on four levels:
A: Some evidence that the student has mastered this skill
B: Sustained evidence that the student has mastered this skill
(both A&B could be tested online with B only being accredited after a student has demonstrated their ability to achieve that target in several tests).
C: Skill used fluently by the student in wider contexts.
D: Student understands the axiomatic or structural roots of the skill (this is not appropriate for arbitrary vocabulary).

And what about the skills which cannot be tested online?

While testing is suitable for most of the 'range and content' component of the National Curriculum, most aspects of Key Concepts, Key Processes, and Curriculum Opportunities cannot be easily tested.  It is my suggestion that these should not be accredited as pass/fail progress but that a process by which students sit down and select or create phrases which reflect how they perceive they are progressing with these aspects of the curriculum be embedded into classroom practice and this self assessment is then discussed with teachers, parents and other stakeholders.