In October 2015, in a Testing Action Plan, President Obama called for a new approach to testing and assessment to better serve students. The plan outlines a set of principles to reduce the time spent on standardized tests, and improve the quality and usefulness of tests for students and educators, including building new and more innovative technological-based assessment tools. More recently, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its proposed regulations on assessments under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which the President signed in December 2015, to clarify how states can utilize a number of innovative approaches to assessment, including better integration of technology. ED also published draft regulations for public comment on the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority under Title I part B of the ESSA, which will allow states to pilot new approaches in a subset of districts as an alternative to statewide tests as they work to scale innovative tests statewide. Read more here.
These steps by Congress and the Administration are creating conditions whereby educational technology can help transform how tests are delivered while reducing the amount of classroom time spent on assessment. With the emergence of next-generation web- and app-based assessments, students are now engaging in activities and games that measure knowledge and performance in real time and provide immediate results. These new forms of technology regularly track progress toward mastery of grade level content, adapt and support learning to meet individual needs, and generate teacher reports to inform instruction. The best learning games allow students to play through hard, complex challenges and demonstrate mastery by succeeding at the game itself, making assessment engaging and rewarding.
The Small Business Innovation Research program at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences provides funding to entrepreneurs to create commercially viable technology products and learning games, including assessments. The program emphasizes a rapid research and development (R&D) process, with rigorous research informing iterative development and pilot studies at project end to evaluate the promise of products for improving student outcomes. Recent advances under the President’s ConnectED initiative are helping bring high-speed internet access and devices to schools across the country to take advantage of these emerging tools, and making it all the more important robust research is conducted on the effective use and impact of educational technology.
In the past three years, ED/IES SBIR has provided awards for many projects that are building innovative assessment approaches. While many of these tools are not presently configured to measure the full depth and breadth of state content standards, the projects do highlight some of the promise of next-gen assessments to expand assessment methods in schools and districts. These projects include summative assessments to test mastery as student’s progress through more difficult levels of content, diagnostic assessments to understand if and why students struggle with learning, and formative assessments to provide immediate feedback to students to inform the learning process. The projects cover a range of topics aligned to relevant standards in math, science, and reading, and employ digital games, puzzles, simulations, and virtual environments to present content. All of the projects also are developing a feedback loop to teachers in order to aggregate data at the class and student level to inform instruction.
Here is a brief description of eight of the assessment projects currently in development at ED/IES SBIR:
21st Century Learning
Special Education Social and Emotional Learning
Visit the IES/ED website or follow on Twitter and Facebook for updates as these assessment projects are completed. Also, look for a follow-up blog in the near future that will detail more technology facilitated assessments funded out of the Research Grants Programs at IES.
Edward Metz is the Program Manager of the Small Business Innovation Research program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.
Aadil Ginwala is Assistant Director, Education and Telecommunications Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Erik Martin is a Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.