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New assessment and data management solutions for schools

Here are some of the latest innovations in assessment and data management for schools.

With a strong federal focus on assessment and accountability in education, many ed-tech companies have released new products designed to help educators test their students’ understanding and track progress toward meeting state and federal benchmarks. Here are some of the latest innovations in assessment and data management for schools.

More than 500 school systems have been using CTB/McGraw-Hill’s Acuity product to assess students in grades 3-8 in the subjects of reading, math, and science. With Acuity, educators can administer predictive, diagnostic, and formative assessments to students online, with a pencil and paper, or via student response systems. The Acuity software helps educators analyze students’ progress, identify strengths and weaknesses, and target instruction more appropriately.

Now, the company has released a version of Acuity intended for high schools as well. Acuity for High School covers English and math (Algebra I, II, and Geometry) and is one of the first high school assessment products aligned with the Common Core State Standards that more than 40 states have adopted.

Teachers can use the software’s prebuilt diagnostic assessments or build tests according to the scope and sequence of their own curriculum, using an item bank of questions aligned with the Common Core standards.

CTB/McGraw-Hill said it created this item bank “from the ground up,” with the Common Core standards in mind, rather than recycling old questions. The result is a repository of questions that move away from an emphasis on multiple choice to include writing prompts, technology-based assessment, and performance-based items, the company said.

CTB also has released a version of its Acuity product for grades 3-8 that is aligned with the Common Core standards. The difference is that this product wasn’t designed from the ground up, the company says, but instead uses some old assessment items along with new questions designed around the Common Core standards.

Another announcement from CTB/McGraw-Hill could save schools a tremendous amount of time in testing their students’ English language proficiency.

Until now, educators using the company’s LAS Links assessment had to sit with each student individually to gauge his or her proficiency with oral and written English skills. This process could take teachers up to a half hour for each child. But starting this fall, LAS Links will be available for students to take online—all at once, or individually at the student’s convenience.

The new online version of LAS Links captures students’ spoken and written responses electronically, so teachers no longer have to sit with each child as he or she takes the test. This also results in a standardized, more comfortable testing environment that could help students do their best, the company says.

LAS Links Online gives teachers immediate feedback through informative diagnostic reports, so students can be given the supports they need in a more timely way. The program is available for grades 2-12 now, with a K-1 release to follow.

Another product that could reduce the amount of time educators spend on assessment, although it isn’t new, is Lexia Learning’s Lexia Reading.

This online system of differentiated practice, embedded assessment, and targeted instruction is used by more than 2 million students overall to improve their reading skills, the company says. What’s more, Lexia has collected enough information from the software’s embedded assessment of students, and has worked with its customers to see how this information correlates with other assessment data, to create a norm-referenced database of measures that students can be compared to.

And that’s significant for two reasons, Lexia says.

First, it has enabled the company to build an accurate “Performance Predictor” into the software. Instead of waiting for the results of a formal assessment, the program can make statistically valid predictions of how well students are progressing toward a mastery of skills. Teachers can use these predictive analytics to ensure that all students succeed.

Next to each student’s name in the teacher’s dashboard appears a percentage that indicates how likely that student is to meet end-of-year goals. If the student has struggled with a particular topic, the software will link to suggested lessons that can help. (These suggested lessons used to be PDF files, but as of this summer Lexia has introduced interactive whiteboard activities as well.)

The Performance Predictor also calculates a monthly “prescription of intensity” for each student. This feature notes how many hours per week students are using the software now—and how many hours they should be using it to achieve the desired results.

The other reason Lexia’s norm-referenced database is significant is because it allows schools to reduce their dependence on DIBELS and other formal reading assessments.

The data from Lexia Reading’s embedded assessments suggest they correlate closely with other benchmark exams. Teachers spend a lot of time giving these exams to students, which cuts into the time they have for instruction. Lexia says its software can provide what it calls “assessment without testing,” giving educators the information they need without interrupting the flow of instruction to administer a test.

By reducing the need for traditional reading tests, districts can reclaim a considerable amount of instructional time and can trim costs, Lexia says. Another benefit is that students tend to perform better with embedded assessment. Traditional formative assessment can lead to test anxiety, which can hinder performance; with embedded assessment, however, these anxieties don’t exist.

Lexia Reading is a core curriculum product for students in pre-kindergarten through grade four, but it also can be used as a supplemental instructional program for older students who need remediation, the company says.

Riverside Publishing, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, recently highlighted the achievement gains that some California districts have experienced with the help of its DataDirector product.

DataDirector is a complete online assessment and data-management system that helps educators assess students’ skills, analyze results, and deliver follow-up support based on a prescribed intervention that is customized to each student’s needs. DataDirector allows users to compare multiple sets of data over time so they can target their instruction more effectively for any type of student, the company says—from struggling readers, to high performers, to special-needs students.

Riverside pointed to recent results from the California Department of Education showing that from 2003-08, the number of students who scored at or above proficient on state exams rose 31 percent in reading and 23 percent in math.

With a large population of students who speak English as a second language, the Santa Ana Unified School District faces significant challenges. The district has used DataDirector to give teachers timely feedback, allowing them to group students appropriately for tailored instruction.

“DataDirector is definitely impacting instruction and performance,” said Director of Research and Evaluation Michelle Le Patner. “When we ask teachers how the system is changing what they do, they say that it’s the fast turnaround that makes all the difference.”

Other assessment and data-management news

Renaissance Learning has released an app that lets students take Accelerated Reader quizzes in the classroom using iPads, iPhones, or iPod touches running on Apple’s iOS version 4.0 or later.

The app gives Accelerated Reader customers who use the hosted version of the software on the Renaissance Place Real Time platform the option to take AR quizzes wirelessly, eliminating the need for students to wait for limited access to classroom computers, the company says.

While anyone can download the app from of charge from Apple’s App Store, each device needs to be configured to work with a school’s AR Renaissance Place Real Time software in order to take quizzes. This maintains the integrity of the quizzing process by assuring that Accelerated Reader quizzes continue to be taken in a secure, monitored school environment, Renaissance Learning says.

STI has announced the availability of a new Graduation Tracking System that can send administrators an automated message alerting them when students are at risk of dropping out of school.

Developed in partnership with Johns Hopkins University and the At-Risk Foundation, the software uses these organizations’ biggest risk indicators—attendance, behavior, and course grades—to generate alerts. STI created the software for the state of Alabama, but it’s now available free of charge to any STI customers as part of the company’s Information Now student information system (SIS).

Pearson has introduced the latest versions of its PowerSchool SIS and PowerTeacher software. PowerSchool 7.0 features an improved technology infrastructure, the ability to translate PowerSchool into any language, and student record transfer capabilities that allow any district in North America to transfer student records into PowerSchool easily, the company says. PowerTeacher 2.3, an online teacher gradebook, now includes a custom comment bank, new sorting features, and the ability to track gradebook events.

Pearson says it has made a significant investment in the underlying technology for PowerSchool. “Over the last 18 months, we have replaced all legacy infrastructure within PowerSchool, so the system is now a 100-percent Java application that runs on the Oracle 11g database,” said Paul Fletcher, president of Pearson’s School Systems group. This upgrade has boosted the software’s performance, resulting in 50 percent fewer browser-to-server requests and reducing the time it takes to complete daily tasks and run reports, the company says.

Besides these infrastructure improvements, the new version of PowerSchool enables customers to transfer student records from one district to another more easily. This new functionality, powered by Pearson’s National Transcript Center, allows PowerSchool customers within the U.S. or Canada to request the electronic delivery of a new student’s records from any other North American school district. By acknowledging the request, the student’s previous school can transfer the records to the new school electronically through the National Transcript Center, saving time and effort for both districts.

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