Online Assessment in the Wake of No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation marks a critical point, not just because it triggered the development of state assessments, but because the legislation created a need for assessment data throughout the year. Leaders across the country realized that they did not want to be surprised by the spring assessment results. They wanted to prepare themselves, their superintendents, teachers, and everyone else as to what they anticipated the results would show, creating the need for benchmark assessments.

These assessments fall under a variety or terms–benchmark assessments, interim assessments, and Tier 1 progress monitoring assessments–but essentially all serve the same set of core needs. These assessments help predict state assessment results. Producers of these assessments also claim that they provide actionable insights into student learning. These systems evolved and mushroomed in the post-NCLB era and are typically administered online at least three times a year. Specific examples include iReady, NWEA Map, and ATI Galileos.

Online Assessment Results In, Classroom Assessments Out

These assessment programs systematically undermine our confidence in the ability of teachers to predict how our students will perform on the state assessments. By spring all teachers should know their students well enough to know how they will perform: teachers spend the year understanding student strengths and struggles through unit assessments, quizzes, and formative assessments. These assessments still serve as the primary source of information when it comes to parent communication, report card grades, and to guide instructional practice.

“Interrupting instruction to have students in front of a screen to take another assessment makes it seem like a computer, rather than a teacher, is better equipped to understand student performance.”

In this new assessment paradigm, traditional classroom assessments are ignored. Interrupting instruction to have students in front of a screen to take another assessment makes it seem like a computer, rather than a teacher, is better equipped to understand student performance.

Online Assessments’ Upfront and Hidden Costs

The online assessment paradigm demands significant resources. These programs are expensive to purchase and implement. They also require significant time investments. Instruction time and collaborative time are instead devoted to administering and discussing online assessment results.

And although the producers of online assessment products claim that their results provide data to guide instruction, teachers trust what they see in class. They trust the paper and pencil products that students create and their own interactions with children. The reports from online assessments also do not align with the pacing of the instruction in the classroom. For these reasons, there is a great disconnect when teachers are asked to make “actionable insights” from online assessment results.

Classroom Assessment Results Are Invisible

Classroom assessment results are disregarded in conversations and analyses of student performance because they are invisible. Most attentive teachers know much more about their students than any online assessment will ever reveal, but those data are isolated. The data are isolated in paper grade books, on hard drives in spreadsheets, or in personal electronic grade books. And so, although classroom assessments are the most valid data that classroom teachers have, they are disregarded.

Leaders need information in order to lead. Online assessment systems provide more data than ever for administrators. These data help administrators to understand the current status of their schools and how students will perform on the high-stakes state assessments. Unfortunately, the data has come at great expense to our schools, taxing our balance sheets and redirecting instructional and collaborative time. More data is not more meaningful data. Let us instead make the rich, detailed information already collected in classrooms visible. Learn how.