Five reasons most assessment tools fail to impress in primary classrooms

  • 4 minute read
  • 25 April 2021

How many maths assessment tools has your school tried and ended up being disappointed with? Or maybe you feel like they are ok, but you are not really excited to use them? Maybe you have invested in multiple tools as each of them seems to solve one part of the puzzle. What is the common thread here? Why do these tools seem to disappoint us over and over again?

Reason 1 – Design for the wrong audience 

Often, assessments used in primary schools are an adaptation of maths assessment tools developed for older students that fail to provide equity and fairness in assessment design. These tools do not cater for literacy demands and developing motor skills, making it really challenging, if not impossible, for students to properly engage with them.

What to look for:

Think beyond gamification, as even platforms that incorporate it can have fonts that are too small or not recognise handwritten input if this is not tidy enough.

You are probably already asking these, but if you are new to evaluating assessment tools and apps here are some ideas:

  • Fonts, are they large enough?
  • Input modes
    • can students record their answers verbally so if their written skills are not as developed they can still demonstrate understanding? 
    • does it recognise mirror images of numbers? 
    • does it require the use of a keyboard? 
    • can students drag and drop?
  • Are the objects colourful and friendly? Will students engage with the task?
  • Are instructions simple to understand so that minimum supervision is required?
  • Is it intuitive to use (both for you as a teacher or leader and for your students)
  • Variety of questions types (is it all multiple choice or are there multiple question types that would allow for a more accurate diagnosis of students understanding?)

Reason 2 – Do not provide data that is granular enough to enable differentiation 

Teachers are often stuck with inadequate resources and assessment data not fit for purpose, finding themselves unable to identify where students are at in the learning continuum. Some assessment tools provide only limited information about students gaps and competences, highlighting only areas that need more work. Not being able to pinpoint the specific concept or misconceptions that is preventing a student from making progress defeats the purpose of formative assessment.

However, a well designed tool will allow you to get granular data as well as report broadly on students achievement within a particular curriculum strand or substrand

These types of assessments are great for getting a rough idea about how one student is achieving, but the data is most powerful when looking at class and cohort reports, something that school leaders will find incredibly useful if looking to spot trends.

What to look for:

Make sure the tool provides flexibility in assessment type. 

  • Does it give you the option to create formative assessments as well as summative? Can you choose the content and the granularity of the assessment (can you choose statements you would like to diagnose?)
  • Can you assess as at strand or substrand level to get a more broad picture of where the class is at?

Reason 3 – Do not provide data that can be easily translate into “next best actions”

So you finally have all the data you need, but now you have to compile all the spreadsheets, filter things, match fields and from there work out what to do next. Chances are that by the time you are finished collecting, collating and organising your data is time to run a new assessment as enough new learning has taken place since the last check in. Good assessment platforms should provide you with dashboards and reports that present information with classroom use in mind. For example, grouping students based on their learning profile, or providing a list of students that have mastered a concept or are stuck in a particular area of the curriculum. 

What to look for:

  • Check the reports and dashboards. Is the data organised in a way you can take action with your students immediately without having to export and organise the data yourself or use other data sources for completion?
  • Can you easily do things like group students based on their learning needs?
  • Can you report on your class by level, strand, substrand or statement/concept?
  • Can you organise students based on mastery of concepts?

Reason 4: Teachers considerations are not accounted for

No assessment tool can replace what the teacher knows about a student, or can account accurately enough for human error (like typos). This can be incredibly frustrating for teachers and students. Just imagine knowing that you can count by 20s but the system telling you can’t and making you answer the same questions again. Or as a teacher having observed a student who can work with collections of 30 but has skipped a question in the assessment and now is flagged as unable to count to 30. Not being able to override the system can make the data irrelevant and inaccurate.

What to look for:

  • Can you override the system if a student has been misdiagnosed? 

Reason 5: Teachers observations are not integrated as part of the assessment

Assessing younger students is a complex task, and not having a multimodal approach to it can really hinder the results. Interviewing students is one of the most effective ways to assess students’ understanding, however it is incredibly time consuming and hard to manage (usually requiring teacher aids to manage the classroom for the day). Ideally, you want a tool that integrates the teacher student interview as part of the process, where students can record their answers and you can review those items that need your attention. This can have a tremendous impact on not only on how often you can conduct interviews but also allowing you to spend more time addressing the learning needs rather than trying to uncover them.

What to look for:

  • Is there a place for teacher observations or interviews to be recorded and mapped with the assessment data?
  • Can students record their answers for you to play back and provide feedback?
  • Can the system analyse the audio to flag answers that need your attention? 

Author: Maths Pathway

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