Digital Age Assessment: Part 1

from Technology & Learning

A look at technology tools that aid formative assessment.

Effective observation and diagnosis of student learning can be greatly assisted by 21stcentury technologies. Below are five practical tools to help educators measure student progress.


Personal response systems such as those by GTCO allow us to get a snapshot of students' comprehension in real time. We might ask a middle school social studies class: "Which state does not belong in this list and why? A) Florida; B) New York; C) California; or D) Nevada." As the computer displays the answers on a teacher desktop or on a projection screen, the results (appearing in chart or graph form) provide quick information on any gaps or trends in student understanding.

Online quizzes

Students take an online practice quiz offered by a course management system such as Blackboard, HotChalk, or Baudnet; a quiz-giving service such as Quia; or through a noncommercial service such as ProProfs. The teacher can organize the test so that it evaluates the learning standard at a high level of thinking. For example, the first three questions could quiz at the Bloom's Knowledge-Comprehension level, the next three at the Application- Analysis level, and the remaining four at the Synthesis-Evaluation level.

Quia lets you create your own quiz while analyzing class progress.

In a Spanish class, we first ask "What does tocar mean?" then "What is the 'we' form of tocar?" and finally, "Which is a correct use of tocar?" Also, questions could be organized by specific learning goals within a standard. Students benefit from the immediate feedback of online practice quizzes and educators are able to monitor students' progress without having to correct and analyze the quizzes.

Web-based surveys

Students can take an online one-minute survey in which they respond to three questions such as what they have learned about a topic, what confused them, and what additional comments they'd like to make. After social studies students analyzed the causes and effects of the Great Depression, they take a Zoomerang or Moodle survey. The teacher gives them a short, two- to three-minute activity—such as summarizing a chapter—while we look over their instantly collected and organized responses, determining immediately if and how the instruction should be changed.

Digital logs

To develop elementary students' reading skills, teachers can record how many words they read in a given number of minutes over numerous weeks. After they finish reading, teachers record it in a log on a PDA, tablet computer, or desktop computer. Commercial literacy products, which are PDA-based, such as Fox in a Box K-3 literacy assessment, facilitate this monitoring process.


As science students participate in an online discussion or contribute to a class wiki topic on genetic engineering of plants, the teacher rates their answers to see if they are doing complex thinking about the learning goal. Instead of just counting how many responses they give, teachers can look at their comments and rate each on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 representing beginning use and level 4 indicating above-proficiency. The teacher then records this information in a spreadsheet under the specific goal so that they have collected all their information in one easy-to-manipulate form.

Harry Grover Tuttle, EdD, is a consultant.