Digital Age Assessment: Part 2

from Technology & Learning

A look at how technology use in formative assessments improves feedback and reporting opportunities.

Once teachers have identified and shared the standards with students, instructed them via meaningful learning experiences, monitored their progress, and diagnosed learning strengths and gaps, they are ready to give feedback and report on student growth. This formative feedback directly helps students improve their performance.



Using a wiki, students can learn from peers who share their success strategies. For example, as high school English students encounter problems in writing a contrast essay, they can post a quick message on a wiki such as PBwiki. As other students encounter the same learning roadblock, they can go to the wiki to see their classmates' suggestions. They then receive feedback from their peers who typically word the solutions in very student-friendly language.

Online course management

Teachers can transform an online quiz into a formative assessment by creating an explanation for each correct answer in the ProProfs, Blackboard, or HotChalk course management systems. After elementary math students take a quiz, they immediately see the correct answer and the explanation for that correct answer. Teachers' comments may include more than just a quick rule or phrase; they may provide concept maps, specific textbook references, an interactive Internet site, or a Web-based iMovie. Explanations and supporting resources provide concrete formative suggestions for students' improvement, not generic comments like "Read chapter 5."


Teachers and students can create iMovie demonstrations of proficient learning for feedback. A middle school science teacher watches one group of students successfully set up a lab. He asks if they can set it up again and explain each step as he records them. When he observes students in other groups who are less than proficient in setting up this particular lab, he asks them to watch the iMovie demonstration to learn how to set it up correctly.


Often a teacher does not have time to give feedback to each student during class. However, as a high school art teacher looks over the students' paintings, she can digitally record her feedback as she thinks aloud about each student's work. Then she posts the podcasts to the district's server and lets the individual students know the podcast's Web address so that they can each listen to her feedback.

Online rubrics

If a teacher wants to provide written feedback on her students' work, she can use rubrics, checklists, or rating scales. She can take a generic online rubric such as one from TeAchnology, and then modify the rubric to create a formative assessment rubric for her high school science "Save the planet" project. She will make sure this assessment tool describes the learning in such a way that the students will know how to improve. General scoring statements such as "Explains well" do not help the less-than-proficient learners improve; she needs to specify what "Explains well" means.

TeAchnology's rubrics builder is a comprehensive rubric development, assessment, and collaboration tool that can be aligned to standards-based learning criteria.

Wikis for diagnostic feedback

A teacher can provide more varied feedback to students for particular learning goals if he has created an online bank of the various learning gaps that students show in a standards-based goal. This depository can be a wiki such as Class Blogmeister or a folder on the school's server. When a teacher includes not only the learning gaps but also the precise formative strategies that will help the students to overcome them, this online wiki bank becomes a powerful formative assessment. The middle school social studies teacher looks at a student's digital work on analyzing historical documents; diagnoses a particular learning gap; refers to his online wiki; inserts constructive comments into the student's work; and returns the work to the student.


Progress history

A teacher may give many assessments, and the students may see these as individual ratings rather than specific signs of progress. Along with a student's present rating on a particular standard, the teacher can record past scores for the same standard, so students can see their progress and feel more motivated to try harder.

Spreadsheets record growth

A teacher can keep track of her students' progress on a weekly basis by using an Excel spreadsheet. She can have a spreadsheet section for each standard; that section will be divided into the various learning goals within that standard. The spreadsheet will include various assessments on each learning goal. For example, the students' names can go down the spreadsheet while the various assessments-by-learning goals can go across. A middle school English teacher may have five assessments for Standard 1.1 that she labels with the month of each assessment. As she gives these assessments, she makes sure that each one focuses on a specific learning goal. Later, she can easily print out the progress of any student.

Standards-based homework

Students want to know their progress on a regular basis. Many online programs such as Blackboard or SnapGrades offer access to both students and their parents. A high school math teacher provides more than just the students' homework and test scores by labeling each class activity with a standard and learning goal. Instead seeing Homework 9/12–80, they can see Standard 1.2–9/12–80. These grades reveal how well the student is progressing in each standard.

SnapGrades lets students and parents check current grades and homework online anytime.

Benchmark assessments

Students may be taking benchmark assessments as frequently as five or six times a year; their teacher receives a listing of the proficient and learning gap areas for each student. CTB/McGraw-Hill's Acuity is a suite of diagnostic and predictive benchmark assessments designed to show student growth toward state standards and performance indicators in English/Language Arts and math for grades 3–8.

Ultimately, through the use of technology, teachers gain many tools that help them give students formative feedback and report on their progress. These students grasp that their teachers sincerely want them to succeed and are empowered with strategies to become successful learners.

Harry Grover Tuttle, EdD, is a consultant.