ERS Means No Errors in Student Assessment

from Educators' eZine

Accurate assessment can be designed to improve student performance. With No Child Left Behind, it is even more important to maintain accurate assessment records for your students. Teachers need a technology solution that can provide customized feedback and simplify the recordkeeping and storage chores of today's multi-tasking educators.

As our education system continues to demand more from our students, it is also more demanding on teachers. This is particularly true for the paperwork and record-keeping that comes with assessing student performance. But because improvements in student assessment techniques have turned student evaluation from a static measurement into a learning tool, the extra paperwork and record-keeping is considered a necessary evil.

As a teacher, I had an acute self-interest in reducing paperwork and record-keeping. Knowing that the right technology can often streamline work flow, I decided it was time to find or create a technology solution that could provide more accurate student assessments, as well as tame the paperwork tiger. In my particular case, it involved evaluating students' multimedia presentations. Because these are so creative but often so unpredictable, I needed a way to codify assessment and avoid subjective evaluations.

Years earlier, when I was in the business world, our company used a custom-designed ordering system that was based on FileMaker Pro database software. Salespeople had lookups from dropdown lists and fields filled in automatically based on a key field. It allowed our salespeople to spend more time on what they did best — sales. A solution using a database model similar to this ordering system would improve my grading accuracy and cut paperwork and filing chores.

The first solution I evaluated was Microsoft Access. However, Access lacked the ease-of-use and cross-platform functionality that was required. What was needed was a solution that could be easily created by a non-technical person, customized for our specific situation and easily changed as assessment needs were revised. We also wanted an application that would make it easy for teachers to share student information and assessment data.

A short time later, at the 2003 Georgia Educational Technology Conference, I had a "eureka" moment for developing a student assessment system. At the conference, I was re-introduced to FileMaker Pro and its capabilities. I was pleased to find that the program had added many new features and improvements since I last used it in the business world. It also fit all of my requirements for ease of use, flexibility and collaborative information sharing.

And thus was born ERS — the Electronic Rubrics System

Managing Classroom Instruction through ERS
Returning from the conference, I used FileMaker Pro to build the first solution using the rubrics developed earlier that year. First, I imported the word "rubrics" as a background image and then created the assessment fields as overlays on that image. I then imported names from my grade book by converting the data therein to a Comma Separated Values (CSV) file. Next, I created the drop-down lists and defined the relationships between the various fields. As simple as that, the proto-type application was ready for trial for the 2003-2004 school year.

The impact of this powerful this tool in managing class instruction was immediate. As teachers, we often fall into patterns. Prior to this, I had always felt that the informal but personal verbal feedback was more effective than standardized written feedback. But the response by my student "clients" to the new electronic rubrics system upended my traditional assumption. Unsolicited, my students said they appreciated the more structured and specific feedback. They were also pleased to know that new assignments had grading rubrics published in advance.

Success Breeds Success
Prior to my implementing the Electronic Rubrics System, students had to figure out over time why I judged some work worth an "A" and other work only a "B." Now, with a standardized assessment linked to a numerical scale, students had measurement targets. With a greater degree of specificity, they could improve the final version of their presentations or assignments.

Given the rubrics solution's initial success at the high school level, I designed a similar system for the business information systems classes I was teaching at Kennesaw State University. The challenge at the college level was that course assignments did not fit into one assessment style. Thus, I developed two templates to assess their assignments. As part of the solution, I used a plug-in developer, Data Designs, whose iMailer Emails records (rubric) forms to students. That is a great time saver as instructional time is not lost in distributing grade reports to students over several class periods. I can distribute a set of graded projects to students electronically in the time it takes to get a cold drink. There's also a fringe benefit. Because of the detailed feedback they get, I receive significantly fewer queries from students inquiring about the scores they received.

ERS Integrates with Microsoft Office
Because my ERS is built with FileMaker Pro, I can take advantage of FileMaker's ability to easily integrate with Microsoft Office files. Grade sheets developed in Excel spreadsheets can easily be imported into a FileMaker solution. You simply match the fields and run the import function. FileMaker also easily imports information from CSV files. Most grade book programs have an export feature and this will allow you to bring in your student information into FileMaker without having to retype the data. You can also export data from FileMaker to transfer it back into most grade books using a CSV format. This is truly a timesaver and allows you to integrate the rubrics solution with other teaching tools.

Another benefit to the FileMaker-based rubrics application is that it can work on a Mac, Windows, Windows CE and Palm platforms. This allows me to grade presentations in real time while the student is presenting the assignment. It also simplifies the grading task and delivers a complete assessment quickly — right after the assignment has been presented.

Some teachers ask me "Is your rubrics systems really effective? Is it easy to use? Will it improve student performance?"

I simply tell them "yes," "yes," "yes."

Email:Michael Perry