This weekend, I am at ASCD's annual conference, now referred to as Empower. This is not the fourth year that I've attended (and presented...but more on that in another post), but it is the fourth time I've wandered through the exhibit hall with an eye toward what various companies are promoting to schools. The versions from 2013, 2014, and 2015 are available, if you'd like a trip down memory lane. In fact, that might not be a bad idea, because (Spoiler alert!) there was nothing particularly new or outstanding.
Data management and reports
There are no stand-alone systems here this year. Lots of vendors who focus on assessment and grading, however, do have displays and reports for managing student information. I asked the same question that I have asked for the last five years: Who builds your displays and reports? And yes, of course the developers make the magic happen behind the scenes, but there is still the same disturbing number of companies out there where that is the only answer. Or, there may be something along the lines of "we got feedback from teachers." This is all well and good---I support user involvement. I also know that developers and teachers are not data designers. People are spending a lot of time on these products, but they don't care enough to make the effort to ensure that effective communication with the data actually happens.
In one particular exchange, the project creator told me that all her charts were a result of her research. I have no doubt that the project is spawned from many years of hard work with teachers...but I know that she does no research with data design or communication. In fact, she was a little upset that anyone would ask about how she came to make her choices. I won't link to it here, but it's a new partnership with ASCD that you can look for, if you're interested.
There were some different displays this year for various flavours of student assessment. Scantron is making a big show this year. I chatted with them a bit and they have a few sessions this weekend. Perhaps I just hadn't noticed before that they are more than the "bubble sheet" company, but it looks like they're diversifying and growing into student assessment. I can't speak to the quality of this new content, but in an age of apps, google tools, and other options, it seems wise to be more than a company involved with scoring assessments.
Pacific Metrics is a content aggregators for various assessment banks, like the ACT or district-developed items. It produces no reports---it just integrates with existing school information systems. I think this is a desirable option for a lot of districts, especially smaller ones who may not have the resources to develop their own content. If someone else has valid and reliable items for you...and those can be automagically scored and then imported into your gradebook...it could be helpful. It's not a replacement for professional judgment---teachers would still need to ensure that the assessment matches the content.
The product I liked best came from Exemplars K - 12. This company provides not only rich tasks for the classroom, but also scoring tools and anchor papers. This last piece is incredibly valuable. These exemplars are representative of actual student work and can show teachers how to implement the rubrics. While I will always advocate for teachers to come together to develop tasks, score student work, and engage in conversations about student learning as a result, I can't deny that these banks would also support good teaching. I think this is especially important for rural or small districts, or schools with a high rate of turnover so that new teachers have a consistent framework in place.
Have you seen something this year for student data or assessment that you like?