When my now 11 year old 6th grader was ending his 4th grade experience he had to take the "STAAR TEST". It's the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, a high stakes exam that might result in a student not moving up to the next grade-for him 5th. He was VERY nervous about failing and perhaps not moving on with his friends. I got the impression his teeth might rattle out of his head-he was this way off and on for weeks. Although we talked about the fact that he had done his homework, had brought home good grades, and had always performed pretty well on tests he was only slightly assuaged.
At about this time-perhaps a few weeks before that-he was to take a standard math test. It was a rather lengthy one that required some study on his part. Prior to him taking it I asked how he felt about the material--"pretty confident!" was his enthusiastic reply. As you may have guessed he came home with a 50 on the test he felt "pretty confident" about but he passed the STAAR test.
This experience left me thinking about how we teach and assess our kids. I couldn't tell him all of what was going through my head at the time but 20+ years as a Social Services and IT pro in education had taught me that one of the strongest and most persistent predictors of academic performance was socio-economics and for good or ill he was in pretty good shape on that score with middle class parents in a middle class school. Statistically, this alone suggested he would pass the STAAR. However, Duncan also had very few absences (another big predictor), hung around with other kids who also did pretty well in school, and both his parents had advanced degrees. Statistically, he was most likely going to do OK.
One thing Duncan didn't have, however, was a realistic confidence in his abilities. When he felt 'pretty confident' it wasn't based on much other than school and homework. While he got a good deal of feedback from his teachers and parents it wasn't enough. He needed a lot more feedback to allow him to realistically assess how well he understood the information and when he didn't have a good understanding he needed a way to communicate that to his teacher who could then fill in the gaps for him.
Duncan's class has 23 to 25 students in it and managing a class of that many students can be at the very least a challenging task. More often than not it's simply herculean on a daily basis. To provide feedback to the tune of 60 to 80 times a week on math problems is simply not possible but it's what Duncan needed to ensure he understood all of what was before him.
What was clear to me was that 1) we could use technology to provide the critical feedback that was necessary for both the teacher and student and 2) we could use that feedback, along with other available data, to make ongoing statistically appropriate predictions regarding Duncan's understanding. And, in so doing, we could reduce and in the future hopefully eliminate the stress inducing high stakes summative testing with low key, ongoing, formative assessment that would still give an accurate assessment of his understanding. This approach could help target Duncan's area of need and communicate that need to his teacher in such a way that student centered learning could be achieved with very little effort on the part of the teacher. In addition Duncan could get the kind of feedback that would contribute to true confidence and understanding. For a quick explanation take a look at the innovative STEM assessment video on this web site and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!