In With the New Assessment

Naiku founder discusses integration of new technologies for better assessment.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Adisack of NaikuAdisack Nhouyvanisvong is an expert in computer-based and computer-adaptive testing. He is the co-founder of Naiku, a next-generation student assessment platform. He most recently served as the senior director of psychometric quality at Data Recognition Corporation. After listening to Adisack, it makes sense that naiku means “teacher” in Lao. Over his 12 year career, he has created and ensured psychometric integrity for both large-scale educational assessments and professional and certification organizations and has taught at the University of Minnesota. He is also an adjunct faculty at Metropolitan State University. Adisack has published in peer-reviewed journals and regularly speaks at education conferences. In this interview, he discusses the impact that technology has made in our daily lives, how it is starting to make its way into education and the implications of this for assessment, for students — and for a group he has dedicated his life to helping — teachers.

Teachers need to know what their students know and don’t know, in order to make appropriate and effective instructional decisions.

Victor: What is Next Generation Student Assessment and why should we be moving that way now instead of later?

Adisack: Next generation student assessment is the integration of new technology and better assessment techniques that allow teachers to know more about their students. Teachers need to know what their students know and don’t know, in order to make appropriate and effective instructional decisions. Through new technologies like tablets, ultraportable laptops, and even smartphones that are becoming more and more ubiquitous in schools, teachers now can use next generation assessment software to engage their students in frequent and effective assessment practices. The new technologies allow teachers to give meaningful and immediate feedback to students after every assessment and will free teachers up from the menial tasks of hand scoring and grading exams. Next generation assessment technologies also give teachers more instructional time because they don’t have to recreate the wheel each time they want to create or administer an assessment. The new assessment technologies make it easier for teachers to share and collaborate with their peers.

Next generation student assessment is more than just moving traditional paper-based assessment practices online. With next generation student assessment, students aren’t merely filling in bubbles on a computer. Students are more engaged in the assessment process; they are actively setting goals and conducting self-assessment and evaluations of their progress towards those meeting those goals. In addition, students engage and develop their metacognitive abilities through techniques such as confidence prediction and reflection. These better assessment techniques, coupled with new technologies, allow teachers to engage in effective and frequent assessments of their students, giving them insightful data about what their students know and don’t know, and what they think they know and don’t know.

Teachers and students should be moving towards this next generation assessment model now rather than later because they can significantly increase student learning, save themselves time and because they can easily do it now. Whether it’s an iPad implementation across the school, classroom sets of Chromebooks that teachers share or a BYOD program, schools now have the hardware and infrastructure to implement and support next generation classroom assessment tools. Well designed next generation assessment software not only drives student learning and saves teachers time, but it can be adopted by teachers in stages to facilitate the transition from traditional assessment methods. Lastly, schools need to implement next generation classroom assessment now to accelerate student achievement as American students are already behind their international cohorts and we can’t afford to let them fall further behind.

Victor: What does next generation student assessment actually mean?

naiku logoAdisack: Next generation student assessment means the utilization of new technologies and better assessment techniques that engage and inform teachers and students about what students know and don’t know for informed and personalized learning and instruction. It’s using the power of technology to transform the assessment experience into a learning experience in an engaging and efficient way, not simply digitizing the traditional print-based assessment experience.

This is what we mean when we call Naiku the next generation student assessment platform. Naiku helps teachers, through technology, to easily identify and track student proficiency by standard in any subject or grade, not just simply collect a number of scores on a test. Further, teachers can get deeper insight into student performance and students are engaged in the assessment process. For example, when taking an assessment on Naiku, students not only select or fill in an answer to the question. They engage in the assessment process by predicting their performance and confidence on the question. They journal and justify their answer selection. They self-assess and reflect on their performance, allowing them to engage both cognitively and meta-cognitively through the assessment process. This is how teachers know more about their students through the Naiku next generation student assessment platform.

Next Generation Assessment is using the power of technology to transform the assessment experience into a learning experience in an engaging and efficient way, not simply digitizing the traditional print-based assessment experience.

Victor: What role do you see student assessment data playing in improving teaching, or even in personalizing learning for individual students?

Adisack: There’s no doubt that student assessment data plays a huge role in improving teaching and personalizing learning for individual students. To improve teaching and personalize learning, teachers must know what their students know and don’t know. They must know their strengths. They must know their areas of weakness. They must know what they like. They must know what they don’t like. And teachers can’t know these things about their students without assessing them in an efficient and meaningful way.

I’m not simply advocating for more assessments of students. I’m advocating for better and more meaningful assessment practices. With today’s advances in technology and the science of assessment, we know we can get more meaningful information about our students than a singular test score. We know we can get a better and more timely picture of the whole student for informed and personalized instruction through frequent formative assessment, goal setting and self-evaluation and self-reflection and bi-directional feedback between teacher and student,

In addition, student assessment data aids teachers in their own development. Through bi-directional feedback and sharing student performance data within PLCs, teachers can increase and strengthen their professional development opportunities.

Victor: How important is technology for the future of assessment, keeping things like PARCC and Smarter Balance requirements in mind?

Adisack: Technology is and will be an important component of assessment. Technology allows teachers to collect more students’ information in more engaging ways. Technology can automatically grade almost any assessment for a teacher. Some technologies will even grade student essays. Though for that, I’d always advocate that teachers manually read and score student essays, especially for classroom assessment. Reading and scoring student work is how teachers know more about their students.

Technology-enhanced items surely have their place on assessments such as the PARCC and Smarter Balance assessments. Requiring students to solve problems through active interactions can be more engaging for students and can provide teachers with more meaningful information about student skills and knowledge. However, the key component is the cognitive complexity and authenticity of the interactions that’s required to solve the assessment problem. Using technology-enhanced items for the sake of using the technology in and of itself will not necessarily lead to better information and to better learning and instruction.

Victor: Do you see that role increasing in the next, say 5-10 years or staying roughly the same as today? 

Adisack: Technology continues to change and increase at a rapid pace. So in 5-10 years, I’d expect the role of technology to increase in student assessment. I’d expect better and easier tools for teachers to create technology-enhanced and more authentic assessment questions. I’d expect better technology to capture, score, track and monitor student learning behavior. Through better assessment technology, we will be able to deliver on the promise of adaptive and personalized learning for all students.

Victor: Can you give a classroom example of how this works from implementation to the actual changes this student data should drive? What do admins, teachers and students have to do differently, will their roles change in the future?

Adisack: When schools implement next generation student assessment practices with Naiku, it is quite easy for them to collect and use meaningful assessment data to inform instruction. First, Naiku connects with the school’s student information system. Therefore, teacher and student accounts and class rosters are already set up for them. All they need to do is login with a username and password.

Teachers start the process by creating and assigning an assessment to the students. Teachers can create a brand new assessment, use their existing assessment that they have in Word or PDF format or search for an assessment already created by other teachers in or outside their district. The assessment questions are aligned to national, state or local standards as chosen by the teacher. Optionally, test questions can have answer rationale that can be given to students for immediate feedback and instruction.

Students then log into Naiku to take the assessment that has been assigned to them. Before they take the assessment, they have the option and are encouraged to set goals and expectations for the class. When they take the assessment, they can also be asked to rate their confidence in each answer they provide. Additionally, they can write and journal about their answer/s to provide justification and/or additional feedback to their teacher.

After finishing the test, students receive immediate results. When answer rationale is included in the test questions, these are provided to the students for immediate feedback and instruction. While reviewing their results, students are asked to reflect on their performance – both on the test overall as well as on each question. In addition to providing the teacher with deeper insight into student performance, this provides students the opportunity to reconcile their prediction with their actual performance on the question; a process that research has found to improve student learning and retention of knowledge.

After the students complete the assessment, teachers are immediately provided with reports on student and class performance, by state standards or local learning targets, and students are automatically grouped into proficiency levels. These reports provide useful feedback to teachers to help them make appropriate instructional decisions immediately – even during the current class period.

As they provide additional instruction, teachers can then check for understanding immediately with Naiku Quick Question. This is online student response system allows teachers to conduct frequent formative assessments to check for student understanding.

As teachers assign and give more assessments to the students, they can track the students’ overall performance across time or across standards. This type of feedback allows teachers to track and monitor student progress towards achieving proficiency or master of the standards.

If the assessments are meant for summative and grading purposes, the teacher can export the test scores into their gradebook with the touch of a button. If the school uses standards-based grading, then the students’ proficiency scores can also be exported to the gradebook.

With Naiku, teachers receive meaningful data about what their students know and don’t know. Not only do they get the students’ scores on the test and by standard, they also receive insights into student thinking through the students’ confidence ratings and reflections. This data, aggregated over time and disaggregated by standards, allows teachers to make appropriate instructional decisions for each and every student.

With Naiku, the roles of teachers and students do not change. Teachers are just given more time to do the things that matter (i.e., make appropriate instructional decisions). They don’t have to waste time creating and grading tests. Students are given the opportunity to do more and learn more with Naiku. Currently, most students view test taking as a chore and a moment filled with anxiety. With Naiku, students view test taking as an additional opportunity to learn and reflect. This is how better assessment leads to better learning.

Victor: Could you discuss the research you have used at Naiku to ensure that your platform helps educators and students alike reach their goals and realize their full potential?

Adisack: Naiku was built with a foundation of assessment and instructional best practices shown through years of educational research. The research of Black and Wiliam (1998) on formative assessment is a key component of Naiku. So is the research of Hattie (2009, 2012) on the most effective instructional practices as summarized in his books, Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers.

To summarize, Black and Wiliam, in their seminal paper Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment, revealed formative assessment to be an essential and the most highly effective instructional strategy to raise student achievement. This finding was further supported by Hattie in his meta-analysis of more than 900 educational studies involving over a hundred million students. Hattie also found formative assessment to be one of the most effective instructional practices. He also found other instructional strategies, including student self-reported grades and self-assessment, feedback and metacognitive strategies to be highly effective in raising student achievement.

These four effective strategies (i.e., formative assessment, self-reported grades, feedback and metacognitive strategies) are built-in and embedded throughout Naiku. Teachers can implement frequent formative assessment with Naiku Quick Question to check for understanding at any time. They can engage students in self-reports, self-assessment and self-reflection to develop their metacognitive abilities. Feedback is built into Naiku in a bi-directional way, such that teachers can provide feedback to students, while students can also provide feedback to their teachers. It is this feedback loop that is at the heart of formative assessment and of Naiku. Through the use of test-elicited evidence both students and teachers can adjust their learning and instruction appropriately.

Victor: Do you feel that, as it exists today, student assessment or even next generation student assessment is here to stay?

Adisack: As it exists today, student assessment in the form of paper-and-pencil tests, bubble sheets or even student response systems is on its way out. Teachers are busier than ever. Students are more demanding of instant gratification and feedback. Neither can afford the old and slow way of doing things.

Next generation student assessment is here to stay and will only get better in the future. The future is about Big Data and personalized data. Big and personalized data can only be acquired through effective and efficient next generation technology and better assessment practices.

Victor: Any other thoughts on education or the role technology will continue to play in the future?

Adisack: Technology in the last 5-10 years has had a huge positive impact on our daily lives. Through smart phones, social media platforms and the Internet of things, we’re able to do more, connect more and learn more. The impact that technology has made in our daily lives is starting to make its way into education. Now we can expect our students to do more and learn more in school. It’s through both better learning platforms and better assessment platforms that we will continue to see technology play an important role in education.

Victor Rivero is the editor in chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:



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