Finding a Constant

Perspective on personalized learning from a formative assessment expert.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sally l’Anson

CREDIT PowerSchool AssessmentYears ago, it was sufficient for teachers to provide feedback to students and their parents at set intervals via report cards, but that approach has quickly become antiquated in today’s educational environment. The appreciation of the value of continuous feedback has created wonderful opportunities for teachers to the best possible instruction, and for parents to play active and continually supportive roles throughout every day of their children’s learning initiatives. Students can also benefit from being able to have more opportunities to demonstrate what they’ve learned, ask questions, and seek new knowledge.

Digital formative assessment tools can help advance this effort. These tools can help teachers better assess and analyze important data, allowing them to personalize and modify

These tools can help teachers better assess and analyze important data, allowing them to personalize and modify their instructions for each student on an ongoing basis.

their instructions for each student on an ongoing basis. In fact, digital assessment tools are critical in helping educators face different challenges while helping each of their students succeed.

Let’s take a closer look at how these tools work.

Quickened Policy Environment

Over the past 18 months, I’ve noticed that states, divisions, schools and teachers are struggling to find a constant in a rapidly evolving education policy environment.

Rapidly evolving education policy may be an oxymoron, as education policy is one of the slowest moving policy environments. For example: it took eight years to revise Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA), which began in 2007, was attempted again in 2011 and 2013 and then was finally passed in July 2015.

Evolving Standards and State Assessments

There have been rapid changes in state standards within the past three years, especially within states that have opted in and out of Common Core State Standards.

Because of this, most educators are still recovering from the switch to the CCSS and the dramatic changes in instruction they require.

Naturally, these educators are also reeling from the effects of having their state summative assessments changed from either SBAC or PARCC to their new state assessments. Throw in the newly minted Next Generation Science Standards and teachers and education leaders are at their limits.

What’s missing? A constant source of data that accurately measures student learning (which must continue) in spite of all the changes.

Teacher Evaluations Tied to Performance Outcomes

Most educators’ evaluations have been recently tethered to student performance outcomes. This adds yet another stressor for educators.

Before the change, teachers had a deep knowledge of the standards they taught and knew how their teaching would be evaluated based on student performance on the state test.

But without a digital tool to assess students formatively, teachers aren’t able to gauge where students are before teacher evaluations are given. How can teachers adjust instruction before learning gaps develop if they don’t have access to the student learning data at all times?

That’s why educators need a constant and reliable measure of student learning to give them the confidence to be sure that their instruction is effective.

Good formative student performance outcomes will likely translate into good teacher performance evaluations. 

How Formative Assessment Technology Can Help

Before formative assessment technology became widely available, teachers followed the assessment protocol we all know very well: students take a quiz using paper and pencil, turn it into the teacher, and receive a grade within 14 days.

Sound familiar?

Sometimes the teacher would also review the quiz with the whole class explaining the reasoning behind the correct answers.

However, the teacher lacked critical information.

She did not have the time or expertise to analyze the student answers to give her information about which standard(s) or skill(s) the class or individuals performed poorly on.

Nor did she have any information about which item type(s) the class or individuals performed poorly on.

She certainly did not have the time to identify commonly chosen incorrect answer choices.

This is where formative assessment technology steps in and revolutionizes the assessment feedback loop, serving as a constant for educators, no matter how the standards or state summative exams change.

So much that, after a school in Virginia implemented a formative assessment tool, the school improved mathematics instruction and increased the percentage of students passing the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) mathematics assessments by up to 76 percent for some grades.

Formative assessment tools help create individualized instruction informed by valid and reliable data about what individual students know and don’t know, which is one of the most powerful aspects of personalized learning.

Sally I’Anson, Ed.D., is Director of Professional Development at PowerSchool and has held a wide range of positions in both public, charter, and private education. Write to:

  • dcehughes


    Can you recommend which formative assessment tools are best for giving the kind of data to help track and improve learning??

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