Measuring Learning Success: 3 Tools and Strategies for Educators

Female Primary Or Elementary School Teacher Helping Students At Desks In Multi-Cultural Class demonstrating the use of assessment tools

Every educator knows what it’s like to think that students understand something, only to discover that many remain confused. That’s why assessments are an essential part of every teacher’s toolkit—but they can be time-intensive to administer and grade. However, a host of digital solutions can now deliver insight into learning progress without eating away at class time. Importantly, educators can use these tools for both formative assessments during units and summative assessments at the end of the semester. 

In this article, we explore 3 assessment tools and strategies for the classroom and discuss how they can be combined to give both teachers and students insight into learning success. We also provide tips for implementing assessment tools to measure higher-order reasoning skills. 

Key Takeaways

  • Computer adaptive testing modifies the questions a student sees based on their unique needs and offers a personalized approach to student evaluation.
  • Teachers can use adaptive tools for formative assessments to get real-time insight into student progress. They can then modify lesson plans accordingly.
  • By using portable custom interactions (PCIs), such as real-world simulators, educators can both teach and measure achievement on higher-order reasoning and collaboration tasks.
  • Adaptive tools also enable teachers to design personalized, precise, and engaging summative assessments for classrooms with students of varying abilities. 

3 Tools and Strategies for the Classroom

Education is always a balancing act of addressing diverse student needs and abilities. Luckily, digital assessment tools can help educators accurately measure progress to ensure everyone fulfills their potential. Whether used for formative or summative assessments, the 3 strategies explored below empower teachers with the insight they need to best support their pupils. 

Using adaptive testing for formative assessment

Adaptive testing is a powerful resource that enables teachers to offer a personalized approach to student evaluation. As the name suggests, adaptive assessments present students with questions of varying difficulty, depending on whether earlier responses were correct or incorrect. Because they provide real-time results, adaptive assessments are often used to gauge student progress in the middle of a unit, so teachers can help them fill any gaps in their knowledge.

For example, before you plan a lesson on the geography of the Indus River Valley, you might have students complete a pretest on Asian geography to check their current knowledge. If some students are confused about the location of the Himalayas or the Iranian Plateau, you can review this information before diving into your lesson. 

Here are some further tips for using adaptive tools for formative assessment:

  • If you want to gauge the efficacy of a new teaching method or resource, have students complete a formative assessment after their lesson ends. Then, use the data you gather—for example,on common misconceptions across the class—to make any necessary adjustments to future lessons or even the broader staging of the curriculum.
  • Formative assessments can also be used to inform targeted interventions with individual students. For example, when students return to class after a test, you can assign them differentiated tasks based on their results. 
  • To measure different skills, create question pools that reflect a wide range of difficulty. Start at the recall level, but be sure to include classification, assessment, and analysis questions as well. Adaptive assessment platforms offer a variety of item types to help teachers measure higher-order skills. For example, chatbots can be embedded in test items to assess creativity.
  • Take advantage of metadata tagging to get rich insights into student progress. For example, you can create difficulty tags and mark each question as low, medium, or high difficulty. Then, when reviewing results, you can quickly see how well students performed on questions of varying difficulty.

To get the most out of adaptive testing tools, teachers need to design question pools that reflect the full scope of their students’ abilities. This can take some time and effort upfront. However, the rich data and personalization a robust question pool affords are well worth the investment. Generally, the more comprehensive the question pool is, the more adaptive the assessment can be.

Using adaptive assessments to measure higher-order thinking skills

By automating grading, adaptive assessments make it easy for educators to focus on preparing lessons that meet students’ needs. But perhaps more importantly, they can also engage students in enriching experiences that move beyond multiple-choice questions to test higher-order thinking and collaboration skills.

To do this, adaptive assessments use technology-enhanced items (TEIs) that might take the shape of games or real-world simulations. These activities challenge students to problem-solve by applying concepts they’ve learned in class. 

By immersing students in an interactive experience, TEIs can boost engagement while delivering robust data and valuable insights to teachers. Using them, teachers can get a sense of how students attempt to solve problems, not just how they answer questions. 

Here are some examples of ways to put TEIs into practice:

  • Assess collaboration skills by using a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE), such as EcoMUVE. This real-world simulation tool immerses teams of students in an outdoor environment. Students must then work together to diagnose environmental issues and recommend solutions. 
  • Help students grasp the concept of volume with a liquid simulator from TAO. As they complete calculations, students can see their container filling and emptying to reinforce what they’ve learned. 
  • In the Geniventure game by Concord Consortium, students apply genetic knowledge as they breed dragons. Instead of filling out a static test, they must meet breeding goals and predict the outcome of dragon pairs. This TEI gives insight into higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, problem-solving, and knowledge synthesis, all while entertaining students. 

Many TEIs can also be classified as portable custom interactions (PCIs). Like TEIs, PCIs assess higher-order thinking skills, but what sets them apart is their interoperability. This means that they can be integrated with other systems and data, allowing educators to easily review and compare results from a wide variety of assessments and activities. For example, teachers would be able to compare student progress in recall and comprehension against collaboration and analysis, without having to log into multiple programs. 

Interoperability also benefits administrators. When assessment tools aren’t interoperable, IT specialists need to develop custom integrations to allow teachers to compare results from different assessments. That takes time and resources away from educators. By simplifying the technical side of things, PCIs enable administrators to focus on empowering their teachers.

Using adaptive tools for summative assessments

You can also use adaptive assessments to deliver robust data at the end of a unit or semester. When used for summative assessment, these tools give insight into student progress, regardless of where each individual pupil started out. And when adaptive tools include advanced visualization capabilities, teachers can easily identify trends and pinpoint gaps. 

Some of the most important benefits of using adaptive testing for summative assessment include:

    • Fairness. By adjusting difficulty levels to individual students, adaptive assessments give low performers a chance to answer questions covering the full range of the curriculum. 
    • Precision. Unlike static pen-and-paper assessments, which are only precise for students of intermediate ability, adaptive tools allow educators to identify the limits of their students’ knowledge. And because they automate grading, these tools significantly reduce the role that educator error can play in the assessment process. 
  • Student experience. Because they take a one-size-fits-all approach, traditional assessments often bore high performers while intimidating low performers. Adaptive assessments empower teachers to cater to both simultaneously, ensuring that all students are engaged in a challenging yet doable task. 
  • Inclusion. By taking advantage of the various accommodation tools built into adaptive testing platforms, teachers can make summative assessments accessible and inclusive for students with special needs. 

Meeting Learning Objectives With Adaptive Assessments

By using digital assessment tools, educators can get valuable insights into student progress while saving time for instruction. 

At the beginning of each unit, teachers can use adaptive assessments to gather data on learning gaps and then fine-tune lesson plans to address them. During lessons, TEIs and PCIs can be employed to both teach and assess students’ higher-order reasoning skills. And when used for summative assessments, adaptive tools enable a truly personalized approach that tracks individual progress against student goals. 

Of course, no matter what type of assessment tool they use, it’s crucial that educators provide inclusive options for students with special needs. The goal, after all, is to provide enhanced learning to as many young people as possible. 


How can assessment tools help teachers?

Assessment tools can help teachers by enabling personalization and delivering insight into student performance on higher-order reasoning skills. Moreover, by automating grading, these tools save valuable time for classroom instruction.

Can adaptive assessments be used for both formative and summative assessments?

Yes. When used as a formative assessment, an adaptive tool can deliver real-time insight into student needs. At the end of a unit, adaptive assessments offer teachers a way to measure the individual progress of both high and low performers by presenting each with questions that match their learning needs. 


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