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Need for Better Assessment Emphasized in 2016 National Education Technology Plan

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April 19th, 2016

For past generations of educators, the notion of “everywhere, all-the-time learning” might’ve sounded too good to be true. But modern educational technology says otherwise.

The Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology recently unveiled its 2016 National Education Technology Plan, entitled Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education. Released every five years as a national blueprint for ed-tech advancement, the plan sets forth a vision for fostering learning experiences not hindered by place and time – all the while improving equity of access to technology among students by reducing the “digital divide.”

Notably, the five-point plan counts assessment among its quintet of major initiatives for shaping the future of digital learning in data-informed classrooms. Acknowledging the vital role learning measurement plays in gauging student understanding and informing subsequent instruction, the Office of Educational Technology offers the following stated goal for assessment progress: “At all levels, our education system will leverage the power of technology to measure what matters and use assessment data to improve learning.”

How Technology Transforms Assessment

The future of digital assessment has arrived, and the 2016 National Education Technology Plan issues a call to action for replacing traditional pen-and-paper measurements with technology-based assessment in all classrooms. While the technological means of optimizing data collection now exist, much work remains to realize the full potential of leveraging digital assessment data to enhance student learning.

Not only is technology-enabled assessment more efficient (less time, resources and learning disruption are required) when compared with traditional assessments, it also proves more effective in achieving an accurate portrayal of student abilities, thereby empowering educators to better personalize learning. Technology affords educators the opportunity to make assessment more flexible and responsive to individual needs.

According to the plan, the myriad learning benefits offered by technology-based assessments include:

  • Enhanced Question Types: Assessments go beyond the limited multiple-choice, true-or-false or fill-in-the-blank options characterizing traditional assessments.
  • Complex Competency Measurement: Assessments gauge knowledge, skills and abilities as they apply to real-world situations.
  • Real-Time Feedback: Reporting of assessments results is no longer delayed.
  • Increased Accessibility: Assessments are designed to be available and applicable to a larger portion of the student population.
  • Adaptive Capability: Assessments adjust the difficulty of questions based on a student’s prior responses.
  • Embedded With Instruction: Assessments are incorporated directly into classroom learning activities.
  • Ongoing Learning Access: Assessments provide students with multiple pathways to create measurable work throughout the school year.

The Future of Technology-Based Assessment

Although technology usage varies from classroom to classroom and progress is considerably uneven, the nationwide transition to digital assessment is well underway, according to the 2016 National Education Technology Plan. Continued proliferation of technology resources will expand the use of formative assessments that prove more useful in assessing for learning.

The Office of Educational Technology believes technology-enabled assessments will increasingly continue to assist educators and students in the future as follows:

  • Continuous Assessment Improvement: Assessments with online delivery will allow for ongoing improvement of test items.
  • Integrated Learning and Assessment Systems: Assessments will no longer be disjointed measures of student progress, but rather an integrated system designed to meet the needs of the learner.
  • Effective Use of Data: Assessments will support sharing data across student information systems.
  • Connected Learning Dashboards: Assessments will provide feedback that’s available in one easily-accessible place, thus unifying data derived from various digital tools and platforms.
  • Set of Shared Skill Standards: Assessments promoting personalized learning will necessitate an increasing need for a shared set of common skill standards.

Technology will continue providing educators opportunities to rethink and enhance approaches to assessments in the years ahead. The responsibility, however, rests with our nation’s education system to capitalize on ed-tech advancements to conduct student assessments resulting in the greatest possible impact on learning. All students, after all, deserve assessments that best reflect both their ongoing journey and their desired destination with learning.


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