Oct 31 2006

Why Getting Test Results Quickly Is Vital For Schools

School districts use test-results systems to better monitor students' academic performance and quickly adopt curriculum changes.

Meeting both State and Federal education testing criteria is a daily task for teachers and administrators. Test results play a critical role in student advancement, as well as in a district’s ability to meet educational requirements.

Yet, for many years, the lag between testing and getting the test results was a huge obstacle to making timely adjustments in curricula and classroom teaching. But many districts have found a way past that hurdle thanks to new software tools that speed up the process of monitoring student learning and facilitate teachers’ abilities to make lesson plan changes on the fly.

The Rowland Unified School District in Southern California uses Edusoft’s Web-based software to administer the district’s benchmark testing. The software allows teachers to integrate textbook materials and manage online curricula, printable lessons, and companion tests and quizzes.

Edusoft, which provides more than 400 school systems with its testing, grading and analysis software, offers five levels on which data can be analyzed: district, school, grade/course, classroom and student. The company maintains the software, manages all student data remotely and imports three years of historical data provided by schools. In addition, some school districts license third-party online content—such as learning exercises, texts and workbooks—much of which is searchable within the Edusoft system.

“This provides a huge time savings for teachers, who are able to locate resources to enable differentiated instruction within a standards-based instructional delivery model,” says Tony Wold, Rowland’s director of student assessment.

The Rowland district has established a site leader at each school who receives ongoing training on the system. That person then helps other teachers in the district learn the system.

Viewing Test Results

Pop quizzes and interim exams are “essential tools for helping teachers know what parts of a curriculum lesson should be reviewed,” Wold points out. In many cases, they provide “the best measurement of achievement, especially when the student and teacher can articulate the progress in an ongoing manner,” he adds.

That’s why it is so important for teachers to be able to scan results right after an exam is given. Using the Brother multifunction desktop printer/scanner, teachers can view test results almost immediately. That means classroom adjustments and curriculum changes can be made the next day, which represents a huge improvement over waiting weeks or months for test scores.

These printer/scanners can be used as dedicated devices in individual classrooms or shared by neighboring classrooms and offices. In addition, the units print and score standardized tests on plain paper, which is less expensive than the special card stock used for test forms on proprietary systems.

Edusoft selected Brother in 2000 as its only recommended multifunction printer/scanner. “Price, accuracy and speed were our main criteria when testing various multifunction printers,” says Brian Bennett, a former teacher who now works as an Edusoft sales representative. “But Brother also has an automatic document feed for up to 50 sheets at a time.”

“Our teachers only have to put the tests in the feeder of the scanner and push a button, and the work is done for them,” Wold says. “An added bonus is the fact that batching is not necessary. A department chair can place tests from four subjects in the same scanning pile, and the results will automatically be scanned to the correct test.

“Analyzing test data on the same day that tests are given allows teachers to quickly make changes to lesson plans in order to get students on track,” says Wold, whose school system adopted the software and printer/scanners four years ago. “Before, we were lucky to get the results back the following school year; now, interventions begin the first day of the school year and are offered through the summer.”

Getting Good Grades

Miami-Dade County Public Schools implemented a system similar to the one deployed at Rowland, and they also are getting good results.

The district is benefiting from the ability to use interim tests to ensure that students are prepared to meet state and federal proficiency standards, explains Sylvia Diaz, executive director, Instructional Technology, in the Florida district.

“Our local and state standards are very similar and are aligned to the interim tests,” Diaz says. “If teachers are covering our [county school curriculum], then they are covering the content addressed on tests.”

Though it’s been using the system for only a short time, the district is already reaping results. “We’ve had some very positive moves in the right direction, and we have low-performing schools where we have seen a lot of improvement,” Diaz says. “If you have third-graders who can’t go on to fourth grade because they didn’t do well on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, those are high stakes. For a child’s success or failure to hinge on one test, that’s a lot.”

The Edusoft system, coupled with a strong instructional benchmark focus, is also having a positive impact at Rowland. Wold reports that its high school graduation rates and proficiency rates have improved, and says that the teachers and staff are benefiting professionally as well.

With data-driven instruction, school districts can give teachers more time to do what they do best, Wold says. He is now aiming for a workday productivity switch from what he calls a “50 to 10” to a “10 to 50” ratio.

This means that in a given 60-minute planning period, teachers will spend 10 minutes accessing, disaggregating and interpreting the performance data that is used in class preparation and the remaining 50 minutes collaborating on instructional strategies and designing differentiated instruction to meet the individual needs of their students. Today, the reverse is all too common.

“This is the key transformation in utilizing technology to provide high-impact staff development, with limited resources in terms of both time and money,” says Wold. That’s not a bad return-on-investment metric for any educational institution.

Managing the Fleet

By Judy Mottl

If left unmanaged, a printer and copier fleet can become a tremendous drain on both financial and administrative resources. With a well-organized fleet development approach, schools can save money, boost return on investment (ROI) and ensure their staff has the necessary equipment.

The first step is creating a project plan, which requires assessing various user groups’ needs for printers, fax machines and copiers; creating an inventory of devices and locations; and evaluating how existing fleet devices are being used.

Traditionally, printer and copier fleets were built haphazardly: Printers and copy machines were plugged in where needed, creating a fragmented fleet that often included various models. This approach causes IT support difficulties. The goal, according to industry analysts, should be to unify the fleet into an efficient group that gives users what they need and keeps costs as low as possible.

Here are five best practices for managing a printer and copier fleet:

1. Evaluate the Need: Assess every desktop and workgroup printing and copying setup. While desktop printers are generally less expensive, Gartner, a research firm in Stamford, Conn., cautions that they typically have double or triple the supply costs of workgroup printers.

2. Standardization: If possible, standardize the fleet on one vendor’s equipment, as that promotes efficient management and support and also provides great negotiating ability in request-for-proposal (RFP) scenarios.

3. New Is Better: Older machines are typically slower and more maintenance-prone, and they tend to require greater administration. Adding new efficient printers and copiers could provide a better ROI.

4. Consolidation Efficiency: Consider consolidating various printers, copiers and fax machines by replacing them with multifunction devices where appropriate. It’s a good solution for workgroups that use all those functions, but it’s wasteful for groups that print only from a desktop.

5. Room for Negotiation: Once you’ve determined what devices you need, develop a concise RFP, keeping in mind that the printer/copier/fax marketplace is extremely competitive, so you should be able to negotiate a good deal.

Data-Driven Instruction

Federal and state standardized tests often determine whether or not a student advances to the next grade level or graduates from high school. The testing scores also play a role in federal funding programs: Missing stipulated score levels can impact future funding.

In the past, school districts used centralized systems via a service provider to administer and grade these tests—a costly and complicated approach. Districts would administer tests, send the papers to a service provider, and then wait weeks or months to get results back.

That time lag between test administration and result analysis made it difficult for teachers and administrators to determine whether appropriate educational progress was being made. In addition, it hindered the ability to quickly change curriculum if needed. Another problem with the paper-based approach was that it made it extremely difficult to collate data or even find time to do such analyses, due to the lengthy process involved.

New Technology Options

In the past few years, this process has been vastly improved, thanks to new technology options that push testing into a near real-time environment. With these solutions, an application service provider (ASP) typically manages all the student data remotely and gives teachers and administrators online authorized access to the data repository.

The ASP handles most of the administrative burdens in terms of data collection and provides nearly immediate results and data analysis, giving districts the ability to respond to educational issues quickly. Just as importantly, the new tools give teachers more time to teach.

These tools generally don’t require a great deal of training time on the teacher side of testing efforts. However, some guidance is typically needed on data analysis—a key benefit that lets school leaders view historical trends within a district or at a particular school.

For example, the head of the math department can drill down to view data on how various seventh-grade math classes are doing throughout the district to determine what curriculum changes to consider. All the seventh-grade math teachers in the district can then meet to discuss different approaches to teaching that subject.

Teachers can quickly see what kinds of problems individual students are facing and determine what sort of help they may need to master a particular lesson. Ideally, teachers will share what they’ve learned from the data they’ve analyzed about trends in their students’ progress in a given subject.

By using data-driven instruction, school districts hope to give teachers more time to do what they do best: teach. Educators agree that to meet today’s challenging educational mandates, teachers need more classroom time.

Abby Christopher is a freelance health and technology writer who is based in Portland, Ore.