One to One Formative Assessment Solutions

Student facing devices have the potential to dramatically change the frequency and effectiveness of classroom formative data collection. Schools who find themselves with a wealth of technology are in a position to leverage the growing number of online adaptive and non-adaptive assessment softwares available on the market today.

The time honored image of students sharpening their pencils prior to taking a test will soon be replaced with images of students facing computers with headphones in place. The beauty of these new computer based systems is that teachers no-longer need to spend their valuable time grading and evaluating the tests their students take because the data will be pushed directly to their accounts for them to review from anywhere.

The pundits believe that this new influx of teacher time and formative data will give teachers more time to customize and personalize their face to face instruction. This is possible, but taking the diagnostic onus out of the hands of teachers and placing it in the hands of computers will lead to one of two counter-productive conclusions.

First of all, these student facing assessment systems are all built on algorithms or teacher created content that are being built by a third party. Without seeing the algorithm or without knowing what the vetting process is for each individual item, how can we as teachers fully trust the decisions they are guiding us to make?

The Institute had the privilege of viewing a premiere Pearson product recently and we were confused by several of the pre-assessment questions. For example, one question showed a cow alongside four words and the student was asked to choose the word that matched the picture (bow, vow, cow, and plow).

This was a student facing question and there was no indication of what particular skill was being tracked in the backend of the system. It could have been at least three or four different skills, which makes us wonder what actual data the child’s teacher would be receiving in her reports section if that student were to make an incorrect click?

Did the student miss the question because they misread the initial sound? Did they think that the cow with it’s harness was being used to plow a field and chose plow instead? Was the child a native spanish speaker who thought cow is “vaca” in Spanish so I’ll choose the one that starts with “V”. Or, maybe the child just clicked on a random word because he was bored out of his mind and this was the fifth word ID question he’d seen.

For the most part students are doing their best work and teachers are gleaning important data from the backend reporting features in these programs, but if a program tells us that a student can’t read initial sounds when really they can, how is this progress or a time-saver?

Our second concern is that when we take grading out of the hands of teachers they are now absent from an incredibly analytical aspect of classroom practice. Grading, while tedious allows the teacher the quiet space to not only reflect upon each student’s work, but also a time and space to reflect upon each individual student.

Going from paper to paper a teacher may remember that they needed to follow up with a student’s mom regarding a behavior issue, or that another student needed a new book in his book-bin. The grading allows us a chance to think student by student, which is an unbelievably important by-product of what could be described as a mostly torturous activity.

Stephanie Castilla, our Technology Integration Specialist, is Honored with the Rhode Island Tech10 – Outstanding Achievement Award!

On May 17th, our very own Stephanie Castilla, Technology Integration Specialist at the Highlander Institute and the co-founder of Metryx, was honored at a celebration event, the the Tech Collective’s Tech10 Award. Not only was she among the 10 recipients of this exciting award, she also received an additional award for overall achievement.

“She stood out, even among the other nine winners,” said Tech Collective’s Melissa Punchak.

The Tech Collective’s Tech10 Awards program recognizes Rhode Island’s 10 most accomplished IT practitioners, digital media professionals, and entrepreneurs. These are the do-ers, to go-to guys and gals. They are the geeks, the brainiacs, the ones who make the rest of us look like dolts and superstars all at the same time. They are the innovators and designers bringing to reality a world even beyond our dreams. And sometimes, they are so busy, they don’t have time to stand in the spotlight. Not this time.,66750

Highlander Institute's Shawn Rubin in the News!

Shawn Rubin, technology integration director at the Highlander Institute, answered five questions about technology and education in today’s Providence Business News.




Shawn Rubin is the CEO of Metryx, a startup mobile software company that is building flexible assessment tools for teachers to use on tablets and smartphones, and serves as the Director of Technology Integration at the Highlander Institute. In this role, Shawn oversees the Institute’s new touch technology professional development programs throughout New England. 

PBN: What do you think students have to gain from integrating online learning into the classroom?

RUBIN: For far too long students have suffered under a one size fits all approach to education. The major barrier preventing systemic reform efforts has been the inordinate amount of time teachers must spend assessing, analyzing and then differentiating instruction to meet the needs of a wide range of student learning profiles.

The fallout is that “advanced” or “remedial” students are forced to sit through lessons that are either too easy or too hard – or they are pulled from the classroom to get the instruction they need. Previous attempts at differentiating instruction inside the classroom have not been economical or sustainable.

However, new app-based and cloud-supported technologies are able to accomplish many of the time consuming and challenging tasks that support effective differentiation. Tools like adaptive assessment, automated grading, classroom polling, and game based learning are aligned to national common core standards and allow students to interact with skills in an engaging format at exactly the level of challenge that they need. Not to mention that many of these programs are incredibly engaging and fun – students are naturally drawn to them and enjoy the time they spend learning online.

PBN: Have you faced any sort of criticism from people who stand by more traditional teaching methods?

RUBIN: Most teachers, administrators and parents who participate in Highlander Institute workshops, trainings, and conferences are eager to learn more about these new methods of teaching. Technology has been in classrooms for years but has never been leveraged well. I believe that parents and educators are sensing the shift that is aligning new technologies, rigorous standards and personalized learning. We need to consider, teachers and students are using technology in their everyday lives just like anyone else. They have iPads, smart phones, and all kinds of gadgets. Bringing these technologies into the classroom is not only inevitable, but necessary to maximize education in today’s world.

Yet, the deal-breaker for effectively integrating and using new technologies is the amount of professional development that accompanies the purchase of each new technology. Its here we see reluctance. Shifting from teacher centered to student centered instruction requires transformative changes in practice. This is truly a paradigm shift in education. And to get there, teachers need training to use and manage these new tools, and also support to understand what each tool represents in this new way of learning.

PBN: Does Internet-based learning work better for some age groups than others?

RUBIN: There are definitely different online approaches that are targeted towards the developmental needs of various age levels, but all students can benefit from current advances in education technology.

Consider, for example, iCreatetoEducate, an innovative stop-animation software that empowers students to create their own animated movies. The software is free to download and test, and so easy to use that this software transcends age. First graders can use it to explain the life-cycle of a frog and 10th graders can use it to retell “Romeo and Juliet.”

Personalization in learning is important no matter the age. There is not a classroom or group of students that would not benefit from a more focused and targeted learning experience. For this education technology can be extremely useful.

PBN: What sort of things are you going to be teaching educators attending the conference?

RUBIN: Our overarching goal for the Blended Learning & Technology Conference is to encourage more teachers from southern New England to explore, experiment and engage in blended learning. Too often teachers have no opportunity to tinker and explore with the latest and greatest tools either because they are not available at their schools or there is just not enough time in the day.

The Conference will expose teachers to incredible hardware and software directly through the edtech entrepreneurs who are building them. We are living in the age of free beta testing in which teachers can gain access to incredible products free of charge, communicate with developers, and inspire the creation of the tool of their dreams. By bringing teachers and developers together, tools become more practical and students ultimately benefit.

While we are at the very beginning stages of an edtech explosion, there are teachers right here in Rhode Island who are pioneers with these technologies. We are bringing these pioneers to the Conference as well to talk about their experiences and to encourage more teachers to take the plunge.

The Blended Learning & Technology Conference will provide easy access for educators to begin the process by learning hands-on themselves from with the people that are developing the tools or already using them.

PBN: What do you think the biggest challenges are facing the wide-spread adoption of this sort of technology in schools?

RUBIN: Equity and professional development are the two biggest challenges. So much of the software that is available today is free or incredibly cheap to use, but without the hardware on which to run it and/or without the proper training to use it, then ultimately we are creating an even bigger achievement gap between the districts that have and the districts that don’t.

Grants will continue to pop up that will bestow designated public schools and charters the resources they need to enter the digital world, but will it ever be enough? Can urban schools properly implement a flipped classroom when families don’t have internet access or computers at home? Can urban districts with decaying infrastructure and large concrete buildings figure out a way to wire their classrooms so they can leverage free Web 2.0 tools?

I have no doubt that these technologies will drastically increase learning for students, but it will take serious commitment from our education and political leaders to make sure that this edtech boom doesn’t exacerbate the already expansive achievement gap between the rich and poor.

By Emily Greenhalgh, PBN Web Editor