To understand the role that technology might play in measuring student progress, it is first helpful to understand what types of measurement you would like to make. Although the terms assessment and evaluation are frequently used interchangeably, the two can be distinguished by the nature of the processes. Assessments are collections of written, oral, observational, and performance measures that provide infor- mation to determine student abilities and progress toward reaching intended objectives. Assessments can take the form of (1) quantitative, numerical measures, such as quiz scores; or (2) qualitative records, such as informal teacher observations, anecdotal notes, or reflective comments that recognize learning and performance in complex, authentic situations. Evaluation is the use of a combination of assessments to make judgments about a student’s ability and informed decisions about contin- ued instruction.
Teachers make assessments and evaluations continuously and for a variety of purposes. Formative evaluations are measurements made throughout the instruc- tional sequence to attempt to answer the question “How are we doing?” The infor- mation gained through formative assessments is key to informing and redirecting the learning process. Summative assessments typically occur at the end of an instructional segment to answer the question “How have we done?” These mea- surements are intended to examine the outcomes of instruction by indicating an end mastery of objectives or demonstration of competency. The distinctions among these definitions will help you to consider the most effective ways in which technology can assist in understanding students’ progress.
Technology as the Focus
Measurement choices regarding technology depend both on how the role of technology is perceived and on what types of assessment information are desired. The following section will deal with the prevailing opinion in the educational tech- nology community that technology is an instructional and assessment tool with the focus of assessment on the content that students learn. First, however, teachers should be aware of other types of assessments of technology in educational settings that focus on technology itself. A brief introduction to these perspectives will help to clarify the participation of classroom teachers.
Technology is frequently the focus of assessment on the national, state, or district scale to determine whether the purchase of computers has been a good investment. To measure the effect technology has had on student learning, lawmakers, district administration, and taxpayers look to assessments that might include counting the number of computers in classrooms, the number of contact hours teachers and students spend using computers on a regular basis, the attitudes teachers and students have toward technology, teacher and student skill levels, and perhaps the contexts in which technology is being used. These assessments are most meaningful when school and community stakeholders determine the performance indicators necessary to define success (Edyburn 2006; Sun, 2000) and when these indicators are built into a comprehensive technology plan. Findings of such evaluations are ultimately reported to the appropriate stakeholders and then ideally used to plan future goals, such as customizing professional development training to meet teach- ers’ skill needs.
Data to answer these questions of technology use are often collected by surveying technology directors, principals, or teachers. Local assessments can be informed by nationally recognized assessment tools such as the CEO Forum’s StaRChart (www.ceoforum.org/starchart.cfm) and by the Milken Exchange’s Seven Dimensions for Gauging Progress of Technology (www.mff.org/edtech). Other data collected from individual students may further describe technology-use habits, such as from achievement tests or attendance records (Barnett, 2000). However, these individual data are generally used only to compile school or district profiles rather than to as- sess individual competence (Sun, 2000).
To measure a student’s ability to operate a computer or use a software tool, teachers often use checklists based on national, state, and local standards of what students should be able to do with computers, to efficiently note student abilities and deficiencies. These assessments might be handled in an informal, observational manner or in more deliberate performance tasks. Classroom teachers are closest to the learn- ing contexts and understand best the abilities of students, meaning they are in the best position to report a true picture of classroom technology use.