K-12 schools have struggled to find enough teachers and administrative staff to provide critical student services. News story after news story chronicles how schools are desperate to find qualified educators. Among the hardest hit are special education teachers and school psychologists.
Staffing shortages mean these educators and their closely aligned peers — including speech pathologists and reading teachers — are challenged to assess more students who need instructional and mental health support. Digital assessments can streamline the process, allowing educators more time to reach additional students and gain a deeper understanding of what kind of support they may need.
“With digital assessments, I have the whole Pearson assessment library at my fingertips, so I can easily pivot,” explained Allison Wells, a school psychologist for the North Shore School District in Bothell, Washington. “If I sense that a student is struggling with a skill outside the original assessment, I can pull up a subtest on Pearson’s Q-interactive and get the information I need in one session rather than scheduling an additional testing session, with a different assessment kit.”
Providing educators with the resources needed to deliver and score assessments efficiently can help them feel more supported and valued. It also may be a factor in whether an individual educator stays in their position or seeks employment with a different school or district.
“I used to order all the materials for our entire group of psychologists. It was stressful at the beginning and end of the year to coordinate the inventory and ordering needs for 32 locations,” said Wells, who works at the district’s North Creek High School.
“By bringing in digital assessments [through the Digital Assessment Library from Pearson], I am less stressed and we are redefining the stipend originally associated with that clerical task to expand professional development to the entire team.”
Students today are also already used to using digital tools like iPads. “We wanted to be on the same page as our students,” she said. “Giving the assessments on an iPad has turned it into a game. Students see how quickly they can go and immediately see the standards and how they did. We can have a conversation about the results before meeting with their parents and others at the school to make students part of the process.”
4 tips for bringing digital assessments to your school or district
A successful transition to digital assessments requires support from school and district leaders. It’s also critical to get buy-in from the team of evaluators who will be using them, including school psychologists, speech pathologists, special education teachers and reading teachers.
Before North Shore School District fully adopted Pearson’s Digital Assessment Library for Schools, Wells led a pilot study to collect feedback on the process. In the study, each educator completed a five-question survey after administering an evaluation digitally. Questions included ease of use, level of student engagement, time to complete compared to paper assessments and educators’ ability to access subtests.
“That gave us a good foundation to take back to our director to show the benefits. They agreed and asked for a cost analysis,” Wells said. “We looked at every role in the district with a level of decision-making on this so we could anticipate any challenges."
Their detailed analysis involved tallying up every expense associated with assessments, including the cost of upgrading kits when a new version is released and staff time for material management like counting and ordering response booklets and record forms. It also factored in inflation.
“As a result, we increased our materials budget for the first time in eight years,” she said. “It was time-consuming up-front, but collecting data and recognizing that the process would take time builds the momentum needed to make the transition.”
Wells knew decision-makers also needed answers to two additional questions: How would tech glitches be handled? And what strategies could be used to encourage staff members who may be uncomfortable with technology to participate?
The following four strategies helped the North Shore team overcome those concerns:
- Put iPads in educators’ hands when introducing the idea rather than simply saying, “these are cool, interactive tools.”
- Create easily accessible reference materials that include a quick to-do list. The district launched an assessments web page with basic tips such as ensuring the tablets are always charged, are connected to the right network, that their software is updated and that they are restarted at the beginning of each week.
- Provide opportunities for educators across the school or district to share “lessons learned” to support one another in adopting digital assessments.
- Identify a contact person in the IT department and partner with them to develop communication strategies for addressing specific technology-related challenges.
Digital assessments eased the time constraints created by the ongoing need to give and score paper assessments. They also enhanced the services students receive.
“We can all log in and see a student’s results across multiple areas, which has given us a more comprehensive evaluation,” Wells said. “In the past, a speech-language pathologist could only see a student’s pragmatic or social language skills results. Now they see academic skills like reading or writing and we can connect on how best to help the student.”
Take the next step toward digital assessments
To learn how Pearson Assessments can help you bring digital assessments to your school or district, visit PearsonAssessments.com.