Today, I wanted to address the topic of assessment. Maybe it has something to do with the state writing test my kiddos just took, or maybe it’s because I just finished writing an end-of-quarter exam for my intensive reading students. But, it’s been on my mind a lot lately.
I’ve always thought test-writing for English teachers was especially challenging. Not only do we have to author the questions, but we’ve got to search through mountains of passages–or write our own–to find texts having the qualities we’re assessing: figurative language, text organizational structures, plot and conflict, theme… you get the picture. (Of course you do. If you’re reading this, you are either an English teacher or someone with a vested interest in the profession.) Not only do texts have to model the right content, they must also be at the appropriate reading level.
Another consideration of mine is making sure classroom assessments use question stems and types that mirror those on high-stakes exams. That way, my students gain experience with the testing format as well as the content. For years, this was the most onerous part of writing tests for me. Multiple choice? Sure. But, how was I supposed to add drop-down boxes to a paper test? Or drag-n-drop questions? Or specify choices of “hot-text” answers? A few online test creation programs offered these tools, but none allowed me to add passage sets, or even scrollable texts that students could re-read when analyzing questions and answer choices. And they certainly didn’t do it at a cost that I, a lone teacher, could afford.
I’d been searching the internet (yet again) for online testing platforms, when it came up in one of my searches. I clicked, and began measuring it against my wish list. Question style variety? Matching, fill-in-the-blank, essay-style…check, check, and check. Drop-downs, hot-text, drag-n-drop… yes, yes, yes. Passage-based questions with onscreen, scollable text (dare I hope?)… YES! It’s all there! At this point I was sold, and my inner skeptic started kicking in. “Yeah,” it whispered, “but I’ll be you have to create an account for each kid and manage all of those passwords.” Nope. They can log in with their existing Microsoft 365 or Google accounts. “Well, then,” my cynical internal dialogue continued, “It’s going to cost a fortune once your free trial is up.” Nope… nada. It costs me nothing. “It’s probably hard to use, then.” Easy-peasy. I created my first test in about forty minutes, and it was a smorgasbord of question types. To this day, I have only good things to say about Edulastic.
Once I had entered my team’s common assessments into the test library, I could choose to share them schoolwide (or district-wide) and we all enjoyed the immediate feedback on student performance. Our school also lets us differentiate test content, so struggling readers and advanced students take slightly different versions of the same assessment. Once one of the tests was built in Edulastic, we could easily duplicate it and modify the questions as needed. The reports on results are easy to interpret, and we can quickly identify the most-missed questions. Since each question is associated with a learning standard, we can see which standards have been mastered and which ones need revisiting.
I know what you may be thinking. Edulastic made our job as teachers a bit easier, but did it really benefit the students? Absolutely! When the results of the state reading assessment came out, our grade-level team had the highest-scoring students of any school in the district (and our district is #1 in the state). Do I work with a highly-skilled cadre of educators? You bet. Did Edulastic help familiarize our students with the online testing format, allowing them of focus their energy on reading and critical analysis. It did.
Over the summer, Edulastic asked me to be an ambassador (unpaid, though I did get a free upgrade to their pro account and a branded travel mug). I would be recommending the product to other teachers regardless. The pro account did give me access to some even more powerful features, like text-to-speech for students who get that as an accommodation. I have even more reports at my fingertips, too, so I can measure their mastery of standards across multiple tests. If you can swing the $99 upgrade fee, I think it’s worth it. They even had a BOGO sale this fall, and several peers took advantage of it.