Monitoring Learner Progress

This post was written at the #idea13 Conference – MCG – 12/11/2013

George Araya, from the Desert Sands Unified Schools District in California, talked about supporting student progress with assessment data, but he started by talking about culture. He talked about changing culture by changing tools (for teachers) in this order:

  • first they were given email
  • then to an online gradebook
  • thenk smart slates (linked to electronic whiteboards)
  • then (clicker type) responders
  • then online testing and online assessment

He was very big on standardisation, of moving teachers from basic tools to more advanced tools. Students have Chromebooks and the District had developed a ‘private cloud’. They developed a learning platform focused on measurement and assessment, and gives teachers instant feedback, mostly with teachers preparing assessments and students responding (using clickers called ‘Renaissance Responders’) and getting immediate feedback which is published for parents. Tests are easy to do, efficient, and weekly. Yes. Weekly. The principle is constant assessment and instant, live data.

He talked about using ‘intelligent forms’ to observe teacher performance, and some arguments he had with unions about this. I bet.

He also argued for Chromebooks (they’d just ordered 7000, standardised and cloud based for the whole district) He said that they could run 15000 Chromebooks with one person. It seemed that the Chromebooks stayed in the classroom and students logged into it when they came into the classroom and logged out when they left.

He concluded with a big table of test scores and the great improvements in the test scores.

I was a bit critical. Thinking something like ‘typical American over-testing’ fuelled by by my respect for educators like Will Richardson ( who have pointed out the great divide between what American school systems say (we want great education like Finland) and what they do (test, test, test..) I even tweeted:



They had the tweets on the big screen, and all around the room the twitter stream with the conference hastag #idea13 kept rolling on through. When mine popped up, I saw George looking up at the screen for a long time, reading it, and I felt bad. I mean, he had come all the way from California to tell us about what they were doing, how they were changing culture and raising test scores and I was sceptical and a bit dismissive. And me, from a well resourced school with 99% of students achieving at or above national or state literacy and numeracy benchmarks, and him from a district with huge issues of poverty and second language. Maybe testing was the right thing for them. It sounded like a deadening experience for teachers and students (and he admitted issues with some teacher unions) but maybe I shouldn’t have been so smug and quick to judge.