Bright ideas for tech-savvy educators, right to your inbox

Edmentum’s Exact Path and Our Commitment to Actionable Data

Thursday, December 1, 2016 -- Jeff Mcleod

If you say you’re going to embrace personalized learning, you’ve got to be ready to embrace data too. And in the realm of education, assessment is the most direct route to obtaining this valuable data. So, what kinds of assessments do you think should be part of your teaching routine and the classroom technology you leverage?

At Edmentum, we’ve put a lot of thought into this question—after all, it’s the best way to make sure we’re fulfilling our commitment to providing educators and students with actionable, real-time data. Based on what we’ve researched and learned first-hand, I would propose three necessary features of any assessment that makes any claim of congruence with an individualized learning program.

The first is that the assessment should be customized to the individual. This sounds trivially true, until you realize how radical the idea of individualized learning is. We’re all accustomed to the proverbial “standardized test”, which by definition is given to every learner in the same way. Standardized tests are quite self-consciously not individualized. Children receive the exact same items under the exact same conditions. That’s why we call them “standardized.”

With Edmentum’s Individualized Learning Solution, our Math, Reading, and ELA assessments are unique testing events that conform to the individual learner. No two learners will get the same set of questions. Learners receive only those questions that are chosen to discern most accurately where they fall on the K-6 learning path. No more, and no less. Some learners will be finished after completing 20 items, while others might need 40. The assessment is tailored to the particular learning profile, to the specific strengths and deficits of each learner. 

The technique we use to accomplish this is called a computer adaptive algorithm. This is a sophisticated algorithm, or rule system, that is able to learn the learner, so to speak. The algorithm delivers just the right kinds of questions to each learner—not too many difficult ones, not too many easy ones. Most of the questions are designed to fall directly within the child’s comfort zone.

The second feature of an effective assessment in an individualized learning solution is that the assessment environment should be naturalistic, accessible, and appropriate for the learner. In Edmentum’s Individualized Learning Solution, our assessment is not a high stakes accountability test. We don’t pretend it is. Such assessments strive for strong uniformity in testing conditions so that nobody gets an unfair advantage as compared to other students, save for a handful of accommodations. This is all very important when decisions are being made about the fitness of a learner to graduate, or be accepted at a college. But an individualized learning assessment is simply intended to help the learner grow.

Therefore, every child is in some sense accommodated. An individualized assessment wants each child to be tested under conditions in which they can demonstrate what they know. For example, younger learners may put on headphones and ask for questions to be read-aloud by a human voice (except of course in the reading test where the purpose is to measure reading skill). Children who aren’t comfortable using a mouse should be able to take the test on an iPad or similar mobile device. A child who needs frequent breaks should be allowed to take them—they can simply pause and save the test to resume another time.

Think of an online chess ranking system. People sign up and are given online opponents based on their estimated ability level. If you beat a very good chess player, no, you don’t get a trophy saying you are awesome. You get something even better: the opportunity to be matched up in the next round with someone who will challenge you just the right amount to get to the next level. The better you get, the more skilled your opponents become. Perhaps somewhere there is a list, a ranking system of chess players from best to worst, but that’s not the purpose of an online chess system. The end game is for you to become a better chess player.

This idea brings us to the third quality of a worthwhile assessment in an individualized learning program. Such an assessment terminates not with a mere score, but with action. We have spent some time explaining that the goal of such an assessment is to find out what the learner can do, not to give a final judgment; we have stressed that ours is not a high stakes test score. The goal is not to find out how a child compares to the normal curve, but to select the perfect next challenge for this particular child within the curriculum.

In Edmentum’s Individualized Learning Solution, our Math, Reading, and ELA assessments do not terminate with a score, as virtually all other assessment systems do. Instead, our assessments terminate by communicating to the teacher what the perfect next assignment is for this child at this moment in time. This is not a global recommendation from public domain resources or third party referrals, but an actual lesson written by our content experts featuring modern audio visual tools, and rigorously tested over time.

Of course, data is a necessity too, and a score for each assessment is delivered to the teacher. This score reports numerically how far the child has advanced in the curriculum, and is presented as a profile across learning domains. Because it is calibrated to a learning path, the growth scores quantify a child’s progress in an objectively meaningful way. But, its most important function is to inform action, by pointing to the next step in the child’s path to accomplishment.

Let’s face it, we have spent many decades comparing children to one another using a wide variety of standardized tests, learning little more about the child than we probably already knew. Teachers know who their advanced students are, and they know which ones are struggling in a given classroom. Deep down, as educators, what we really want is to know what’s the next thing we can do to help this child fully realize their academic potential.

At Edmentum, our vision is to empower futures, one student at a time. Our commitment to providing educators with actionable data directly enables this, through assessments that point to a clear next step. If you agree, maybe it’s time you consider going the route of personalized learning.

Want to learn more about Edmentum’s new Individualized Learning Solution? Check out the previous posts in this series to get a behind-the-scenes look at how we created the program’s quality content and how we’re powering deep learning with simple technology. And, stay tuned next week to find out how Edmentum’s Individualized Learning Solution fulfills our commitment customer success!

Ready to get started with personalized learning in your school or district? Download our Guide to Creating Personalized Learning Plans for Your Students!