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Rethinking Testing in the Age of the iPad

Students in Kelly Neuser's kindergarten class at Deer Run Elementary School in East Haven, Conn., use iPads during a reading exercise in December.
—Christopher Capozziello for Digital Directions

Schools administer assessments via mobile device

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In the 3,200-student East Haven schools in Connecticut, elementary teachers did their initial student reading assessments a bit differently this school year.

Instead of using paper and pencil to jot down observations about each of their students and then collecting and analyzing those notes by hand, each teacher used an iPad to collect the information and send it to a centralized database through software from the New York City-based ed-tech companyWireless Generation.

"One of our primary goals was to be able to develop a system that would bring a lot of the data into one place," says Taylor Auger, a technology-integration teacher in the district who helped incorporate use of the iPads into classrooms. "Previously, the data was processed by hand, and it wasn't really being put to use effectively. I'm all for data, but that data has to drive instruction."

Moving assessments onto mobile devices may open the door to quicker feedback for students and teachers as well as richer data, but without proper management of the devices and a strong infrastructure to support them, integrating the devices can be a challenge.

"It's great to have the technology," says Erica Forti, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, "but once it's purchased, there is a management piece involved."

Leaders in the East Haven district decided to buy 210 iPads when the lease for desktop computers in the elementary schools' computer labs was up. Instead of replacing those computers, they decided to explore mobile technology.

"We liked the idea of having mobile computing devices, since most of the technology was fixed," or stationary, says Forti. "It opened up the doors for different types of teaching and learning."

In addition, having the data collected on the iPads allowed the information to be easily shared with parents during conferences, Forti says.

Maintaining that one-teacher-to-one-student assessment ratio through the mobile devices is also important for students, especially in the earlier grades, says Krista Curran, the general manager of assessment and intervention products for Wireless Generation.

"In the early grades, the [mobile] assessments are used by teachers with their students so it's less obtrusive, in order to make that interaction friendly to the student," she says. "The end goal is to provide that immediate access to data that informs instruction."

(Wireless Generation's founder and chief executive officer, Larry Berger, is a trustee of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week Digital Directions.)

Making iPads Work

After the East Haven elementary students were initially assessed on their reading levels, the iPads were distributed onto seven carts—one for each elementary school in the district—to be used for instruction.

From a teacher's standpoint, the iPads are an easy device to use, says Auger. "They can pick it up, turn it on, and use it how they wish," he says.

"But the ability to do that," he cautions, "requires a lot of background work from the rest of the technology team that if you do not have, it will not work."

The district also underwent an upgrade to a fiber-optic wireless network during the 2010-11 school year, which was critical to the success of the iPad implementation, says Auger.

After the initial reading assessments, he says, some teachers have continued to use the iPads for assessment by having students take screenshots of their scores on various educational apps and email the images to the teachers to be stored in the students' electronic portfolios.

Around the country, mobile devices, such as the iPads used in classes at Deer Run Elementary School, are being utilized primarily for formative assessments rather than high-stakes tests.
—Christopher Capozziello for Digital Directions

"One of the greatest things about the iPad is its versatility," he says. "It can really ...

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