Submitted by Georgina Gallegos on Wed, 05/27/2020 - 15:00
<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >Distance Learning Assessments in Virtual Classrooms</span>

Distance Learning Assessments in Virtual Classrooms

With distance learning being the norm these days there are many questions regarding its effectiveness on student mastery. Many Higher Education Leaders are beginning the discussion around distance learning by asking relevant questions such as, “How are schools going to meet state requirements”, and “Are the students learning the content needed to be successful while taking courses online?” On many occasions these discussions lead to a conversation about the administration of virtual assessments to assess student mastery. Due to COVID-19, a waiver was put in place to alleviate some of the stress that districts might experience when trying to meet state requirements. As stated by the U.S. Department of Education (fact sheet dated March 12, 2020, on Section: 8401 of the ESEA (20 U.S.C. & 786)), Secretary Betsy DeVos has the authority to grant a 1-year waiver to schools that apply for the release. A waiver would provide some flexibility to schools, districts, and state public education systems closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic with statutory parameters. 

However, the top two questions raised regarding Educational Institutions are still "How effective are distance learning assessments?" and "How effective are these assessments being administered?". The U.S. Department of education has a factsheet that will assist schools by waving assessments only if the schools meet the criteria put forth by the U.S. Department of Education. The Department of Education Secretary stated in her announcement dated March 31, 2020, that "The department will waive standardized test requirements for states affected by the virus.” To qualify for this waiver, States must apply for the exemption. Many States have already begun to do so.  She also stated that, “Neither students or teachers need to focus on high-stakes tests during this difficult time” later on in her statement DeVos said "Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment." This action will aim to help students and teachers who are already under pressure due to the current “stay in place” order

Naturally as educators, our priority regarding this matter is ensuring that our students are achieving mastery despite these lenient parameters. According to John Orlando, Ph.D., in his publication How to Effectively Assess Online Learning, we must first look at the different types of assessments educational systems are using to ensure students are learning what is needed to be successful. According to Dr. Orlando, there are three types of evaluations that teachers can implement to assess student mastery: formative, summative, and diagnostic. Upon looking at the three types of assessments discussed here, focus on what assessment type would be most effective for your classroom. This blog will discuss 3 distance learning assessments that have proven to assess student knowledge and ensure student mastery in the virtual classroom.


Types of Assessments 

The three main types of assessments are described below:

  1. Formative assessments are assessments that focus on helping teachers improve student learning during a lesson. The teachers assess whether a student comprehends the information that the teachers have just taught. Formative assessments such as; Directed Paraphrasing, Student-Generated test questions, Double-Entry Journaling, short answer questions, and quizzes are all considered formative assessments.  
  2. Summative assessments are assessments that check for mastery following the instruction. They are assessments that teachers utilize to assess whether the student has learned the information that the teacher has taught. This could range from exams, graded projects, papers. Summative assessments are methods of evaluation that are taken at the end of a unit that allows a teacher to measure a student's understanding. Teachers usually have a rubric or criteria that ensure students' understanding of what is expected to have been learned.
  3. Diagnostic assessments are a form of pre-test that helps a teacher determine a students' strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and skills before instruction.  It is used to diagnose the student's prior knowledge level and whether the student is missing valuable information on a subject.  It can assess how difficult a subject matter may be for the student, and it will guide a lesson and assist with curriculum planning.


What Happened

The COVID-19 pandemic created the necessity for schools to close and remain closed for extended periods of time; however, during this time, student's learning of course content continued to be essential for their growth and development. The U.S. Department of Education announced there had been a one-year waiver on testing in grades kinder through the 12th grade. However, it is important to prevent students from losing too much valuable time away from a school setting where their learning can be assessed and they receive the information they need to be successful. Our unique situation has created more of a challenge for some schools than for others with assessing student's comprehension of the courses they are taking online. How can anyone know for sure if learning has occurred at all?

Furthermore, the reliability of assessments has become a challenge in itself. It is still unclear whether students who are taking online courses will receive a traditional letter or alphanumeric grade on their report cards. Grading has also become a challenge for teachers in addition to challenges with ensuring that teachers are incorporating a variety of assessments during the coronavirus pandemic. Educators are questioning whether assessments can be a reliable score, since student’s mindsets have shifted due to the pandemic. Even so, it is important to direct all of our tools, resources, and research to assess and support student mastery in virtual classrooms.


What This Means for You 

During these trying times and with the shift to online teaching, schools shouldn’t only share academic content through electronic files. Educators must look at the entire virtual classroom as a whole educational experience. Educators need to keep at the forefront of their mind,  how to effectively educate the students that have been entrusted to them for this year. Students need the support of their learning communities now more than ever, and the responsibility lies on educators and administrators to find ways to continue to support the student. Engaging students through a computer screen requires a unique approach to pedagogy and course implementations. Giving students a reason to feel connected to their learning is key to keeping them from feeling isolated from their peers but especially from their knowledge. So, making sure students feel related to their learning is essential during the lessons but also during their assessments. 


What You Should Do Now 

According to a study by Jorge Gaytan & Beryl C. McEwen on "Effective Online Instructional and Assessment Strategies," the most effective way to assess students online is to get students involved in their learning. Evaluating students for the sake of “just to test them” is ineffective and lacks clear purpose. Effective online assessment techniques must include scenarios where learning aligns with the objectives for the teaching. Using practical strategies and software that are age-appropriate is vital, and use of the software as soon as possible. It would be best to have online mentors, and delivery of on-site, instructor-based training for online teaching. For more teaching related tools, visit our social media pages on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn! 

The difference between formative and summative assessments is in the timing when the evaluation will be administered. How the students respond would determine the effectiveness of the review. Teachers might consider the delivery of the lesson to help the students with their learning. Also, teachers must monitor the student's learning needs as with a formative assessment, or the inquiry of a student's mastery as with the summative assessment. However, if this issue is a big concern, especially with the end of course assessments, then teachers might consider giving an oral online activity or an open-ended interview where the student could answer through audio or video conferencing. 

There are various platforms that teachers can use to assess student knowledge and make virtual learning enjoyable for their students. Visit our blog on resources for teachers to learn more. If you have enjoyed the information presented in this blog, please send your feedback and let us know your thoughts on this content!


Reflect on the following:

  1. What type of assessments do you use with your students? 
  2. How do you assess students' comprehension during these trying times? 
  3. What are some strategies you can use to assess learning in your online courses? 
  4. What are some techniques you use to determine your students online?