3 Assessing Learning

Malikah R. Nu-Man and Tamika M. Porter

Assessing learning through the use of technology has received much attention in recent years due to the ability to access student progress quickly and provide individual feedback in real-time (Timmis et al., 2016). Technology increases an educator’s ability to efficiently make decisions before, during, and after a lesson that will impact student learning outcomes. Also, assessments help identify what a student knows, determine appropriate placement, select appropriate curriculum to meet student needs, and assist with identifying referral services.

There are many forms of assessments. This section of the book will focus on two — formative and summative. Formative assessments are administered to students throughout the learning process and help teachers determine how students are performing through defined learning goals. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are given at the end of a school year or learning unit, and “sum” up a student’s mastery of a topic after instruction. Technology, when paired with assessments, becomes a powerful tool because it supports individual student learning, gives direct access to essential learning supports, and enhances collaboration skills. In addition, it helps teachers in meeting their learning objectives and goals while assessing student performance (Steele, 2014).

The present chapter presents an overview of what assessments are, the varying forms of assessments, and digital tools that can be used to increase teacher and student performance. Followed by, a narrative from a practicing teacher who has benefited personally from assessing learning through the use of technology. Assessment is exceptionally vital to instruction. As educators, we benefit from enhancing our technological skills and incorporating innovative tools to track student progress and success.

Importance of Assessment

The assessment process and end results are a vital part of any teacher’s role. Per Pellegrino, “an assessment is a tool designed to observe students’ behavior and produce data that can be used to draw reasonable inferences about what students know” (Pellegrino, 2003, p. 7). Tests and writing prompts along with presentations and projects are each forms of assessment. With assessments, educators can determine if learning objectives have been met. They also can attempt to quantify how students are experiencing their learning. Student grades, placement, instructional needs, advancement and curriculum are guided by assessment.

Assessment is critical because it also allows students to gauge their own learning (Shepard, 2000). Granting students access to their performance in class and demonstrating whether they understand the material covered enhances their learning experience and development. Assessment not only supports students, it also helps teachers. Consistent use of varying assessments aide educators in determining if their teaching has been adequate for students. It can also ensure that students learn what they need to know to meet class learning objectives.

How Technology Helps Measure Student Learning

Technology is a powerful ally for teachers, especially in measuring student learning. With the use of digital formative assessments, teachers can expedite their ability to provide student feedback in real-time. Also, students are interacting with their assignments, receiving teacher input, and invested and motivated in their learning (Timmis et al., 2016).

Timmis, Broadfoot, Sutherland, and Oldfield (2016) encourage teachers to reflect on the “four C’s” when using technology to enhance a lesson. Ask yourself, does the use of technology allow for increased collaboration or critical thinking opportunities? Are students able to communicate their ideas uniquely and are students able to demonstrate creative thinking? Following this format provides for lessons that foster student engagement, with technology as an enhancement tool. Digital formative assessments provide teachers the opportunity to give individual feedback quicker and in real-time than traditional non-digital paper and pen formative assessments. Thus, when students are engaging, receiving timely feedback from their teachers, and intrinsically motivated by the feedback they are receiving from their teacher, learning is taking place (Timmis et al., 2016).

Types of Assessments and Tools

There are a plethora of ways in which assessment can occur. Assessment is a broad term that encompasses all actions that teachers and students engage in to retrieve information that can be used to evaluate and change teaching and learning at the end of a given time period (Timmis et al., 2016). Teachers are able to experience drastic improvements in their skills when making regular use of assessment methods.

As previously mentioned, assessment falls into two broad categories: formative and summative approaches. Formative assessment is a means for determining how the learning is taking place, on the way toward meeting some end goal. Alternatively, the final outcome of a learning intervention is measured through summative assessment. Both of these types of assessment are crucial in supporting current and future students in their learning.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessments are used to monitor student learning and provide regular feedback that teachers can use to improve practice and student learning (Formative vs. Summative Assessment, n.d.). Formative assessments support students with identifying their strengths, weaknesses and areas of growth and allow teachers to observe where students have challenges and to address those areas immediately.

When used appropriately, formative assessments are “transformational, since both teacher and student benefit from the timely feedback and adjustment of the curriculum” (Timmis et al., 2016, p. 455). Examples of student benefits include:

  • Immediate feedback to students to correct misconceptions
  • Open dialogue with peers in a collaborative setting
  • The ability to measure learning outcomes in real time

Overall, formative assessments are a great mechanism to take a snapshot in time of how students’ learning is occurring and where gaps exist. Through the use of formative assessments, educators are able to collect data regarding student progress and provide quick and informative feedback to students. As a result, the feedback provided by educators allows students to evaluate their learning and grow as learners.

Formative Assessment Technology Tools

Gone are the days of simple clickers and bells. Educators now have access to a variety of tools that allow for instant feedback. Retrieval Practice is an assessment tool that takes place during the learning process to help build knowledge networks in students’ minds and help reinforce their learning. It allows the educator to continuously gauge student learning while making it effortful and challenging (Agarwal, 2017).

Retrieval Practice Applications

Retrieval practice focuses on helping students retrieve information out of their heads, instead of focusing on pouring knowledge into their heads (Agarwal, 2017). It allows the educator to ensure that accurate questions and assessment tools are being utilized to effectively analyze student learning. Instant feedback may be gathered on an individual basis or as a group, depending on the dynamics of the classroom.

Socrative, Kahoot, Quizziz, and Quizlet are all examples of examples of educational technologies that allow teachers and students to attain instant results on the learning taking place. The students may access the system using a variety of different technological tools. They might use the tool from within a learning management system (LMS), or on a mobile device.
Teachers can have students work through retrieval practice together (such as when using a polling tool like PollEverywhere or a game-like tool like Kahoot).

There are also educational technology tools that are more self-paced and provide opportunities for learners to work at their own pace. Many of these services are starting to allow for either approach to be used. Quizlet flashcards and some of their games such as Scatter, Match, and Gravity can be used in a self-directed way by students. Quizlet also has a game called Quizlet Live that can be used with a group of students at one time for retrieval practice.

Summative Assessment

The purpose of summative assessments is to gauge student learning after an instructional unit and measure their comprehension of material against some standard or benchmark (Formative vs. Summative Assessment, n.d.). Summative assessments are often a high stakes form of assessment, meaning they have a high point value or other associated risks to the learner. Summative assessment measures progress towards big ideas versus specific activities (Timmis et al., 2016).

Examples of summative assessments are:

  • Exams
  • Final projects
  • Papers/reports

Summative assessments determine the growth of student learning at the end of a unit or semester. Educators are able to assess whether students were able to understand the material covered over a set period of time to determine student mastery. Summative assessments help educators assess their instruction and evaluate where their students are individually and as a whole. Therefore, summative assessments are critical for educators to utilize at the end of a given period of time to assess the student learning that has occurred.

Summative Assessment Technology Tools

Learning outcomes must also be observed from a broader scope, allowing for benchmarks of achievement to be evaluated. Summative assessment tools allow educators to analyze the overall achievement of students. Two broad methods for using technology for summative assessment are discussed in this section: The Learning Management System (LMS) and electronic portfolios (e-Portfolios).

Learning Management System (LMS)

A learning management system (LMS) is often considered the centerpiece of a teacher’s summative assessment toolbox. Accessibility is a vital part to utilizing both formative and summative assessment tools virtually. Teachers must have differentiated technology tools that are aligned with student learning outcomes and that allow the effective gauging of student learning (Steele, 2015). Most Learning Management Systems have embedded tools that allow for the ease-of-access by most teachers, regardless of their technology familiarity.

The LMS allows for transparency amongst all stakeholders in the learning process. Students can access resources and assignments while communicating with their peers and teacher. Parents may monitor student progress while also communicating with the teacher. Often times what is communicated in class does not make it home to the parents. The LMS removes this hindrance in communication.

Finally, for the teacher, the LMS is the ultimate assessment tool. The most beneficial part of the LMS is that both formative and summative assessments may be given through it. If your school or district has already adopted an LMS, it is best to use it since students, parents, and other stakeholders will already be familiar with it.

If your school or district has not adopted an LMS, there are still options available. You may choose to operate your course by using a LMS like Schoology, Jupiter Ed, Engrade, Canvas, or Google Classroom. Many school districts have implemented gradebooks that mimic the LMS gradebook, but lack the accessibility in linking and hyperlinking to the array of assessment tools that they use regularly. The systems previously mentioned allow you to run your course virtually as minimally or involved as you would like, and are tailored to accommodate all levels of technology users. The experienced or novice teacher may manipulate the LMS in a way that suits the needs of their students and their course design.

Electronic Portfolios

One method of helping students demonstrate their global learning is through the use of an eportfolio. An E-Portfolio is an electronic account of student work/progress used at all educational levels from early education through higher education. Eportfolios can support deep learning and support reflective practices across various learning contexts as they facilitate overall learning. The blend of learning products that exist within the eportfolio makes learning visible to all stakeholders, but especially the student. The eportfolio allows for students to reflect on and integrate their work to view overall learning progress. The reason that eportfolios have become a successful assessment tool is because they require significant and purposeful work from the student. During the development process students may experience student–faculty interaction, which allows students to evaluate and discuss their own learning over time (Harring & Luo, 2016).

Through websites like Google an educator may receive step-by-step guidance on how to create an eportfolio with their students. This tool would of course be most effective if linked to the LMS already utilized by the institution. If the school-site is not accessing a LMS, an eportfolio is still an option, as the student may compile the artifacts via an alternative fashion. Eportfolios make learning visible to all stakeholders. Most importantly to the students, it can help heighten self efficacy. This powerful pedagogical tool can support deep and integrative learning. Deep learning may occur as students are able to make their learning relative to their own experiences. Developing an eportfolio allows the students to make connections to their everyday life, while showcasing their areas of strength. Eportfolios allow students to show their experiences, along with reflecting on their own learning and the progress made therein (Harring & Luo, 2016).

The artifacts, rubrics, and criteria for the eportfolio will vary based on the course layout and educational level of the students. Ultimately, the eportfolio would involve signature assignments representative of student learning over a longer period. The period may span a semester, a school year, or even a school career. Digital assignments through the LMS may allow for summative assessments to be less stressful. Students have different approaches to learning and to foster and enhance their education we need to understand their learning style. This includes how assessments have a direct impact in learning, and how they perceive themselves (Al Kadri et al., 2009). The students verbalized the negative impact felt from the limited learning opportunities that summative assessments offer and expressed preference for formative assessment, which may foster a deeper approach to learning. Student achievement is elevated when they are able to participate in both formative and summative assessment to guide learning. During the summative assessment process students may be allowed to upload videos, files, and documents they originate for benchmark assignments developed by their teacher to show their overall learning.

My Experience Using Technology for Assessment

Tamika McKenzie

As a part of the second largest school district in the state of California, I have had exposure to a variety of assessment tools that have been both effective and ineffective across the past 14 years. The school district that I am a part of has mandated that the annual standardized testing be done virtually, rather than on paper. This process was piloted at a few schools initially, then pushed forward to all schools across a three year process.

Along with the implementation of the virtual testing, the district also received federal funding to purchase technology to implement the testing. This was a perfect opportunity for we teachers to utilize the technology in our classroom also. The tablets that the district sent are used for testing in the spring only. This allowed for we teachers to use the tablets for the duration of the year. At my school site, our school received additional funding, and purchased Chromebook carts for many classes to share. Although we did not have a one-to-one ratio of student-to-computers, we did have a sufficient amount to share the carts and use them regularly.

Many teachers like myself utilize a variety of apps and websites to assess our students both formally and informally. We can conduct polls, review sessions, and submit projects/writing samples, etc., all using our technology. The assessments that I administer the most using technology are informal. I conduct review/study sessions with websites like kahoot.com. This website is cost free, and allows you to do so many things. The website allows you to create a variety of assessments. Most importantly, if you are stretched for time, you can duplicate and manipulate the Kahoots of other users and save them within your own collection.

Many times, I am unable to dedicate instructional time to fun review sessions that involve all students at all ability levels. Students may work in group or alone. You can also see the statistics of the responses to gauge areas of concern for reteaching. This assessment tool really helps with saving planning time and appeals to the technology savvy student. If your school does not have technology on-site, students may link up to the assessment with their own devices also.

Using technology regularly allows us to prepare the student for the use of technology for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) standardized testing. Preparing our students is important when it comes to their success. The system that is used to test our students is not user friendly and complicates things for many. Exposure to the tablets and regular use eases anxiety for the students yielding a calmer and more productive testing environment when taking the virtual assessment.


The focus of any educational institution should be to develop a system that adequately prepares students for the future. Today’s society is ever-changing, increasingly digital, and increasingly acknowledged (Timmis et al., 2016). Educators must increase dialogue and knowledge base on the potential of technology, and its effects on educational assessment. We must understand that assessments should be developed to support learning. However, it is found that most assessments are more focused on qualifications and the reporting of achievement. Timmis et al. (2016) mention that there is a need to better understand how digital technologies can be used to support and transform assessment and learning.

We hope that this chapter has created cause for educators to ponder how assessments are administered and analyzed regularly, along with digital technology’s potential to change the purpose of an assessment. This chapter discussed the importance of assessment, types of assessment, how technology may be utilized to assess student learning, and examples of digital tools that would allow for any educator to make their forum an innovative digital forum. Gauging one’s own personal growth is a vital key to affecting others positively. As educators, we must continually seek innovative and effective assessment tools in order to reach the millennial student and assist them in reaching optimal levels of educational success.