The Real-Time Merits of Hand-Held Access

by John Porter

"Are you ready for the spring benchmark?" That's the question teachers in Montgomery County Public Schools encountered when they accessed the mCLASS: Reading 3DTM link on the school district's website last spring to review their students' achievement data.

Teachers administer the reading assessment to children in grades K-2 during scheduled testing windows, using hand-held devices to capture their students' answers. The assessment data is available almost immediately on a secure Internet site for teachers and administrators to use for programming individual student instruction.

This is educational technology at its best. As Superintendent Jerry Weast reported to the Montgomery County Board of Education: "The automation being used here is similar to the technology advances in the medical industry and other private and public enterprises that require immediate access to records and other data. The main improvement is the availability of student performance data in real-time as a teacher diagnoses what a student knows and is able to do throughout the school year."

Through the collaborative efforts of school district staff and nationally renowned external partners, Montgomery County schools began integrating advanced forms of classroom-level technology and automated assessments in spring 2004. The goals of these efforts were to capture more real-time student assessment data while working to reduce the time that educators spent preparing for, administering and summarizing the data from these assessments, thus streamlining the work of teachers and principals in diagnosing and monitoring the academic progress of students. We wanted to improve access to individual student performance data on a wider scale across the county.

The reading assessment, created through a partnership between MCPS and Wireless Generation¨, allows teachers to capture students' oral answers on a hand-held device. Data is synchronized and quickly viewable on the district's website. Principals and teachers can review student performance assessment data almost immediately online in their offices and classrooms.

These benchmark assessments improve the process and accuracy of providing diagnostic information to staff who are able to make quick data-driven decisions to guide the implementation of their balanced literacy program. Interventions, support, enhancements and additional resources can be provided to individual students based on this real-time data, not based on data from a month or more ago.

The Montgomery County schools can point to significant gains in student achievement on summative reading assessments for elementary grade students. These gains are evidence of student learning and of the impact of the collaborative efforts to assess, plan, instruct and reassess student progress. Other indicators include a rigorous curriculum along with formative and summative assessments aligned with local and state standards and the integration and support of advanced technology use in classrooms.

Teachers and principals use these hand-held devices with ease to monitor student progress. The impact of time-saving benefits for teachers as they move away from the tedious pencil/paper assessments to using advanced technology for diagnostic and instructional purposes has been great.

School systems need to provide teachers with tools that allow them to collect, analyze and disseminate data quickly. We are able to provide this for our teachers. This enables them to identify students who are at risk in reading in order to provide them with immediate support and interventions.