How do teachers—and administrators— know whether learning has occurred? It’s an age-old question that school systems have tackled for years. They’ve used a variety of class assessment methods to determine what, and to what extent, students have mastered in the subjects they’re learning about and whether they’re prepared to move on to the next grade.

During the pandemic, class assessments and student evaluations have of course become even more of a challenge with many lamenting that learning may be negatively impacted during the pandemic and that some students may be left behind for good.

Still, even beyond assessment requirements and reporting that school systems must adhere to, teachers, students, and parents are all concerned about whether learning is taking place. Here we look at class assessment in the age of classroom analytics and remote learning.

Student Evaluation During the Pandemic

It’s a challenging time for conducting student evaluations or assessments and, in some cases, traditional methods simply won’t work says Brian Galvin, Chief Academic Officer at Varsity Tutors and an expert in virtual learning.

“A great many teachers in our network are finding first semester grading to be a unique challenge,” says Galvin. “For many reasons, teachers just haven’t been able to cover as much ground this semester so the typical semester-end assessments don’t quite apply.” In addition, he says, “certain projects and activities have to be graded on a curve with supplies and direct supervision harder to immediately come by.”

Amanda Aisen, executive director of education for Academic Approach, a national tutoring company that helps K12 students prepare for standardized tests, based in Chicago, agrees that the pandemic and continued remote learning are creating new challenges for student evaluation or assessment. But, she says, it’s also leading to some new approaches.

“While we’ve seen some trepidation around high-stakes assessment—not without reason—we’re seeing many teachers incorporate more formative, in-the-moment assessment in their classrooms,” Aisen says. “We know how challenging it is for teachers right now, as they work with students at home to assess their progress and needs.”

The most important role that teachers can play in the class assessment and student evaluation process is providing feedback to students, says Aisen. “Assessment can be a powerful tool for learning, but without timely, personalized feedback to students, that opportunity is lost,” she says. “It’s essential that teachers engaging in assessments are ensuring students are receiving feedback and are engaging with that feedback and learning from their mistakes.”

Tackling Concerns Related to Academic Integrity

One of the many challenges that teachers face in the remote learning environment is the ability to ensure academic integrity. According to a report from John Wiley & Sons, 93% of instructors feel that students are more likely to cheat in a remote learning situation. They note, though, that: “It remains to be seen if the perception of online cheating is due to instructors’ lack of experience teaching virtually, which may shift over time.” They go on to offer some recommendations for boosting academic integrity including the use of technology, providing students with a clear roadmap for success to increase motivation and enlisting students in creating a culture of academic integrity.

From a technology standpoint, the report suggests “offering features such as question pools, value randomization, answer shuffling, generic question titles, timed assignments, password-protected assignments, and assignment availability restrictions.”

Teachers and administrators are needing to think creatively about class assessment and classroom analytics during the pandemic—the approaches they develop are likely to remain in place even after concerns related to the virus have subsided.

Creative Ways to Assess Classes and Students

“We’re seeing a lot of teachers get creative about incorporating formative assessments during class sessions as quick snapshots,” says Aisen. Typically, she says, formative assessments are “lower stakes than summative tests.” They’re used to monitor ongoing learning and provide feedback to help students learn.

Many teachers, says Aisen, “are using the polling features available in Zoom, Google Classroom, or other video tools to assess quick, in-the-moment learning.” In addition, she says, “we’re also seeing teachers creatively use chat and ‘thumbs up’ features in those tools to informally assess student understanding.” There are many great tools that teachers are using during the pandemic to deliver content to students and to get fast feedback on what they’re learning and where instruction is still needed, Aisen says. For example, she points to tools like Google Forms and Quizzizz as tools teachers can quickly create and use to deliver assessments.

The student and class assessment situation during the pandemic is causing teachers and administrators to ask some tough questions Galvin says. Like: “Are grades meant to be a purely objective measure of proficiency, or are they better used as a carrot to incentivize productive learning habits?” Many teachers, he says, “feel in their hearts that the latter sentiment should win the day.” However, he adds, during the COVID era “there’s also a very real and pressing concern that if kids haven’t mastered certain skills necessary to future success, inflated grades may mask some crucial deficiencies.”

Ultimately, says Galvin, the COVID era is causing an acute short-term challenge that “provides a longer-term opportunity to rethink the overall philosophy of grading.”

Teacher Evaluation Tools for Administrators

Administrators also need to evaluate the skills and performance of teachers in their systems. Aisen’s comment: “It’s essential that teachers engaging in assessments are ensuring students are receiving feedback and are engaging with that feedback and learning from their mistakes,” can easily be modified to address teacher evaluation. “It’s essential that administrators engaging in assessment are ensuring teachers are receiving feedback and are engaging with that feedback and learning from their mistakes.” Same purpose and process—different population of interest.

Currently, many teachers are recording synchronous content for students to review later, Aisen notes. “These recordings provide an opportunity for administrators that doesn’t usually exist—the ability to observe many classrooms quickly and easily.” In combination with other assessment data and classroom analytics, she says, “these quick ‘observations’ can allow administrators to identify best practices to share with the rest of the staff and to figure out who needs more support.”

Student—and teacher—evaluation is important. The pandemic is pointing to some new opportunities and new considerations in addressing assessment in the age of classroom analytics and remote learning that are likely to endure.