The question of how to authentically and fairly assess distance learners is one that educators, administrators, and school districts have been struggling with since the spring. In my district, a list of suggested methods of online assessment was released after significant pressure from teachers, but few of them were very specific or plausible. My guess is that many teachers are in the same boat regarding a lack of direction in regard to assessment and have been left to work it out on their own.
Below are four assessment strategies that I’ve tested in my digital/physical classroom. Although every subject area has unique assessment needs, I think most teachers will be able to find something in this list that could work for them, whether they are teaching in person, online, or in a hybrid format.
1. One-on-One Conferences
I’m a huge fan of conferencing as an assessment tool both in class and online. Essentially, a conference is a prescribed conversation with a student or students on a topic you’d like to assess. Holding one-on-one and small-group conferences is a good way to build relationships, and it provides an opportunity for immediate correction of errors or reteaching of material if students need it. Conferencing can also raise an early red flag regarding student progress, allowing you to respond to a problem immediately, rather than at the end of a unit.
The central assessment benefit to conferences in hybrid and distance learning is finding out exactly what students know and what they can do—there’s no internet or parent to give them hints, so you can get a clear snapshot of students’ knowledge and skills.
To make conferencing work, you need to have a goal in mind. What skills are most critical at this moment? What skills are your students struggling with the most? Having a purpose that is clear to you and the students will make your conferences truly effective.
2. Higher Order Thinking Assignments
I’ve found that asking students to apply higher order thinking skills from Bloom’s taxonomy, like analyzing, evaluating, or creating, allows for more student engagement and authentic assessment of both in-class and distance learners.
In my language classroom, assessments that have worked well for both types of learners include: analyzing and creating media products using principles of persuasion, practicing self-evaluation of literacy skills and goal setting through metacognition, and creating digital stories using WeVideo.
Each of these rich assessment tasks pushed students to use higher order thinking skills, but also allowed my assessments to be multidimensional. I wasn’t focusing on one skill—the interdisciplinary nature of the assignments allowed for a balanced assessment in a variety of categories. This saved me time in terms of assessing one final submission instead of multiple smaller tasks, allowed me to work through the creative process with students, and allowed for a variety of assessment strategies (conversation, observation, product).
3. Digital Quizzes
I use Google Forms to create both formative and summative assessments. The quiz feature allows teachers to control how the questions are presented, and you can program a lock screen to start once an assessment begins so that students cannot open or connect to any other windows. (This works only with students using tech devices managed by your school network.)
Another nice feature of Google Forms is that it will grade multiple choice answers, and release grades to students via email once you’ve marked their written answers. With distance learning students, I use Google Forms in conjunction with Google Meets: I set up each of my distance learning students with their own Google Meet, then ask them to share their screen and turn on their camera throughout the entirety of the assessment.
Using Google Forms and Meets together allows me to assess all of my students at the same time. I keep a window open for each of my distance learning students and minimize it so that I can have multiple windows open on my screen at the same time and observe them for the duration of the assessment. This practice has worked so well in various classes at our school that we just decided to use it as a method of assessing distance learners for final exams.
4. Digital Writing Discussions
Google Docs lets you observe the progress of, and comment on, student written assessments in real time or asynchronously: You can retrieve past versions of a document and see who has contributed to it by using the version history feature.
For written assignments, I use all of these features, reviewing assessments as students are working on them and using the comment feature to provide feedback if appropriate. When supporting students in the classroom or online, this feature allows me to check in on them and share feedback in real time, by using the comment or editing tool as long as they have shared their document with me and allowed editing privileges.
Once a document is submitted, I will also often check up on the version history. This is especially useful when students are working in a group situation, and allows me to see who has contributed to a document, and in what context. It’s also a great way to ensure that students’ written work is authentic, and not copy-and-pasted from another source or created by someone other than the owner of the document.
If I’m assessing students summatively in a testing situation, I also use Google Meets in conjunction with this application, just as in quiz situations, and I ask that students not only allow me editing access but also project their screen and keep their camera on while completing the test.
Finding strategies to consistently and fairly assess distance learners is paramount to ensuring equity and legitimacy in our new classroom environments, whether they be online, in class, or a combination of both.