Assessing Remote Learning: How Do We Know Students Are Learning If We Aren't There?

One of the major challenges of remote or hybrid instruction is assessment - what are students learning, and how? Veteran teacher Tara shares her practical strategies on assessing remote instruction without reinventing the wheel.

Updated on: September 29, 2020

Assessing remote learning

Assessments are a teacher’s roadmap. They help us plan our instruction and differentiate to meet the needs of all our students. However, with distance learning, giving assessments has become a lot more challenging. Moving assessments online raises a lot of new questions.

  • How do you administer assessments virtually? 
  • How do you know the student is completing the assessments instead of a parent or sibling?
  • Is the student using notes or textbooks while taking the assessment?
  • Is the student really mastering the standards and learning online?

In this post, we’ll discuss strategies for using online assessments to determine if your students are learning when you aren’t with them.

Types of Assessments

During your daily lessons at school, you are constantly assessing your students. Whether it’s through observations and other formative assessments or unit tests and other summative assessments, you are always collecting data on your students. We have to get creative to use these same types of assessments virtually. Let’s break down the different types of assessments and how they can be adapted to work online.

1.  Exit Tickets 

Exit tickets are a great way to assess whether or not your students understand the new content you teach. In the classroom, these are generally small pieces of paper where the students write their answers and the teacher collects them. 

Google Forms work really well for virtual exit tickets. Just take the questions from your paper exit tickets and add them to a Google Form. When you finish your lesson, you can share the link to the form, and your students can complete it online. Google Forms collect all the responses for you so you can quickly see who understands the lesson and who needs more practice. 

To save time, you could create an exit ticket with one or two questions and use it for all of your lessons. For example, ask your students to tell you one thing they learned during the lesson and one thing that still confuses them. Check out these sample exit tickets for more ideas.

2.  Running Records

Running records are a great way to assess your students’ reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension. In the classroom, you can make two copies of the passage. Your student has one to read from, and you have one to record your notes.

Online, you can administer running records in a one-on-one online meeting. Just schedule a Google Meet or Zoom session with each of your students. Pull up the passage you want the student to read on your computer, and share your screen. You should have a printed copy of the passage in front of you so you can take notes. Your student can read from the screen and then you can ask comprehension questions.

My son just started online learning this week, and his teacher used breakout rooms in Zoom to do her beginning of the year reading assessments. After she completed her reading workshop mini lesson, she assigned each student to a different breakout room. Then, she went from one student to the next to do running records during independent reading time.

3.  Unit Assessments

Summative assessments can also be adapted for virtual learning. Even though you can’t pass out the papers like you would in the classroom, you can still check to see what your students understand from the unit.

You can transfer the questions from the test into a Google Form. Then, your students can answer the questions and submit their responses.

Checking for Learning

Moving your assessments online is a great start to making sure your students are learning. However, with many of these online assessments, there’s no way for you to know if your students are getting help from family members or textbooks. We need ways to make sure our students are able to apply what they’ve learned independently.

Scheduling face-to-face meetings with your students is one way to get an accurate assessment of what they can do. Through one-on-one running records and small strategy groups, you’re able to see your students’ reading strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, you can’t have one-on-one and small group meetings all day long. We have to find other ways to make sure our students are learning.

Video is a great option. You could use a platform, like Flipgrid, Screencastify, or Seesaw, that allows your students to record themselves. Give them questions to answer orally and have them submit the recording. Of course, they could still be getting help before they record themselves. However, at least you know someone else didn’t do all the work. Your students had to practice the content to be able to answer the questions on video.

You should also make the most of your whole class live sessions. My daughter’s first grade teacher made popsicle sticks with the students’ names on them. She uses them to make sure she’s asking all the students questions during their Zoom meetings. She makes notes about which students are answering the questions correctly to collect data on what they can do independently. She can also see if they are getting help from a parent. 

You could use whiteboards to assess understanding during your live meetings, too. When you ask a question, have your students record their answers on a whiteboard, or even a piece of paper. Then, have them hold up their answers to the camera. This is a quick way to assess what your students have learned. You can use this information to plan small reading strategy groups or guided math groups.

Another option is to use a performance task as a summative assessment. When your students have to do an activity to apply the concepts they’ve learned, they can’t just search in a textbook for the answers. For example, rather than having your students answer a page of multiplication problems online, you could have them create a bakery. They could use multiplication to explain how many trays of cookies they need to bake to serve a certain number of customers. Performance tasks like this force your students to understand the information and use it in a new way.

Administering all of our assessments online definitely isn’t ideal, but until we are able to be in the classroom with our students again, it’s important to find ways to make sure they’re learning at home. Using these strategies will help you collect data on your students and use it to guide your instruction. Gathering this information about your students now will make the transition back to the classroom so much easier!

Tara Dusko is a third grade teacher in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania. She's spent the past 14 years finding engaging ways to make her students love learning. When she's not planning lessons for her classroom, she is spending time with her husband and two children or trying out new recipes in the kitchen. Get some tips for reducing the stress of teaching on her blog, Teach Without Tears.

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