Williamson County Schools in Middle Tennessee recently identified a need for an assessment platform, and, as the district Assessment Analyst, I was charged with finding one that would meet the needs of our district. I quickly discovered finding a good fit can be a daunting task. A simple search online or even a stroll through the vendor hall at a conference will reveal there are so many options that it can be overwhelming!
I’m pleased to announce I survived the process, but the most difficult part was just getting started. Before contract negotiations, before implementation considerations, and even before demonstrations with administrators, I first needed a short list of potential vendors. While considering our pre-established district processes and expectations, I had to determine what we needed versus was we just wanted. For those who are currently in the search process or know that their assessment search is looming on the horizon, here are three tips that might help you make it through as well.
Tip 1 – Decide what online/paper options are preferred up front, and stick to it.
Since our state assessments were moving toward being online, we committed to computer-only testing. Eliminating paper testing simplified my search because I did not have to consider options like scanners, cameras, or even the printing of tests. (How do you even print a drag-and-drop question?!?) Choosing an online versus paper option also played into the cost factor. Aside from the additional funds needed for peripheral equipment and paper, paper scanning was often an add-on to the subscription fees.
Tip 2 – Figure out which item types are most important to you.
Assessment platform options range from having only multiple-choice items to offering dozens of different item types. If you decide up front which ones are most important to your needs, that allows more focus when vetting platforms. You can spend time asking about specific item interaction details during demonstrations to make sure they behave as you prefer.
Tip 3 – Where will the items come from?
Some platforms advertise the ability to create customized tests, but you can only choose pre-existing items from a bank. Others allow the creation of new items through a variety of methods. Our district plan included a need to create local items but to also have the availability of third-party items. Both took additional consideration when vetting potential partners.
As for item banks, most vendors either have their own or subscribe to a handful of established companies that specialize in item banks. If you are going down this road, be sure to consider any additional cost of subscription. Check the specs, too. Some solutions advertise item variety in all subject areas, but you later find out that variety is isolated to just ELA and math.
If you plan on creating your own items, make sure you set up a demonstration to go over that component in detail. Item editors vary greatly, and don’t assume a platform that supports one item type for testing will also support the creation of the same type. I had three requests I insisted on being demonstrated:
- How can you create passage-dependent items?
- How do you insert and edit images within items?
- How do you include mathematical expressions?
If the demonstration of those questions seemed overly cumbersome, I knew the item writing process would be a significant hurdle in the overall implementation.
Of course, there were many other considerations beyond these three areas. Will it work on student devices? Will it integrate with our SIS? How easy is it to create tests? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. While important, these considerations rarely distinguished one contending platform from another since most of the prominent solutions available are on a relatively level playing field in these areas. By determining our key areas of interest, we were able to whittle down the competitor pool and finally choose the one solution that met all of our needs and expectations.
Interested in learning how Performance Matters has helped Williamson County meet their district assessment needs? Schedule a demo now!
Kevin Deck has spent 13 years teaching high school mathematics in Cobb County, Georgia, and Williamson County, Tennessee. He is currently the Assessment Analyst for Williamson County Schools, responsible for a variety of district and state assessments for its 44 schools.