SOL testing is a fact of life in the Virginia school system. The Commonwealth of Virginia sets academic standards, known as the Standards of Learning (SOL), and measures achievement through annual SOL tests. To streamline the process the Virginia Department of Education has mandated the all SOL testing will transition to online testing in the next few years. The Clarke County school system wants to ensure students are prepared for the challenges of the test as well as the way it is administered. The school system is looking to Interactive Achievement, a Roanoke based business, as a vendor to provide Software as a Service (SaaS) for benchmark testing software that will provide educators with accurate assessments of student performance on the Virginia Standards of Learning curriculum and that will mirror the online testing environment for the actual SOL testing so that students will be familiar with the system.
At the School Board meeting on Sept 7th Superintendent Michael Murphy said, “What we have talked to the administrator team about is having a very serious, concerted, division wide effort to prepare students for this year’s SOL test. Because in 2015, maybe even 2013, 100% of the SOL testing will be online. So, we have basically two years to get ready for online SOL testing.”
Interactive Achievement’s assessment platform allows educators to track students performance on SOL material and and make adjustments to curriculum to bolster areas that need attention. While there are already tools available for teachers to assess students, this system is designed to streamline the process and provide a much faster feedback loop.
Jacob Gibson spoke before the School Board on behalf of Interactive Achievement and described their approach to benchmark testing in medical terms comparing it to summative tests like ACTs and AYP:
ACT and AYP results are summative. Those types of assessments and those types of results are summative in nature. They are at the end of the course , at end of the year, and they are a summation of what was taught. When you get the results back and you get the data back, it’s an ‘autopsy.’ It’s an ‘autopsy’ and there is nothing you can do with that data with the same set of students ever again. You can use the data to prepare, you can make curriculum decisions for the next group of kids but you are comparing apples to oranges. There is an enormous amount of value in summative assessments and the data you can glean from that. But what Interactive Achievement does is offer formative assessments, and benchmark testing assessments so that throughout the year it’s a regular ‘doctor’s visit’ and you can, throughout the year, begin to diagnose where the student strengths are and where the student weaknesses are, so that you can be proactive with your data with the same data set and student set.
Mr Gibson went on to demonstrate the online tool during the meeting showing School Board members the functionality and pointed out that it mirrors the online experience students will face during actual online SOL tests.
The software would be available for use in all elementary schools, the middle school and the high school in the four core curriculum areas of English, Mathematics, History and Science. It should help educators easily identify mastery levels and pinpoint weaknesses so that direct remediation can be provided where needed. Additionally, IA’s software allows school and district administrators to use aggregated and disaggregated data to determine district-wide curriculum strengths and weaknesses.
The product is Software as a Service (SaaS). This means that when the school system buys this service they don’t own anything but are merely licensing time on Interactive Achievement’s product. The service is licensed on an annual basis and will cost the school $21,000.00 every year.
There is no line item in the school budget for this service however Dr Murphy felt that the money is available in the budget through reallocation of funds. He stated that, “We believe as we start going through our budgets that we can start fine tuning all of our budgets and so start narrowing down our costs. The reality is that there is not a line item dedicated to Interactive Achievement, but we have a lot of money that’s dedicated towards purchasing software, but not Interactive Achievement. So we have started working with staff to start narrowing down budgets and start putting line items or clumps of money into budgets.”
He summarized the budget discussion saying, “We’re confident that we can budget for this product.”
The approach was well received by all School Board members and is currently under consideration for school wide use. Interactive Achievement has already tweeted on their company blog that Clarke County has signed up, however Dr. Murphy indicated that the deal has not been finalized.