In the spring of 2017 we met Jodie Beck, M.Ed. of the Cassia County Schools in Cassia County, Idaho, at the annual National Title I Association Conference in San Diego, California. Jodie was hunting for an assessment vendor on behalf of her district. Her team’s plan was to stop doing their benchmark tests using a Scantron machine, and digitize their End of Course Assessments and benchmarks.
According to Assistant Superintendent Sandra Miller, “The Scantron machine told us ‘students got this or students answered that’ but it didn’t give us data our teachers and coaches could use to improve instruction.” Cassia wanted more than just the reporting: they wanted the reporting fast. Not only so teachers could use the data, but so students would be bought-in to their own education.
Change Management Challenges re: Benchmarking
Changing from a Scantron-driven assessment system to one that was digital and more flexible was not going to be straightforward. One of the many challenges was how to transition all teachers – who are the ones who give the common benchmarks – from using paper forms to using Google Chromebooks. The ideal solution would be to move to a system that allowed for both paper form scanning and Chromebook assessments.
A second challenge was how to get all of the existing benchmark tests (over 200 of them) into the new system without days of cutting and pasting. Since many of these tests were on paper in .docx or PDF format, this presented a major hurdle.
The third challenge: how to know whether any vendor, regardless of promises of reputation, was going to respond effectively to the surprises and ‘unknown unknowns’ that inevitably crop up whenever a district with 18 schools and over 5,500 students endeavors to make a major change that involves 90% of its stakeholders.
Meeting the Challenges with Quick Key
Challenge #1: Managing the pace of change for different teachers
Quick Key met Cassia’s needs – at least on paper – from the outset. After an introduction by Jodie to Sandra Miller, Assistant Superintendent, and Jennifer Miller, Curriculum Coordinator for the district, we quickly determined that Quick Key’s ability to run a single benchmark test via both paper forms and student Chromebooks would allow the district to make their transition smoothly and at teachers’ own pace. Those teachers who felt comfortable delivering a paper test and paper forms would be able to do so, and those who wanted to jump right in to fully-digital assessment could do so as well. All of the data would be instantly available to each teacher as well as to administrators in the schools and at the district office.
Challenge #2: Getting the old assessments into the new system with QuickBot
One of the biggest headaches with transitioning to a new assessment system is the problem of getting existing assessments into the new platform. Some vendors sell their own tests, and some expect all new tests to be made from their item bank. But this is not practical or advisable for districts and schools that have already purchased or created their own content, as was the case with Cassia, a district in possession of over 200 high-quality benchmark tests in .docx, GoogleDoc, and PDF format.
Quick Key solved this problem with our new QuickBot, which takes MS Word, Google Doc, and PDF quizzes and turns them into digital quizzes composed of individual test items, tagged with standards, grade level, and subject matter. On-Boarding Cassia’s existing benchmark tests was a simple matter of running them all through QuickBot, yielding a private Item Bank for Cassia containing over 600,000 items and 200 tests.
Challenge #3: The most important question of all … “will our vendor help us after the sale or leave us high and dry?”
I have heard time and again that Shawn and Walter on the Quick Key success team are the ‘nicest’ and ‘most helpful.’ And we relish the chance to show new partners why people say that. In Cassia’s case, we did a pilot to give them a taste of how we work. We imported 5 of their benchmark answer keys into Quick Key (QuickBot did not exist last summer), and then ran that test at Cassia’s middle schools. By the end of the Pilot, Cassia’s assessment team, which included several teachers and other staff, were sold on the combination of benefits, service, and price, and we closed a deal to handle all of Cassia’s benchmarks for the 2017-18 school year.
Then it was time to start the work in earnest. For the Fall semester in 2017, we created nearly 100 benchmark assessments inside Quick Key (again, simple answer keys since QuickBot would not become available until the second round of benchmarks in December). We set up Cassia’s student, course, and teacher rosters,
“As with any new program, especially one such as this where a lot of the training and technical support is at a distance, we knew there would be a few hiccups but what we appreciate is that the technical support and turnaround time is nothing. We send something and [Quick Key] responses. The ability for everybody at Quick Key to say “We can get that done for you” is really important to us” Says Miller. “There aren’t many companies who will listen to us, and that is a big selling point for me” she added.
Round 2: Completing the Transition
For the second round of benchmarks in the Fall Semester of 2017, we fired up QuickBot and imported the rest of Cassia’s benchmarks. This time, the benchmarks were imported from documents into Quick Key’s new QKX item platform as individual items, and then automatically re-constituted into their original benchmarks. QuickBot kept the standards, level, and subject alignments from the original test items.
After the benchmarks were imported using QuickBot, Cassia’s teachers could now give their benchmarks using either Quick Key Mobile to scan the paper test forms using teachers’ phones, or using students’ Chromebooks. Teachers who were ready to make the full digital transition were able to do it, and those who wanted to stay on paper stayed on paper.
Now Cassia’s teachers, students, and administrators have instant access to an analysis of their assessment results, so they can immediately react and personalize instruction. And the time it takes for them to administer and grade their assessments is greatly reduced.
Next Steps: Quick Key for PLC
According to Woodbury, Cassia is steeped in PLC methods. The district has Monday early release to allow for PLC meetings, and each grade level across the district meets 3-times annually. There is also a technology team tasked with facilitating data-driven instruction using technology, which is starting to use Quick Key. Some schools in the district use common formative assessments. “In Early high school we have Power Hour, where students are grouped with teachers into lunch-hour tutoring sessions” says Woodbury.
Over the coming months, the schools in Cassia County plan to get more real-time student feedback data to drive these PLC activities using Quick Key’s mobile and digital rapid assessment tools.