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February 10, 2019

4 ways to develop and measure ESSA indicators using education technology

Picture by Naasson Azeved on Unsplash

With the launch of the Every Student Succeed Act, schools not only are required to define explicit accountability goals, but also include at least four indicators of which one must be outside the regular academic goals.

This helps bring focus on important skills which have been neglected in the past, such as student and educator engagementaccess to and completion of advanced courseworkpostsecondary readiness and school climate and safety. Other indicators could also be integrated, but you can see that these are typically softer skills and tend towards.

Measuring such indicators is not a simple task. They require some sort of assessment and it is notoriously difficult to asses competencies.

Let's explore ways in which education technology can help with this.

#1 One-to-one computing

Since the late '90s, one-to-one projects have been implemented in schools and districts at a growing pace. Especially since around 2010 when lightweight tools like the iPad and Chromebook made their way into the classroom, making it more affordable to equip every child with a device.

This computing model has its challenges of course, nothing is a panacea, but it has the potential to transform how learning happens. More importantly, focusing on creation tools on these devices allows more demonstration of competencies and the ability to complete complex tasks and coursework. Learning to leverage technology is also an essential skill for college and career.

#2 Project and challenge-based learning

Many research projects have demonstrated that by itself, technology doesn't change academic outcomes, yet it does affect other aspects of the school experience, such as lowering absenteeism, increasing information retention, improving the desire to further postsecondary studies and more.

Socio-constructivist approaches have also been shown to have an important effect on learning, for example, John Hattie gives it a high impact score in his meta research Visible Learning. This meta research might be controversial, but these approaches are always the ones students are the most engaged in.

#3 Student agency

Giving students voice and control on their learning transforming them into active learners is a great way to engage them.. Extending this beyond the classroom by providing tools which promote agency, we are preparing students for taking on all the challenges of college and life beyond.

Leveraging the creation tools mentioned above, we can then enable students to find their own responses to the challenges and projects we guide them through.

#4 Developing executive function skills and meta cognitive skills

EF as they are often referred to, are the new IQ. Indeed, research shows that IQ is no longer the best indicator of success, but good executive functioning is a much better way to asses the future success of students beyond high school. Executive function skills regroup a series of skills we all use every day as our brains coordinate our decisions, our planning and the shifting of concepts from one area to another. Especially in the teenage years, they are essential to deal with the complexities of student life.

As mentioned by Harvard's Center for the Developing child, Executive Function skills are not innate but must be taught. Everyone has the ability to develop them, but if students enter 7th grade with little knowledge of how to get organized, simply leaving them to their own device will not improve this and they will exit high school with no improvement. This is why students who learn to "pass the test" by cramming can succeed yet still face challenges later on.

Learning to learn and thinking ahead, all part of EF, and at the meta cognitive level. Practicing these has been shown to affect academic success as well.

Bringing it all together for students

As your school tries to determine how to bring all of these factors together and not only develop these skills through the environment you provide, many questions arise. How can technology help build these skills and measure results? Obviously, teachers can provide some forms of assessment, but it becomes difficult to validate the progress students are making in other aspects and summative assessment methods are not quick enough. How can technology combined with instruction affect some of the more abstract elements of engagement and executive functioning?

The planner: Center of student lives

Our customers started with a simple equation back in 2014: replacing the paper planner which students started not to want to use when they moved to digital devices. This seemed like a simple task, but it quickly became obvious that calendars and Learning Management Systems weren't working out, as teachers protested that they felt like they were "spoon feeding" students their work. Of course, announcing important tasks is very important. But shouldn't students be involved in managing when and how they accomplish the work?

They required a tool which allowed both teachers and students to enter tasks and students to control their management.

The solution had to be a whole-school solution instead of paper in order to allow for best-practices to be developed and a common language to be used.

This is what allowed Studyo became every student's reference for their classwork, using it all day, every day of the year. Teachers didn't have to do anything different either, as it could be used exactly like the paper planner was used previously, strictly by students. If they were teaching organization with paper, they could continue doing it. Alas, many schools started reducing methodology classes as well. Causing a much bigger problem.

The new planner was used in all subjects, all day, every school day of the year and the one tool which impacted student learning the most. And this became a great opportunity for student engagement as well.

We all know students no longer use email, preferring using their mobile devices' messaging or push notifications. Schools have found that communicating with their students became more difficult, as they wouldn't read emails. Even fun activities such as "ugly sweater day" or the school carnival, caught students by surprise as they were announced on tv's or billboards and via email, but student's simply didn't see them. So schools turned their attention to Studyo and posted these events and announcements there. All of a sudden, student engagement grew 10 times greatly affecting school climate. This was also true of academic announcements such as Exam Prep sessions or recuperation time with teachers.

Measuring organization

How then can we leverage this and measure and improve some of the indicators we are now integrating in the learning environment? The daily planner students use constantly opens up the door to a whole set of options. The advantage of a student-controlled tool is that they rely on it and use it constantly, but even more importantly, they use it to enter specific data every time they do any operation such as entering a task, completing it, deciding on their next step or splitting tasks in multiple steps or entering personal tasks outside of class times. All of these measured over time can help build a profile of each student and detect all kinds of organization issues. This is not only true of students with specific executive functioning issues, but also students which are achieving good academic results, but are nevertheless cramming at the last minute and otherwise not really processing their work in a structured way. These students also have a high chance of being stressed and of hitting some important issues once they reach college.


The combination of a 1:1 ratio of take-home devices, a tool students are actively engaged in all day and the proper education models such as project and challenge-based learning are key to developing the skills which can be measured and be true indicators of competency development. And because it is at the center of student's school life, the planner brings it all together in a way that makes learning visible to teachers, administrators and parents.

With this, we can now really make a difference.