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Blog post Part of series: Covid-19, education and educational research

What have we learned about effectively using assessment data during remote learning over the past year?

Anne-Marie Chase, Monash College Katie Richardson, Australian Council for Education Research Nathanael Reinertsen, Australian Council for Education Research

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many teachers around the globe found themselves forced to teach in remote or online environments. This blog post explores initial findings about the assessment data that teachers used to understand and cater for the diverse needs of students during remote learning periods throughout the pandemic. The research was a small-scale project funded by BERA, which explored the sources of data that were used by teachers to inform remote teaching practices. It examined strategies that teachers used to promote engagement and access to learning through synchronous and asynchronous activities.

Highlights from the data

A survey was disseminated in October 2020 and responses were collected through a snowball sample. There were 117 responses containing usable data. The survey asked questions to establish demographic details of residents. It then asked questions about the type of data used to inform teaching and learning prior to Covid-19.

Of the 117 respondents, some had exposure to online and remote learning as students. There were 23 respondents who had studied in synchronous environments, while 39 had participated in asynchronous learning. However, only 14 indicated they had prior experience teaching through synchronous online methods, while 26 had taught previously using asynchronous methods. This means that most of the teachers responding to the survey had limited or no prior experience in developing online and remote pedagogies before Covid-19. Nearly all the respondents, however, had been forced into some form of remote or online teaching during the pandemic (94 per cent). This meant that many teachers had the dual role of teaching while learning on the job during a particularly stressful period.

‘Most of the teachers responding to the survey had limited or no prior experience in developing online and remote pedagogies before Covid-19… many teachers had the dual role of teaching while learning on the job during a particularly stressful period.’

This has considerable implications for their workload and stress during Covid-19 restrictions. Most teachers indicated that there were students with a range of additional needs within their classes. Prior to the pandemic, teachers used a wide range of data, including, but not limited to: standardised tests; teacher-created assessments; personal observations of the students; and conversations and surveys with the students and their parents to tailor their teaching to meet the needs of students. Most respondents had participated in some form of professional learning in assessment or data use, and only 9 per cent reported not having engaged in some form of professional learning. Participants’ responses demonstrate that the use of data to inform learning and teaching decreased considerably during the Covid-19 remote and online periods, the implications of which we will explore in the final report. This may reflect the increased demands (pedagogical and emotional) on the teachers’ time and energy together with the added stress of learning new ways of teaching on the job.

What have we learned about using assessment data effectively during remote learning over the past year?

Even though there was a decrease in the use of assessment data to inform learning and teaching, many teachers employed a wide range of strategies to meet the needs of their students. Half of the respondents used standardised tests to inform their practice. About half (51 per cent) used past school performance from teacher-created assessments, while 70 per cent used personal observations and knowledge of their students. Nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) contacted their students’ carers to gather information, while 29 per cent surveyed the students themselves, and 9 per cent used parental surveys. This implies that informal and personalised methods of gathering data were used by teachers during Covid-19, even though around a quarter of teachers (24 per cent) still used formal testing and assessment.

What did educators do well?

It was encouraging to see that many of the participating teachers used a range of different types of data to understand both how their students were coping and to ensure that they were meeting their students’ needs. Teachers also provided feedback to their students in a range of different ways to promote learning. Constructive comments were used by 71 participants, while 58 indicated that they gave feedback through praise and 67 provided encouragement. Further forms of feedback will be explored in the final report.

What did they have difficulty with?

Responses were mixed about the teachers’ successes in adjusting strategies to meet students’ needs. Some teachers focused on students they felt were most at risk, while others gathered feedback – such as through surveys, or short ‘check ins’ – that informed further action. A number of qualitative responses indicated that, despite the effort that teachers went to in developing their remote practices, it did not necessarily translate into student learning progress, which many monitored through the use of formative assessments.

What else do we want to know?

While teachers report using breakout rooms, small groups and targeted sessions – and while they reported using data to inform decisions – it is not clear how they were using data. This will be explored in our final report, but initial analysis indicates that teachers did not use the data gathered to inform their online or remote model and use of synchronous or asynchronous learning time.