January 26, 2022 | Blog

Assessment technology built with the whole child in mind

The assessment needs of K-12 school districts are evolving and growing, and today’s innovative educators want technology that works for them rather than the other way around. Meanwhile, curriculum directors want to empower classroom teachers to use authentic assessment throughout the year, but they also need to continue administering high-stakes end-of-year tests that meet state and federal requirements.

Serving that range of needs is what attracted Pearson and MZD to one another when the comprehensive provider of assessment services acquired the growing technology startup in 2021. Working together will blend the strengths of each — the scale, security, and stability of Pearson products developed for large-scale assessment and the nimbleness of MZD products developed for the everyday needs of classroom teachers.

Lisa Lepic, managing director of school assessment at Pearson, says the assessment market is evolving and demanding formative assessments that work meaningfully alongside the existing summative assessments. “I’m really excited about the different ways we can help kids that we never thought were possible,” she states. “Tying MZD’s tools with other Pearson products, we can have a portfolio of the whole child and help students get to where they need to be.”

Enabling classroom creativity

A limitation of traditional assessment tools is that individual teachers can’t adjust them. For example, if a high school English department has an idea for a new writing project next month, it can be difficult for teachers to grade and comment on those projects and show progress on learning objectives within the existing assessment technology.

The co-founders of MZD, Zac Henrich and Miles Loring, envisioned flexible authoring and scoring tools that enabled the creativity of teachers. “It’s their technology to use in a way that most benefits their students,” Henrich explains.

“That’s very different from accountability approaches. That English department with a new idea, or an individual teacher, can go into the application, author the test, assign it to students, and they’re off and running.”

Henrich adds, “Pearson’s strength traditionally has been the rigor that ensures massive testing events go off without any disruptions.” Those tests require significant review and security, so changes are rarely made during a course or academic term. “Our strengths are that we are nimble enough to react to client requirements.”

Henrich is excited that working with Pearson means MZD will have the resources to focus on product development. “Our product development team spends a great percentage of time with our clients,” he explains. “They define what our development priorities are. Meanwhile, Pearson’s resources give us a lot of stability.”

Additionally, existing MZD customers benefit from access to the content authoring, psychometric testing, and the personalized reporting tools Pearson offers.

What clients want

Client requirements increasingly prioritize authentic assessment, through-year assessment, and timely and impactful reporting.

“Summative assessments are still essential,” observes Lepic, “but when you wait until the end of the year to assess a student’s learning, teachers have lost a whole year in which to intervene. We knew we needed a nimbler approach. Educators are looking for progress monitoring during the school year with real-time data.”

She mentions single sign-on, white labeling, and configurability as features in the MZD products that K-12 districts are going to value. Their products can be deployed by a district and then adapted from the bottom up while interoperating smoothly with the technology already in place.

MZD’s tools include OSCAR, ADAM, and EMMA, which collectively provide distributed online scoring, authoring, reporting, and automated marking. Existing customers have been using these tools to scale up assessment of performance-based activities like lab reports, art portfolios, and creative writing.

“What’s powerful is that all this results in more personalization,” continues Lepic. “It’s assessment that helps teachers, students, and parents know what to do next. The data is timely and in a format that helps teachers develop feedback and focus on supporting students and their families to improve learning.”

On the assessment horizon

Loring observes, “Assessment is evolving and we’re a small example of that. We started with a blank page and envisioned these products as software as a service. That idea isn’t new, but when applied to assessment, we can get to the point where districts democratize assessments and still accommodate federal and state requirements.”

Asked what the future of assessment holds, Lepic declares, “We believe this technology is going to help us assess more than academic skills. The Pearson portfolio has other products focused on precursors to learning like cognitive assessments. These are adding up to insight about what hinders and what supports a student’s ability to learn.”

Lepic also sees technology emerging that supports work on skills like conflict resolution, teamwork, and communication.

“It goes back to what I said earlier about the whole child,” she concludes. “There’s a lot that needs to happen in the classroom to achieve successful learning, and there are a lot of important people participating — including parents. Assessment solutions are evolving to become part of developing those non-academic skills. Working with MZD is going to help us serve school districts with big expectations.”

Get in touch with the Pearson assessment team