Disrupting Education: The Data-Driven Alternative to Standardized Testing



  • An alternative to standardized testing is micro-testing, in which educators employ iPads and cloud computing to assess where their students are on the learning curve in real time

Replacing pen and paper with a stream of data allows teachers and parents to gauge students’ progress in real time

For many industries, the story over the past few years has been one of tech-driven disruption. Uber disrupted the transportation industry. Airbnb is doing the same in the hotel industry and Netflix has disrupted TV and movies. But what about education?

The combination of public funding and strong union involvement has made education uniquely resistant to disruption so far. However, tech innovations like tablets, online learning and computer-based standardized testing threaten to change that. On the latter front, the innovation is coming piecemeal as school districts test the waters.

Micro testing

Standardized testing has become a hot-button issue in many areas of the country. Last spring, some 620,000 students opted out of such testing, which is a huge jump over 2014 when the opt-out movement started. Critics within the opt-out movement say that there is too much “teaching to the test,” which the group considers “educational malpractice.”

A less controversial alternative to this is micro-testing. Micro testing lets educators use iPads and cloud computing to assess where their students are on the learning curve in real time, comparing their results to others in the same school, district and, eventually, the country.

For instance, in 2012, the Lowndes County school system in Haynesville, Alabama, began testing students every 45 days in core subjects via in-classroom iPads. The tests were designed to illustrate where students needed more help grasping the subject matter. That same year, the Canby school district near Portland, Oregon, started employing iPod Touches to get real-time feedback on how students were absorbing the material.

Timely data

One benefit of using digital devices instead of pen and paper is that it provides a stream of data that teachers and parents can access to gauge students’ progress. In East Haven, Connecticut, for example, teachers and students used some 210 iPads to gather data.

  • Digital devices provide data that teachers and parents can access to gauge students progress.

The versatile nature of the device allowed for importing all kinds of data. To incorporate pen-and-paper testing, for instance, students were encouraged to use their iPads to take screen shots of their scores on educational apps and email them to the teachers.

Meanwhile, eTextbooks can also monitor students’ understanding of the material based on how quickly they cruise through the material. In addition, data mining can identify when students are likely to have trouble absorbing coursework and can alert the teacher to intervene. SchoolCity, a Santa Clara, California, company, also helps students compare their performance on tests to others in the district and school who have taken the same tests.

New paradigm

Such data- and digitally-based intervention represents a shift in thinking. While standardized tests measure performance on a yearly basis, here, education is broken down into a series of moments that exemplify the often-circuitous path to mastering coursework and concepts.

Historically, data about student performance has only been available to teachers.

An alternative approach is to give students access as well and make them partners is setting and achieving goals, and using real-time data as a scorekeeper. That approach will teach children growing up today how to best teach themselves.




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