blog posts and news stories

Agile Assessment and the Impact of Formative Testing on Student Achievement in Algebra

Empirical Education contracted with Jefferson Education Accelerator (JEA) to conduct a study on the effectiveness of formative testing for improving student achievement in Algebra. We partnered with a large urban school district in the northeast U.S. to evaluate their use of Agile Assessment. Developed by experts at the Charles A Dana Center at the University of Texas and education company Agile Mind, Agile Assessment is a flexible system for developing, administering, and analyzing student assessments that are aligned by standard, reading level, and level of difficulty. The district used benchmark Agile Assessments in the fall, winter, and spring to assess student performance in Algebra along with a curriculum it had chosen independent of assessments.

We conducted a quasi-experimental comparison group study using data from the 2016-17 school year and examined the impact of Agile Assessment usage on student achievement for roughly 1,000 students using the state standardized assessment in Algebra.

There were three main findings from the study:

  1. Algebra scores for students who used Agile Assessment were better than scores of comparison students. The result had an effect size of .30 (p = .01), which corresponds to a 12-percentile point gain, adjusting for differences in student demographics and pretest between treatment and comparison students.
  2. The positive impact of Agile Assessment generalized across many student subgroups, including Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students and special education students.
  3. Outcomes on the state Algebra assessment were positively associated with the average score on the Agile Assessment benchmark tests. That said, adding the average score on Agile Assessment benchmark tests to the linear model increased its predictive power by a small amount.

These findings provide valuable evidence in favor of formative testing for the district and other stakeholders. Given disruptions in the current public school paradigm, increased frequency of formative assessment could provide visibility towards greater personalized instruction and ultimately increase student outcomes. You can read the full research report here.


Empirical Describes Innovative Approach to Research Design for Experiment on the Value of Instructional Technology Coaching

Empirical Education (Empirical) is collaborating with Digital Promise to evaluate the impact of the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP) on student achievement. The DLP provides school-based instructional technology coaches to participating districts to increase educational equity and impactful use of technology. Empirical is working with data from prior school years, allowing us to continue this work during this extraordinary time of school closures. We are conducting quasi-experiments in three school districts across the U.S. designed to provide evidence that will be useful to DLP stakeholders, including schools and districts considering using the DLP coaching model. Today, Empirical has released its design memo outlining its innovative approach to combining teacher-level and student-level outcomes through experimental and correlational methods.

Digital Promise— through funding and partnership with Google—launched the DLP in 2017 with more than 1,000 teachers in 50 schools across 18 districts in five states. The DLP expanded in the second year of implementation (2018-2019) with more than 100 schools reached across 23 districts in seven states. Digital Promise’s surveys of participating teachers have documented teachers’ belief in the DLP’s ability to improve instruction and increase impactful technology use (see Digital Promise’s extensive postings on the DLP). Our rapid cycle evaluations will work with data from the same cohorts, while adding district administrative data and data on technology use.

Empirical’s studies will establish valuable links between instructional coaching, technology use, and student achievement, all while helping to improve future iterations of the DLP coaching model. As described in our design memo, the study is guided by Digital Promise’s logic model. In this model, coaching is expected to affect an intermediate outcome, measured in Empirical’s research in terms of patterns of usage of edtech applications, as they implicate instructional practices. These patterns and practices are then expected to impact measurable student outcomes. The Empirical team will evaluate the impact of coaching on both the mediator (patterns and practices) and the student test outcomes. We will examine student-level outcomes by subgroup. The data are currently in the collection process. To view the final report, visit our Digital Promise page.