In this week’s EdulasticLive event, Edulastic meets with teacher and Data and Technology Integration Coordinator Betty Scola, from New Jersey. Betty will tell us about how she’s been implementing standard-based grading in her school, and how she’s used Edulastic in the process of transitioning towards this grading system.

We hope you enjoy the interview!

Note: This interview has been edited from the original transcript for concision. We’ve included the original video interview at the bottom of the page.

Edulastic: Hi everyone, and welcome to this week’s Edulastic live event. I’m really excited to be here with Betty Scola who is a data and technology integration coordinator in Waterford, New Jersey. She has been working with Edulastic’s digital assessment and has recently been implementing standards-based grading, which is going to be one of the focuses of today. Welcome Betty, we are really happy to have you here. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

Betty: I work at Waterford Township schools in New Jersey. I started out there as a media specialist and part of my job was to figure out how to integrate technology into our curriculum. When I started there, we had only one computer lab for the whole school. So we went to Chromebooks to look for ways to assess students. We went to Google Forms because I think it is the easiest thing when you’re a Google School. But we decided this was not doing the trick, so we did a little search, found Edulastic, and we loved it! And that is because part of my job is working with data, so not only am I bringing technology into classrooms, but I also have to evaluate the data to see how our curriculum is working. Edulastic gives me everything I need for this. I can see exactly how everyone is doing and where they need help.

Edulastic: It is really great that you were able to find us with the quick search online. You told us about Edulastic for digital assessment. Can you tell me a bit about what you love most about it?

Betty: I love that I can quickly put together an assignment. Last year we decided that we were going to teach some back of the book math stuff that doesn’t usually get covered before the end of the year standardized testing. We decided we were going to teach it in our computer class. I put a quick assessment together just by going through the library, and within five minutes I had everything I needed, because I could search by standards. It was great to be able to model the first problem and then have the kids do the next four on their own. I had the dashboard up in the back, and I could immediately assess whether they were understanding or if they needed help, and I could then pull small groups aside. It just makes it so efficient!

Edulastic: That’s awesome! Last year, we chatted with Betty for our Sunday Spotlight series. If you would like to hear more about the story of how Waterford is using Edulastic to prepare for PARCC, you can access the blog through the link posted in the comment section. Betty, what did that rollout look like for getting the digital assessment going? How did you guys go about that?

Betty: Well, we started with one teacher. At the time I was in a school building that was a Second and Third grade school only, and I had one Third grade teacher who just really wanted to improve her PARCC scores. We knew we wanted something that looked like PARCC for our assessment, so I worked with her and we found some things that we wanted to put in Edulastic passages, passage based math things… And then PARCC also releases some of their tests so you can put those into Edulastic. First, the kids hated it! They were like ‘I can’t take a test online’ but the more they got used to it, the better they were doing, and now they don’t run anymore when we give them a test on Edulastic. It took a little time to get used to it, but they were pretty quick to pick it up after that. The problem is, they really don’t like taking tests online. They feel like pencil and paper is still best but we’re trying to prepare them for standardized assessments that will be on the computer, and who knows what the future is going to be like. SATs could be online soon. I took the GREs online, so they really do have to learn how to do it. Edulastic is a love-hate relationship: in the beginning you are trying to get the hang of how to create an assessment, and you are like ‘why did I even bother with this,’ but then it is just pure love.

Edulastic:  That’s good to hear. Like anything else, it takes a little bit of a startup power, but once you are off the ground, it can be a bit more smooth sailing.

Betty: It’s just about trying to figure out the type of questions. There are so many choices, so you just want to pick the best question type. I love that there’s a little question mark up in the corner so if I don’t understand what a question is, I can watch a little video about that type.

Edulastic:  That’s true, I use that all the time if I am trying to make an assessment. Since we are on the topic of people getting started with Edulastic, what suggestions would you offer them?

Betty: Start out small. Don’t try to put together a 50-question test the first time. Take a test that you’ve given before, maybe one that was on paper, and just try putting it together in Edulastic. I know that there is also the option of uploading a PDF and attaching a multiple choice questions to it. I don’t like that option as much, although it is great if you want to make a quick assessment. But really, getting in, creating the questions, and being able to put different choices do really make a big difference.

Edulastic: That’s a great suggestion and I think it is something that comes up a lot when we talk to teachers about top tips for getting started. Just make it really easy on yourself, maybe choose a multiple choice, drag and drop, stick with those until you get really comfortable and then start exploring with open response, or cost location or ??? sequence or a label an image. By the way, what’s your favorite question type?

Betty: I think the labeling ones, because you can change the background so I can put any picture up there and then put the label boxes in.

Edulastic: In recent times you have been focusing at Waterford on standards-based grading. Can you tell me a bit about why focus on that?

Betty: Sure, in our younger grades in K-1, we used standard-based grading for a while, but then decided to move it all the way up to fourth grade—so using standard-based grading instead of using the letter system. Each standard is broken down, so the parents, the children, and the teachers know exactly where the children need extra help. So instead of just being A or B, it might be for example ‘needs improvement in two digit by two digit multiplication.’ But they’re might be doing great in another area of math, so it really just finds where a child is struggling and where a child is succeeding.

Edulastic: When did you start moving in that direction, and did it take effort to convince others to follow?

Betty: It was not my idea—that was our curriculum director, and when they brought it up to Fourth grade, I think everybody was just about to have a heart attack, because it just seemed so overwhelming at first! You have all this data! Every assessment you have to assess fifteen or twenty different standards instead of just an A or a B or a hundred or a ninety. So they were all trying to figure out how to track this, how to make sure they’re doing the right thing, how to prove to the parents a child needs improvement… But Edulastic just helped us out so much.

Edulastic: That’s great! Tell us more.

Betty: Because Edulastic links every question to a standard, you know exactly how the children are doing as they are taking the test. I can watch from the dashboard and see how they are doing and when they are done there is a report I can print out. It can be for a single assessment, which I can send home to the parents.

I have to thank Edulastic because that was our biggest challenge last year, to not have reports for a single assessment. But we talked to you guys and you got it together for us. And now we have this nice report that we can send home, with each question and how the child did, which standards went with which question, and whether the child mastered it or needs improvement. But more than that: some other reports are built in, so at the end of the marking period, the teacher simply needs to go into Edulastic as long as everything’s been done in Edulastic, and they can easily see how to grade each child.

And I can tell you about the kids’ point of view though, because that’s what makes it really special. When the kids log in Edulastic they have the option of viewing their skills report that shows them exactly how they’re doing. So they have the same information the teacher has. So the way we’ve set it up is we have a time called RTI: Response To Intervention (I know, I’m the acronym Queen). Since we put all of our extra tickets, our tests, our quizzes, everything in Edulastic, it’s really easy for a child to know what they need to do. We have different stations set up, labeled with the standards, so if a child opens up their school report on Edulastic and something red shows up, they should be working on that during the intervention time. If they’ve done all the reds and they can move on to the skills where they are yellow, and then move on to what they are green, and then we usually have enriching activities for those who have mastered everything.

Edulastic: Can you tell me a bit more about how the intervention time is set up?

Betty: The intervention time is usually set up in a way where some children who need extra help get pulled to a station, other children who are more gifted or talented might be pulled for enriching activities. And then, within the classroom, there might be different stations that they go to, different help depending on what their needs are. It’s really based on the child’s needs. So there might be a teacher group, an independent group, and all of it is based on what the kids need.

Edulastic: How often do they have this intervention time?

Betty: Every day!

Edulastic: And are those practice online or on worksheets?

Betty: It depends, sometimes it’s games, sometimes it’s worksheets, sometimes it’s an online activity. It’s a variety because you don’t want to do the same thing all the time.

Edulastic: How do you think the shift to standard-based grading has changed student mindset, or the perspective of the students towards learning?

Betty: Well, before, if they knew that something wasn’t an easy A, they might have not

tried hard. But now they’re really responsible for every bit of what they need to learn in their grade level. And if they get to do something fun, if they are green and everything, they’re going to work much harder to get all those standards up to green.

Edulastic: I do want to mention that Betty is on the Edulastic Innovator Team, which is a group of teachers we’re in contact with to figure out what direction to push Edulastic in. We want to make sure that Edulastic is as useful as possible to teachers who want to use it. So I do have to give a hand to Betty for taking a look at the reports, giving us feedback, pushing us towards the direction we need to go to make it as good as possible for that, so thank you Betty, from all of us!

Betty: You’re welcome, but it’s my whole district! Last year we were at ISTE and there were a lot of people shifting to standard-based grading. When they saw Edulastic they were like ‘this is what we need!’

Edulastic: So why do you think there has been a shift towards standard-based grading? Is this something that you think we’re going to see across the whole United States?

Betty: I think there might be some kind of hybrid in there. I don’t think everybody is going to go to standard-based, I can’t imagine the high schools and all going there, but I have talked to some districts that do kind of a hybrid grading, where they focus on the standards, and they’re looking at this, but they still might give traditional scores on a report card. It’s more about the child learning, so if a child gets an F the first time they do something, by the end of the marking period they’ve figured it, but that F is going to drag them down. But with standard-based, they can master it at the end.

Edulastic: And when your district started moving in that direction, were you looking at other districts or schools to get your information?

Betty: Our curriculum director spoke with a lot of different schools, and we have in chapters? we have a partnership where a bunch of schools get together to talk about data, and how they’re using it. We had a couple presentations there, to see what people were doing. It’s frustrating the first year you do it, but once you get the hang of it I think it’s not so bad.

Edulastic: That is a good thing to be aware of for anyone who is interested in moving towards the standard-based grading direction. You don’t need to do it alone, talk to people, reach out to other schools districts, gather information, maybe try a little pilot before you move forward with it, because it sounds like it’s pretty challenging, but rewarding in the end! And how was the shift for the teachers when they were working on creating formative assessments, and helping guide their students along?

Betty: I think it makes you think a little bit more. Am I really assessing all of the standards if I’m giving a test? Do I need to put a standard on each question? Then I know if I’m over testing this standard or if I’m not testing this standard enough, so I think it really does make your assessments much more valuable.

Edulastic: Where are you getting the questions that you’re using, that are tied to the standards

Betty: Well sometimes we make up our own, sometimes we have already made tests that go along with our math program, but we found that the questions maybe weren’t as rigorous as we wanted them to be, so by being able to put them in Edulastic we can change them and give them whatever rigor we want. So in the math test itself, it is a true/false question, maybe we actually want the child to work out the problem. Or if it’s a pick what you’re doing here for a word problem or a multiplication division, it’s like ‘explain to me why you’re doing that.’ So Edulastic helped us make our tests a little more rigorous. Maybe not to the kids’ happiness…

Edulastic:  But the intention is good! Next question is, what do you recommend to teachers who are interested in adjusting their grading practices or doing something similar to what you’re doing at Waterford with standards-based grading?

Betty: I think that they really should look at every assessment they give from a standard-based standpoint. And I think once you start doing that it makes it a lot easier to see where you can help your children. When I first started using Edulastic, I hated that it made me put a standard on every question! But now I’m thrilled that it makes me do so.

Edulastic:  I have a couple other questions just about education in general. I know from prior discussion that you are the educational acronym Queen, share some of your hip lingo with us!

Betty: I was telling you about our RTI, which is our response time intervention, but I was also telling you that every year in New Jersey we have to write SGOs, Student Growth Objectives, and what you have to do is measure your children at the beginning of the year and then you have to set a goal for yourself, like eighty percent of the kids will learn their multiplication facts, and you have to make sure that by the end of the year they make their multiplication facts, and you get a grade based on how you’re doing.

Edulastic Do you have something like SSR—Sustained Silent Reading time? By the way, how do you know so many of these?

Betty: I’ve not always been a teacher. I was a programmer for many years and then I stayed home with my kids and when I went back, I started working in the library of my kids’ school, the kids were coming in like ‘I need a dear book, ‘I need this,’ and I was like I have no idea what you’re talking about! You need to learn the lingo of your school.

Edulastic: Can you tell us a little bit more about how you got into the field of education?

Betty: When I was a kid in the 1960s and 70s, I thought that space program was the greatest thing ever. I remember watching the man walk on the moon for the first time. My mother woke me up in the middle of the night to watch it, and we would bring a little black-and-white TV in every time that Apollo mission was going off, and we’d all huddle around and watch it. So my real dream was to be an astronaut, but my backup dream was always to be a teacher. I went to college and I studied math, and at the time computer science was a completely new field in our College. We didn’t even have computers back then like we do now. We’d have to punch everything on punch cards and run them through a machine to get them to work, and I really loved the math and the computer science. I met my husband, we got married and I worked as a programmer for a while, had kids, and the natural thing after that is was to be a teacher, so one of my dreams came true.

Edulastic: Another question: what do you wish was available in schools when you were a student and why?

Betty: Any kind of technology! Our big technology in our school was a filmstrip projector and a record player! That was all the technology we had. I remember having to get to the library and go to the readers guide of periodic literature, find my magazine articles on microfiche… and I try to tell the kids like ‘all you have to do is Google it and it’s right in front of you!’ And they don’t get it.

Edulastic: That’s crazy how much it’s changed. And in terms what you’re doing now, what are your goals for the future? What do you wish to see now that you have been working on standard-based grading, what are the next things that you guys are looking towards or moving towards at your school?

Betty: Just trying to increase rigor. That’s the biggest thing. Kids get lazy! I love technology but it also makes them lazy. They’re always like ‘can I voice-type this?’ No, type it with your hands! ‘Can I have this read to me?’ No! Read it! So I think getting the kids to realize that technology is just another tool that’s out there but they still need to learn.

Edulastic: Great. And then, what you like to do for fun?

Betty: I love to hang out with my family, and I love to travel. My goal is to eventually get to every state in the United States. We all have maps hanging up on the refrigerator, one for everyone in the family with our states colored in, the ones we’ve been too. So we’re having kind of a race! This year we went to West Virginia and I had never been there before. It was beautiful.

Edulastic: I’ve seen on the news recently a story of a 6-month old baby whose parents are taking around to all 50 states. It might be the youngest person to ever have gone to all 50 States!

Betty: Oh, that’s really cool. My husband has one state that I don’t have, and I have one state that he doesn’t have, and he keeps threatening to drive there!

Edulastic: That is healthy competition. This was an awesome conversation. I always enjoyed chatting with you, thanks for being a part of Edulastic live today!