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The gifts you can't touch

Kristen B. Morales

November 8, 2017

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When Laine Bradshaw looks over the results of a student’s assessment, she sees something other test developers don’t: A box of talents rather than a specific ability.

Now, her goal is to take these intangibles and give them to teachers to help acknowledge the talents students have and reveal the underlying concepts where a student got stuck. Knowing this tidbit, Bradshaw says, means a teacher has the tools to address a particular issue—for example, that a student doesn’t quite understand certain properties of lines and angles—rather than rehash an entire unit on geometry.

Bradshaw, an associate professor in the College’s Department of Educational Psychology, specializes in analyzing data to help efficiently identify what students understand and what they do not. But her source material isn’t your typical standardized test; instead, she has created an innovative way to measure how well a student has mastered individual state-mandated standards. In other words, her assessments can help teachers more precisely pinpoint where a student is struggling.

With her new company, Navvy Education, she is working with four school districts in Georgia to assess students through this new measurement system. The goal is to give teachers a timely, standards-based approach to helping students before they fall through the cracks—and it’s the first of its kind to do this.

“I think a lot of times teachers get frustrated because students take a test and they score higher or lower on, for example, geometry. The teacher says, ‘I already knew that—I need you to get in there and tell me something I can’t figure out for each of my 30 students,’” says Bradshaw. “We’re using this system to figure out where they need help.”

Navvy is working with top educators across Georgia to develop questions for these assessments, and because the groups are working within Georgia standards, the questions directly apply to what is being taught. What also makes this system so groundbreaking is the way it moves away from pitting students against each other. Each student gets their own badge after mastering a standard, and the results feel more related to what a student has learned.

Bradshaw is involved in three grant projects. Her most recent, a $1.4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, investigates misconceptions students have based on which incorrect answers they pick—information typically disregarded in assessments.

She and her research team are working to develop data science tools that will allow students to take an online assessment and determine the probability that they have a particular misconception. Identifying the misconception helps teachers understand how student is reasoning.

This is one more way teachers can help understand where their students are struggling and address the root of the problem. “We’re trying to help develop tools that are sophisticated under the hood but quick and easy for students and teachers to use. We want, essentially, a student to be able to log on, take an assessment, and it instantly report the probability that the student has each misconception that the assessment aimed to identify.”

This most recent grant draws from a new psychometric method Bradshaw developed for her dissertation. Her work with Navvy expands on her expertise by further innovating student assessments.

“Navvy to me is the dream of putting research into practice,” she adds.