Costly digital reporting and assessment tools have limited value, study

January 27, 2015
ATA News Staff

New Association research also reveals that tools have increased the workload of many teachers

Digital reporting tools like PowerSchool and TeacherLogic are not seen to improve student instruction or assessment but have had a significant negative impact on teacher work, according to teachers and principals surveyed in a new study.

Researchers from the University of Alberta and the Alberta Teachers’ Association surveyed more than 1,000 teachers and conducted focus groups with teachers and administrators as part of a study on digital reporting and assessment tools. Results were released Jan. 19.

Nearly two-thirds of teachers reported that digital reporting tools have not improved the level of instruction and assessment in classrooms. The same proportion of teachers also indicated that the tools have had a significant impact on their workload.

“Unfortunately the level of impacts made on teachers is not translating into value for learning,” said Dr. Jason Daniels, associate director of research with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension and one of the study’s lead researchers.

The tools are inflexible and have been mandated on teachers with very little consultation and poor provisioning of professional development and technological support, he said.

Daniels noted that 66 per cent of teachers said they were concerned about flexibility, while 58 per cent said they have had poor PD support, and an “incredible” 93 per cent of teachers said they had little to no input into the selection and implementation of the tools.

Of the teachers who participated in the study, 66 per cent reported that the use of digital reporting tools has increased their workload.

Sixty-three per cent reported that digital reporting tools didn’t improve the level of instruction and assessment in classrooms, while just 17 per cent said they did bring improvement, Daniels pointed out.

On the question of whether the tools have improved communication with parents or students, the split was less severe, but the majority of teachers said there was no improvement.

ATA President Mark Ramsankar is concerned about the costs associated with the imposition of these technologies, especially when they are having a marginal impact on learning or communication.

“Digital reporting tools are a prime example of the sorts of time-consuming expectations being placed on teachers that are getting in the way of the professional work they would like to do that would actually improve student learning,” said Ramsankar. “When teachers are devoting time to updating PowerSchool when they could be planning innovative learning activities or developing resources, that has a cost on student learning.”

Ramsankar also asked about the financial costs of the tools.

“I’m mindful that there would be some pretty big contracts being signed between school boards and companies like Pearson who are providing these tools,” said Ramsankar. “We didn’t investigate those costs as part of this study, but I would be very interested to know exactly how much money boards are spending on these tools and the extent to which they’re being utilized.”

Ramsankar also expressed concern that 89 per cent of teachers said the tools were mandated while 93 per cent said they weren’t allowed to have input into the selection or implementation of the tools.

“This is unfortunately all too common for our teachers,” said Ramsankar. “Boards get pitched a good idea from a company trying to sell a product and then they impose them on teachers with no consideration of the impacts or of the value.”

“And then there is inadequate training, professional development and technical support,” he added. ❚