Preparing Students for Online Assessments with Digital Literacy Skills

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Online assessments are becoming more common, and students who have strong digital literacy skills often score higher on them. Students who lack these skills may not be able to effectively demonstrate mastery of key concepts in math, reading or writing on online assessments. Technology and digital literacy specialists at Flagstaff Unified School District in Arizona reviewed the importance of teaching digital literacy skills and how their district is doing so in “Improving Student Performance on Online Assessments.”

Although digital literacy had been a conversation within Flagstaff USD for some time, there were varying degrees with which the skills were being addressed from school to school. Still, the application of the skills to demonstrate knowledge was a clear need with the use of online assessments. The district came to a consensus on the definition of digital literacy skills, what kinds of common core standards included them, and how they were already being taught. School and district leadership involvement was a critical factor in developing an effective district-wide approach moving forward.



Online assessments offer advantages over paper and pencil tests, such as faster student feedback, improved accessibility features, and the ability to better assess student knowledge. The tasks students are asked to perform help teachers better understand where they need to shift their instructional practice. “By being intentional with technology, teachers can build students’ digital literacy skills for high-stakes assessments, core content application, college, and the workplace,” said Heather Breedlove. Some key skills for online assessment success include, word processing and keyboarding, highlighting, graph understanding, research skills, and using subject-specific tools.

To prepare students for assessments, teachers can embed these skills into their lessons. Typing can be worked into project-based learning, or students can use tools like Google Docs to practice typing. Teachers can give students experience with using the same tools in multiple modalities. For example, using both a physical and digital protractor in order to help scaffold their digital literacy skills. Also, encouraging students to regularly use the devices that they’ll be using for the assessments ensures device familiarity. They can also take practice assessments using the devices.

After observing what other districts were doing, and determining what would best meet their own needs, Flagstaff USD implemented a digital literacy curriculum to help with development of these skills. Their curriculum prioritized factors like an easy-to-implement framework for teachers, a tool that could help offset their limited staff resources, and something that aligned to their state technology standards. Along with a curriculum, they also used a technology skills assessment to measure digital literacies and determine how to plan and move forward with skill development.

Flagstaff USD uses a variety of resources to accomplish digital literacy growth in their students. Their technology department works closely with their curriculum and instruction department, creating a strong partnership. They also have a technology peer coaching program which allows teachers to receive additional professional development to be able to support other teachers in developing their skills and assisting their students. Technology proficiency is even included on their teacher evaluation rubric and elementary students standards reports. By determining district priorities, assessing needs, and working together, students can develop critical skills needed for online assessments, and later in life.

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This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenters

Mary Knight has been an educator with the Flagstaff Unified School District in Arizona for over 25 years. As the director of technology, she oversees the student information system, infrastructure, and instructional technology services. She believes that having a healthy and well-functioning technology environment is critical in providing effective educational and administrative resources to district students, staff, and community. Mary earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education then continued on to complete her master’s degree in elementary ed. with a technology emphasis, both at Northern Arizona University. She began her career as an elementary library media specialist where she first observed the benefits of technology for student learning. Mary believes that digital resources are a critical component in providing engaging, meaningful learning experiences for today’s students.

Heather Breedlove is the technology integration coordinator for the Flagstaff Unified School District in Arizona and received the AzTEA Educational Technology Specialist of the Year award in 2015. Heather develops, facilitates, and coordinates professional development opportunities in technology integration for teachers, staff, and administration. She is passionate about innovative teaching practices and provides a variety of experiences for teachers to learn about technology that can transform their teaching and classrooms. Heather came to FUSD from Phoenix. She has taught a variety of grade levels, including at an international school in the Philippines. She earned her master’s and bachelor’s degree in elementary education through Northern Arizona University.

In the role of Digital Literacy Specialist, Heather Zeigler, assists students in the development of the digital literacy skills critical for their future of college and/or career. She accomplishes this by supporting students, teachers, administrators, and staff through professional development and peer coach program advancement and facilitation focused on technology integration. A prior elementary classroom teacher herself, Heather now guides FUSD staff in their role as facilitators of learning by planning technology-rich projects and encouraging practices of integrating technology into education in a positive manner that promotes a more diverse, rigorous, and personalized learning environment for the digital learners in our schools today. Heather attended Northern Arizona University for both her undergraduate and graduate studies, earning a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in education – educational technology. Heather is certified in elementary education.

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