The Best Place to Begin

GUEST COLUMN | By Scott Rozell

Knowing where to begin is an important question in any journey. When a person is trying to learn something new, the best place to begin is where their current knowledge ends. To help teachers know where to begin studying for their certification exams, and to create a one-stop studying resource for teachers, I created 240Tutoring. The goal was to help teachers prepare for their certification exams by providing online assessments that identify the weakest areas of the teacher’s knowledge, thus providing a starting point for studying; it has been an incredible useful resource for teachers across the country. It also ignited an idea in my head, if teachers are unsure what they don’t know and where to start studying for their certification exams, they are probably unaware of what students do not know and where to start teaching students. A teacher must first know where a student’s knowledge ends so that true learning can then begin.

At this issue, technology can revolutionize education. Technology enables the unprecedented use of dynamic, interactive content. The solution of teachers not knowing where to begin has an incredibly simple solution: Create an assessment – delivered via computer – where a student’s answer determines the next question. The basic assumption is that knowledge builds upon itself and one must have prerequisite knowledge to learn more advanced concepts. Therefore, the idea is to present a student with an assessment where if they answer correctly, they are presented with a question with a more advanced concept and if they answer incorrectly they are given a question with a more foundational concept.

An assessment would be able to hone in on the highest concept level in which the student was proficient. This is best exemplified in mathematics; a student must know addition and subtraction prior to learning multiplication and division, a student must know multiplication and division prior to learning basic variable manipulation, a student must know variable manipulation prior to learning graphing techniques.

For example: Justin is an 8th grade student whose class is learning basic graphing techniques. Justin is frustrated and cannot seem to grasp how a basic function y = 2x + 2 translates into the graph on the board. The teacher tries working with Justin one on one, but Justin only seems to become more frustrated. Using an assessment as discussed above, it is revealed that Justin cannot correctly answer questions about basic variable use, and is even unable to consistently answer questions relating to double-digit division. The teacher, having identified that Justin needs help with more foundational concepts of division and basic variable manipulation, is able to begin teaching Justin where Justin’s knowledge ends. Eventually Justin is able to begin learning graphing techniques because he now understands the rules and procedures of basic variable manipulation.

Whereas current assessments might state that Justin received a 50% with especially low scores on questions pertaining to 7th and 8th grade mathematics concepts, an assessment as described above could detail that questions above double-digit multiplication could not be consistently answered. Leveraging today’s technology to create dynamic assessments can unlock the answer to the teacher’s age old question: where do my students need the most help?

This type of dynamic assessment can help with individual students, as well as entire classrooms. If the teacher finds 75% of the students are proficient with double-digit division but don’t understand basic variable use, then the teacher now has good starting point- begin with basic variable use so students can then understanding graphing techniques. Teachers can even group students together based on learning needs, creating small groups where students receive more personalized instruction; classrooms do not have to be one-size fits every student.

Using dynamic assessments, teachers can implement small group instruction to ensure every student is being challenged at the appropriate academic level. Imagine the efficiency of the classroom! Think about students not being lost in concepts they don’t understand, but rather being engaged and challenged with the next step in their academic evolution! Furthermore, having student periodically take the dynamic assessment would enable schools to track student learning from month-to-month, semester-to-semester, year-to-year. The ways dynamic assessments would enable educators to impact student learning is almost endless.

Issac Newton once remarked about his achievements in academics that he had seen further than those before by standing on the shoulders of giants; Newton was well aware that his accomplishments were only to be made because of the work done of those before him. This day in this age we have the ability to create a stairwell to the shoulders of those great minds before us and give our children binoculars to see past the horizon! Today we have the technology to provide every student an education that meets their ability.

Education is the most powerful vehicle to drive individuals out of poverty, to drive past the obstacles of oppression, to let individuals pursue happiness through opportunity. I believe that by creating and implementing such a simple assessment, we can fundamental transform education. Every student can receive an education to match their ability — what better gift can we give a future generation?


Scott Rozell is a former teacher and an education entrepreneur. He recently founded 240Tutoring, Inc, an online education resource for teacher certification exams. For questions or comments, please email Scott Rozell here.

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