By: Rachel Brown, Ph.D., NCSP
A unique feature of the FastBridge Learning system is that new tools are first published in “Lab” status before their final versions are made available for regular use. FastBridge Learning co-founders, Dr. Zoheb Borbora and Dr. Ted Christ, included the Lab phase as part of FastBridge Learning so that users can (a) preview new tools, (b) provide feedback on functionality, and (c) allow FastBridge Learning to confirm the psychometric properties of new tools when used in everyday classroom settings.
Preview New Tools
Lab status gives FastBridge Learning users the chance to learn about upcoming system enhancements prior to their being ready for formal use. Usually, Lab tools are made available at the start of each school year. Lab tools are indicated in the FastBridge Learning system with a small orange beaker symbol . All Lab tools have undergone several years of thorough research by a team at the University of Minnesota. When placed in Lab status in the FastBridge Learning system, they have been confirmed to be reliable and valid measures of specific skills. The Lab phase allows users to learn about these new tools and consider how they might be used in their schools as part of a multi-tier system of support (MTSS). Not all Lab tools will be adopted by all users, but the Lab phase does allow the opportunity to preview them.
A second benefit of the Lab status is that users can send feedback about the new tools to FastBridge Learning. Such feedback is reviewed carefully and used to make additional enhancements or changes in the tool. Examples of prior feedback about Lab tools used to improve their functionality include the creation of two alternate scoring methods for CBMmath Process and the revision of certain visual features of COMPefficiency. All FastBridge Learning users are welcome to submit feedback on Lab measures. Such feedback should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. In order to make the feedback as helpful as possible, users are encouraged to provide as detailed a description as possible of the suggested change as well as a screen shot of the current display, if applicable.
The final benefit of Lab phase is that it provides the FastBridge Learning research team with the opportunity to examine how well a new measure works in daily classroom settings. This is important because if the measure does not work as intended for classroom teachers and other educators, it is not a valuable contribution to the FastBridge Learning system. As noted, prior to entering Lab phase, extensive research has been conducted to make sure that the new tool meets the highest standards for reliability and validity. Nonetheless, such research is conducted in highly controlled conditions and these settings are not the same as typical classroom environments where students might often be absent, teachers might not have received training, or other non-research realities exist. The Lab use of FastBridge Learning tools provides both users and researchers the opportunity to learn how well the tool works in the “real world.” When user feedback and compiled data indicate that a tool is not working as intended, steps are taken to improve the tool before it is released from Lab phase. An example of such revision includes the adjustments to the new CBMmath Concepts and Applications (CAP) benchmarks that were made in the fall of 2016.
Another important step in relation to confirming the technical properties of Lab tools is the collection of data for the purpose of creating norms for the measure. When new tools are created by the research team, limited initial norms can sometimes be generated but such norms are preliminary because they reflect only the students who participated in the research activities. Having a wider variety of students use Lab tools gives FastBridge Learning important information about the performance of students from all over the U.S. on the same tasks. Often, these additional data can be used to create updated national norms for the tool. Like all other aspects of Lab tools, these additional normative data are carefully reviewed and confirmed before publication in the FastBridge Learning norms database.
2016-2017 Lab Tools
During this school year, the following tools are available in Lab status:
- CBMmath CAP
- CBMmath Process scoring rules
- Developmental Milestones
The decision to transition these tools out of Lab and into the FastBridge Learning suite will be based on review of user feedback and the data collected during the Lab year. In some cases, a Lab tool might remain in Lab for an extended time period in order to validate that it is ready for regular use. As long as a tool is in Lab phase, users are reminded that it is not yet ready to be used as the sole basis of instructional decisions. Instead, other FastBridge Learning tools, as well as additional information from classroom performance, and district or state assessments, should be considered when making decisions about what instruction and intervention students will receive.
FastBridge Learning seeks to offer the best research-based assessment and decision-making tools for educators. As new tools are developed and researched, they are made available to users in a Lab phase. This Lab phase allows users the chance to preview these tools and provide feedback as well as allow the FastBridge Learning research team to conduct additional analysis of data collected during the Lab phase. Only once a Lab tool has been confirmed as fully ready for widespread use, will it be endorsed as appropriate for instructional decision making in schools.
Dr. Rachel Brown is FastBridge Learning’s Senior Academic Officer. She previously served as Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Southern Maine. Her research focuses on effective academic assessment and intervention, including multi-tier systems of support, and she has authored several books on Response to Intervention and MTSS.