Benefacta 2006
Making Their Mark

Matt Stuve and Mark Lora developed rGrade, a Web-based assessment software. An essential tool for Ball State teacher education, the creation of hte software also resulted in Ball State University's first spin-off company.

The end result of rGrade's unique, interactive rubric tool is the opportunity for teachers to blend powerful formative assessment into everyday grading at any grade level.

A unique software product developed at Ball State University is taking the mystery out of student grades. rGrade is a Web-based environment for using rubrics to assess student learning at an unprecedented interactive level.

In an rGrade classroom, the instructor doesn't wait until the end of a semester to tally numbers to determine a student's mastery of the course curriculum. Instead, evaluation is ongoing, precise, and as current as the latest assignment. Class members can click into rGrade from their personal computers and track their progress toward achieving the learning goals set by the teacher. The results: The instructor has firm evidence to document each student's competencies, and the student has adequate time to address any shortcomings. Learning is improved. Performance assessment is realized. And final grades come as no surprise to anyone.

What sets rGrade apart from other assessment software programs is the "r" in its name. "It stands for rubric," explains Teachers College Systems Analyst Mark Lora, lead developer of rGrade. "A rubric is a matrix of criteria and performance levels, a contract for learning between the instructor and the student."

rGrade's interactive rubric tool lets teachers build rubrics aligned to learning standards and juxtaposed alongside a student's evidence or performance. The result blends powerful formative assessment into everyday grading. The software is appropriate for any grade level, from elementary school through higher education. "rGrade was designed for both K–12 and higher education; the data model is the same," says Matthew Stuve, associate professor in the Department of Educational Studies and principal investigator of rGrade.

"We've also taken standards tracking deeper than other available software products," says Lora. "Not only does rGrade show that the curriculum was aligned to learning standards, but it also indicates at what point the standard was taught in the classroom and how well any particular student performed."

Because other institutions were eager to use rGrade, which is an essential tool for Ball State teacher education programs, Stuve and Lora formed Educational Informatics, LLC (EI)—Ball State's first "spin-off" company—to develop, license, and distribute rGrade in the marketplace. Early users include education faculty members at Western Washington University.

EI—which won the 2005 Business Plan Competition at Taylor University's Center for Research and Innovation—is a virtual resident of the Innovation Connector and hopes to relocate to the business incubator soon. But regardless of the space it occupies, Stuve and Lora say they will continue to invite and, indeed, depend on campus involvement.

"We use Ball State students as expert testers and communicators of the software," says Stuve. "A graduate student wrote the 30-page user's manual for rGrade; a public relations student writes copy for us; another student staffs our help line; and we've had students who have taught rGrade to our faculty."

As a data collection and curriculum modeling platform, rGrade is poised to help Ball State and other universities that adopt it earn grants to support research. This past year, Stuve and Peggy Rice, associate professor of English, led a collaborative team including Teachers College colleague Diane Bottomley and Kenan Metzger from the College of Sciences and Humanities, in the EPIC (Evidence-based Professional and Instructional Change) project. Funded by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, in partnership with the Indiana Humanities Council (IHC), EPIC applied the capabilities of rGrade and the resources of IHC's smartDESKTOP Web portal to support a curriculum development model for P–12 teachers in the Indianapolis Public Schools.

Meanwhile, back at the EI office, an all-new version of the software is scheduled to roll out soon, and other Web-based educational products are in the pipeline. "We want future teachers to develop a more sophisticated view of performance assessment. This happens through good instruction, good faculty, and assessment inquiry tools like rGrade," says Stuve. "The important thing is that teachers and teachers-to-be understand the power of data-driven decision making and performance-based assessment. In that regard, I think those educators will have an edge, and their students will benefit in terms of achievement."