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Assessment

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Our frequently stated goal is for all US students to graduate from high school prepared for college and career. The current emphasis on standards-based education reforms reflects our belief that there are things students should know and be able to do that will help them in that endeavor. While one of the main purposes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was to better identify and support struggling students, the law ultimately resulted in an overemphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and school performance (though fortunately, some policy leaders are beginning to take steps to reduce the emphasis on testing, particularly as many state transition to new academic standards). Ironically, educators, businesses and parents generally agree that test scores are a poor indicator of future success. ...

In April, the Learning First Alliance issued a statement urging states to take the proper time to implement the Common Core State Standards. Believing in the potential that the standards have to transform teaching and learning, we worry about rushing to make high-stakes decisions (such as student graduation, teacher evaluation and school performance designation) based on assessments of the standards before they have been fully and properly implemented. So we – in a call that has been echoed by others – urged a transition period during which such high-stakes are removed. And we are pleased to see that places like New York and Washington, DC, are heeding that call.

But when we get that time, how should we best use it to get CCSS implementation right and help students achieve these higher standards?

Last week, we hosted a Twitter Town Hall – hashtag #CCSStime – to start exploring that issue. We were overwhelmed with the participation – more than 600 Twitter users sent out nearly 2,000 tweets during the hour-long event. To quote Eduflack's coverage:

It was the beginning of a very important discussion, all of which can be found at #CCSStime. Why was it so important? Mainly because it was a productive talk on how to get it right, not on urban legends or dreaming ways to short circuit standards that are not going away.

See below for highlights from the conversation ...

By Amber Jimenez, American Federation of Teachers member and ELL teacher in Colville, WA

I like to take the first few weeks of summer vacation to do some serious reflection. I think about the school year and my successes and failures. This helps determine which books I read and classes I attend to help me prepare for the next school year. For the last few years, though, I have also thought seriously about teaching as a profession, how we as teachers are perceived, and how decisions and trends policy makers make affect my teaching practice.

Accountability seems to be the big buzz word these days. Starting with NCLB when I was a new teacher, districts began to take a closer look at student subgroups and became accountable for their success. As an ELL teacher I was happy to see a greater focus on my students’ progress. Yet NCLB’s focus on punishment in the end hurt my students. Because they needed more support, my elementary students lost access to the arts and even core subjects of science and social studies in the push towards reading and math. My high school students also lost out on elective opportunities because they needed to take resource and support classes to improve their test scores. My students were not well rounded and for many of them, the “fun part” of school was lost. Race to the Top wasn’t much better. States are relying on waivers from NCLB to retain funding. My new home state even recently lost its waiver. Our accountability system is up in the air. ...

The results of Maryland’s annual reading and math assessments were recently announced – and scores are at their lowest level in seven years, according to The Washington Post. Why? In large part, because the state is currently teaching to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but the tests are not aligned to them. So ultimately, as social studies teacher and Maryland state legislator Eric Luedtke said, “The scores mean nothing at all. You are testing kids on content that they are no longer learning.”

Maryland education officials were prepared for this situation – both State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery and Maryland State Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Jack Smith are quoted in the Post article acknowledging it directly. And the results had “no bearing on school accountability measures or principal and teacher evaluations” – appropriate, given that the tests did not reflect what was happening in the classroom.

But the Maryland situation is far from unique. Across the country, schools, districts and states are in different phases of Common Core implementation. In some places, the standards have been adopted, but the curriculum not yet aligned. In others, the curriculum has been aligned, but the assessments have not. In still others, the standards and assessments have been aligned, but the curriculum has not. In all, educators are working hard to implement, but they are not done yet. ...

By Jodi Alligood, American Federation of Teachers member and middle school science teacher and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) coordinator at New Smyrna Beach Middle School in Volusia County, FL

Productive struggle. These are the two words that come to mind when thinking of my experiences with the Common Core in my classroom. And I am not just thinking of the students. If you are anything like me, your desks are straightened between periods, your stapler and tape dispenser have a home (and they are lined -up) and your students know that you don’t “do chaos.”  So, for me learning to let go of the reins and embrace the organized chaos that accompanies inquiry-based and problem-solving type learning was a struggle. Seeing what happened when I let the students inquire, speak to each other and bounce ideas around, and “steal” from other groups, I realized that my productive struggle had been worth it.

As far as the students go, their version of productive struggle was much different than mine. After all, if being social and chaotic was the goal for middle schoolers, my job would be much easier.  The students’ struggle came from the assignment of rigorous tasks and complex readings; and in understanding how to transfer what they learned in a given lesson to other tasks and even assessments. I can remember spending almost a full period on one short paragraph while reading about endothermic and exothermic reactions in science class. We spent time highlighting, underlining, making connections ...

By Jenn Kauffman, NEA Health Information Network

For middle school and high school communities, May can often bring anxiety and stress in the form of year-end testing and senior projects.

Stress isn't just limited to adults. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that teens experience stress, too - and their stress levels rival that of adults.

Even positive events can be stressful. And while stress can help people achieve peak performance - too much stress can impair performance and be harmful to health. ...

By James C. Kaufman, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

“As we all know, true creativity comes from simple formulas and the memorization of data”

- Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren, Comedy by the Numbers

I am a creativity researcher. It is both a boon and annoyance to study something that is of (some) interest to the general public. One common reaction from skeptics is that it is impossible (and, perhaps, foolhardy if not a bit deluded) to measure creativity.

I have my ready-made answer. It usually involves the fact that we have many well-established, commonly-used creativity tests that have been around for more than 60 years. But the secret is that there is more truth than I would like to admit in this criticism. Creativity measurement is creativity’s Achilles heel.

Consider what assessment means in some common constructs.

  • Intelligence and personality tests have a major impact on our lives. Personality tests are standard components of job applications. Those who score low on emotional stability or conscientiousness will probably not get a follow-up phone call. Further, many people have internalized basic (if outdated) labels for themselves, taking social media tests to see if they are an INTJ or if their Star Wars personality is Yoda or ...

Technology can be a powerful tool for change, but in the excitement of doing something new, important planning aspects may fall by the wayside. In order to support long-term success and systemic change, technological integration benefits from piloting, community buy-in, visionary and consistent leadership, and a diligence to build on successes over time.  Vail School District in Vail, Arizona exemplifies these attributes, and the district staff is proud of the collaborative culture they’ve created. As they put it, they do the hard work of getting along, and they’ve established a strong foundation for their relentless pursuit of innovative practices that support student achievement and learning in the 21st century.  ...

By Marc Shulman, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and shout, “Go!” It sounds like I am standing in the middle of Qualcomm Stadium and the Chargers just won the Super Bowl. But it’s not cheering I am hearing—it is students helping students. It may be the sweetest thing I have ever heard. I look to my left and I hear a student say, “Tell me the steps you went through to solve that.” I walk to my right and I hear, “Are you sure that’s what the next step is?” I keep walking around and I keep hearing students challenging each other, playing devil’s advocate in math. I think this is actually working!

 I remember when a college professor of mine said something that would change the way I think about everything around me. He quoted Thomas Jefferson by saying, “’There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.’ An unfortunate practice that still occurs in classrooms today.” The fine line between equitable teaching and fair teaching is danced upon daily.  Treating everyone equally while leveling the playing field is a challenge all teachers face. It may sound like you are doing the right thing if you are giving every student the same options, opportunities or advantages. But is that what they all need? To me, teachers who teach the same thing to everyone and the same way to everyone are creating a learning environment that is not conducive to every student in the room. To teach equitably, one must look to the needs of each individual student.

Our goal as educators should be to veer from an equal learning experience toward an equitable learning experience. Our job is to make sure all students have a fair, and possibly unequal, learning experience. Ensuring that each student has a fair opportunity to succeed means that one student’s path may ...

My Learning First Alliance (LFA) colleagues and I have been giving quite a bit of attention to the impending release of the latest results from the Organisaton for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests literacy, math, and science in 15 year-olds every three years. The United States has been humbled by past results that place us somewhere past number 20 in rankings of proficiency. We’re expecting that this year’s results will not show improvement and, as national leadership groups, have been strategizing how to respond on behalf of the educators and stakeholders we represent. 

I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps there are lessons to be learned from international comparisons that we’re missing.  A few random thoughts follow:

  • In the past we, as Americans, were quite convinced that we were superior to others around the globe.  Now we know we’re not.
  • Because we, as a country, have been blessed with abundant natural resources, two friendly neighboring countries, and the security of the protective boundary of two large oceans, we’ve believed that
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