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This month, the first year of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and Smarter Balanced assessment began. Both are aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and designed to measure student academic progress. This month, the media has also been full of stories of parents who are “opting out” of their child’s participation in the assessments. While none of us who have worked in the public education sphere for years believe that testing should be the focus of our work with students (and certainly it makes perfect sense to re-evaluate on a regular basis the time and energy expended on assessment) the hysteria around this assessment season seems overblown and misplaced.

This parental concern does give us a chance to stop and consider what’s most important in our developing children’s lives. As the adults in the room, we need to remember that a test, any test, has major limitations and serves as a snapshot in time of what the test taker knows and is able to communicate ...

By Dr. Joseph Bishop, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

What does equity have to do with accountability?

Many teachers and principals are likely feeling stressed as they think about how to make up for lost instructional time in the wake of an uptick of winter storms like Juno. This isn't the case for students in Hamilton, Michigan. In fact, a little more cold and a little more ice might be a good thing for their math and science projects. As part of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math) program at Hamilton Middle School just outside of Grand Rapids, students are developing the fastest sleds they can make, using cardboard and duct tape. Students are doing more than playing in the snow, seeing how learning can be fun in the right conditions. One student said it best, "It's cool because no one else in school has ever gotten to learn like we are."

But under the current accountability system, often lurking behind the classroom choices are inevitable questions about the ‘what if.’ Like, will an innovative project-based lesson similar to testing sled designs have consequences for student preparation for tests or test responses? Instead, educators should be thinking about more important things, like finding the best creative way to make sure a lesson sticks like fresh snow. And far too often, No Child Left Behind and many state accountability plans have looked too quickly at test results, and not addressed the unequal conditions that are making it hard for communities to deliver enriching public school experiences. ...

I’ve been reminded over the past weeks of the importance of language in arriving at agreement on what needs to happen for the public education experience to be successful for all our students, regardless of their background and socioeconomic condition. The use of language and its different translations/meaning for different citizen groups was brought home during recent debate over proposed changes in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education bill that is now before Congress. A few examples:

  • Accountability – From my standpoint, accountability just means assessing the progress of those who have some skin in the game and can influence the outcome of any endeavor. I actually prefer the word responsibility ...

By Lily Eskelsen García, President, National Education Association (NEA), and Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

This piece first appeared in the Washington Post. View the original here.

Public education for every child was an American idea, but it has always been a local and state responsibility. Even when Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 50 years ago, the intended federal role was limited but clear: ensuring equal opportunity.

The act provided federal resources for states to level the playing field between schools in wealthy and poor districts. However, its 2002 reauthorization, which became known as No Child Left Behind, took the law off track by mandating that all students hit arbitrary scores on standardized tests instead of ensuring equal opportunities.

No Child Left Behind has failed. Now we have a chance to fix the law by refocusing on the proper federal role: equal opportunity. To do that, we must change the way we think about accountability.

Under No Child Left Behind, accountability has hinged entirely on standardized test scores, a single number that has been used to determine whether students graduate or teachers keep their jobs. The problem is, a single test score is like a blinking "check engine" light on the dashboard. It can tell us something's wrong but not how to fix it ...

Cory Notestine is the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA) 2015 School Counselor of the Year. He worked in Guilford County Schools (NC) at T. Wingate Andrews High School before moving to Colorado, where he currently serves as a counselor at Alamosa High School. Notestine's efforts have resulted in higher college going rates and increased opportunities for students to partake in community college and university courses while still in high school.

Notestine was kind enough to take time to discuss his work and the school counseling program at Alamosa High School in greater depth. He highlighted the importance of the ASCA National Model in guiding the creation of the school's comprehensive counseling program, one that both holds counselors accountable and shows the impact of their work for the students they serve. Notestine also presented his priorities for the next year, when he will be serving as a national spokesman for his profession and his colleagues nationwide.
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What makes good public policy? Some analysts might respond with the phrase "evidence-based research." Unfortunately, policymakers can also be political agents, acting in the interests of outside forces and influences. A recent book, Show Me the Evidence, by Ron Haskins, heralds the Obama Administration's focus on using evidence to inform public policy solutions. Unfortunately, the administration’s current obsession with the use of value-added measures (VAM) to track student growth and account for their progress in teacher evaluations runs counter to this evidence-based emphasis. ...

By Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Founder and Executive Director, Data Quality Campaign

This article will also appear on The Huffington Post.

“My child is not a number!”

In the era of so-called big data in education, you’re likely to hear this refrain. Education data are, after all, mostly numbers. (I would argue that more anecdotal information—such as classroom observations—should also be considered part of a full picture of student “data,” but that’s a whole blog post in itself.) No child’s experiences can be reduced to a set of numbers on a spreadsheet, and no data policy should be about limiting a student’s options or reducing her experience. On the contrary: effective data use should expand a child’s horizons by providing more information about individual students to help guide the people making decisions about their learning—parents and educators. ...

Dr. Barry Bachenheimer is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Pascack Valley Regional High School District (NJ) and a 2014 NSBA 20 to Watch Education Technology Leader. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a teacher, social studies supervisor, principal and central office administrator. He also served as Director of Instruction in the Caldwell-West School System in Caldwell, NJ, prior to coming to Pascack.

Dr. Bachenheimer values personalized learning, student voice and thoughtful integration of technology in classrooms, and he recently supported Pascack Valley’s efforts in creating a “Virtual Day” to take the place of a snow day in 2014. He was kind enough to take time to share his thoughts on these and other issues, including implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Public School Insights (PSI): Let’s start with your background. Where were you before you came to the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, and what positions did you hold that contributed to your current work in curriculum, instruction and assessment, as well as with technology? ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, President and CEO, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Recently U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement responding to widespread concerns about standardized testing—saying that “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and offering to delay by a year the federal requirement that teacher evaluations include some “significant” influence from students’ performance on state assessments.

Reaction from the field1 to Duncan’s statement has been, as expected, profoundly respectful and professional. Unions, administrators and policymakers have expressed relief that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has finally acknowledged feedback from the field as to the wisdom of policy. While the announced delay in tying teacher evaluations to these impact measures is very important, I am even more interested to see how consistent, congruent and powerful the Obama administration intends to be in its handling of similar policy questions. ...

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. ...

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