Vander Ark: The End of the Big Test


Reposted from Getting Smart:

To get at the heart of value creation, Clayton Christensen taught us to think about the job to be done. Assessment plays four important roles in school systems:

  • Inform learning: continuous data feed that informs students, teachers, and parents about the learning process.
  • Manage matriculation: certify that students have learned enough to move on and ultimately graduate.
  • Evaluate educators: data to inform the practice and development of educators.
  • Check quality: dashboard of information about school quality particularly what students know and can do and how fast they are progressing.

Initiated in the dark ages of data poverty, state tests were asked to do all these jobs. As political stakes grew, psychometricians and lawyers pushed for validity and reliability and the tests got longer in an attempt to fulfill all four roles.

With so much protest, it may go without saying but the problem with week long summative tests is that they take too much time to administer; they don’t provide rapid and useful feedback for learning and progress management (jobs 1&2); and test preparation rather than preparation for college, careers, and citizenship has become the mission of school. And, with no student benefit many young people don’t try very hard and increasingly opt out. But it is no longer necessary or wise to ask one test to do so many jobs when better, faster, cheaper data is available from other sources.

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I Have a Dream: Teaching with No Grades


Reposted from Ditch That Textbook:

In my dream, my students enter my Spanish class and automatically switch to conversational Spanish when they cross the threshold of the room. We tell stories, discuss topics, write about passions, create digital products in the target language. And nobody receives a grade for their work. They don’t have to. They’ve improved their skills, practiced them and put them into meaningful context. They have learned. That’s what they wanted out of the class. That’s what I wanted. And nobody’s concerned about the grades.

Hadley Ferguson is living a version of my dream. She teaches a seventh-grade history class that doesn’t assign grades – letters, percentages, etc. Ferguson, as she wrote on a post at, gives them written feedback instead. Comments. Strengths. Their next steps for improvement. Most high-performing students still thrived in the gradeless environment. But the pure gold in this concept, in my opinion, is the empowerment of her middle- to lower-performing students. Their work, which may have received a poor grade despite their hardest work, was validated and they began to thrive. It was as if they were “freed from prison” and they were “willing to test their ideas and take risks that they never did before. It wasn’t a competition for the best grade;” Ferguson wrote, “it was a journey of learning that we are on together.”

I have yet to find a grading system that is fully fair:

  • Participation grades don’t reward students for doing their best quality work.
  • Grading on an overall performance rubric for the grading period can be subjective, even if there is evidence to support it.
  • Percentages of correct responses on worksheets, quizzes and tests can be a game of “gotcha” and don’t individualize.

They take away from the real focus of education: learning. We all innately want to learn. Even our most unmotivated students want to learn something, be it a method for beating their favorite video game or how to style their hair like their favorite celebrity. Our education system has excelled at turning learning into drudgery that’s quantified by an irrelevant scoring system.

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Moving Beyond a Single Measure of a School


Reposted from EdSource:

The California State Board of Education is seizing the chance to redefine student achievement and reframe how schools are held accountable for performance. It is in the throes of replacing the Academic Performance Index (API), the three-digit number that has been California’s narrow gauge of school progress for a decade and a half. The question is, what will take its place? Fully rolling out a new accountability system is projected to take three years – there is no legislated deadline. But state board members and others who have shared their thoughts have expressed similar concepts of what it might – and should not – be. There is near-universal agreement among educators and policy makers that a new system should be distinctly different from the API, which is calculated by weighting school and district scores on various subject assessments. Instead of a single number with consequences tied to end-of-year standardized tests, there should be multidimensional measures reflecting the complexities of school life and performance, including potentially hard-to-quantify indicators of school climate, as well as test scores and indicators of success in preparing students for college and career options. State board President Michael Kirst uses the analogy of gauges on a car dashboard that display oil pressure, temperature, battery capacity and mileage, each measuring different components of a car’s performance.

Although there are shades of difference, state board members and educators generally agree that school improvement should be the overriding goal of a new accountability system and that schools and districts should be given time and flexibility to achieve specific and clear goals. This approach would contrast with a decade of top-down sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law, said Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff for Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and education adviser to a half-dozen Assembly speakers. “As a state, we kind of reached the consensus that the mechanisms of intervention and punishment were not effective tools for changing behavior,” he said.

A new accountability system would culminate a series of historic changes that are already reshaping K-12 education in California. These started with the shift of authority and responsibility over budgets and policy from the state to local school districts under a new funding system that directed more money to low-income children and students learning English. The funding law established Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs, that require districts to set goals and steer money to meet broader indicators of school performance than test scores alone can provide. New academic standards – the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards – have raised expectations and shifted attention to the complex challenges of preparing students to succeed beyond high school. “A new accountability system must tie these big educational shifts together,” says Jannelle Kubinec, who directs the Comprehensive School Assistance Program for the San Francisco-based research agency WestEd and also is leading outreach efforts for the state board. “We are at a rare moment of change,” she said at a recent conference in Sacramento on the future of school accountability. “If we blow it now, we are not going to have this opportunity again, at least with regard to aligning policy.”

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Annual Testing, Common Core Hot-Button Issues in NCLB Debate


Reposted from U.S. News & World Report:

Outnumbered by Republicans, Democratic lawmakers are jockeying to get their views heard as Congress moves ahead on revising the much-maligned No Child Left Behind education law. With votes anticipated in the House and Senate, House Democrats plan their own Capitol Hill forum on Thursday for changing the law — a protest of Republicans’ handling of the issue.

In the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, came out against a provision in a draft bill circulated by the panel’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that would allow federal dollars to follow low-income students to a different public school. Annual testing requirements, Common Core standards and school choice expansion are all hot-button issues wrapped into the debate. Both sides heartily agree that the landmark law needs to be fixed, but tension centers on the level of federal involvement in classifying and fixing schools.

Complicating the issue, allegiances don’t clearly fall along party lines. Among Republicans, for example, some members want to essentially eliminate the federal role in education, but GOP-friendly business groups side with civil rights groups in support of a strong federal role. Teachers’ unions, historically aligned with Democrats, have criticized the Obama administration’s handling of education policy as having too much of an emphasis on testing.

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Sackstein: “Having This Growth Mindset is a Very, Very Challenging Thing” [VIDEO 3:28]

High School journalism and english teacher Starr Sackstein shares, “throwing out grades is not without its challenges.” Trying to revolutionize assessment of student learning is an ongoing struggle between her experience as a successful student in her own academic career, and wanting to work with her students differently to provide a more meaningful iterative discourse with them about their growth and understanding as learners.  “Ultimately at the end of the day, I let go of that anxiety that I was feeling about those particular grades, and I [sic] allow the student choice to be the one that I went with…realizing that it’s my values and beliefs behind it that created the conflict.” What are your biggest challenges?

Reauthorizing ESEA: A Chance to Fix Testing & Accountability


Reposted from the Shanker Blog:

Making the test the curriculum harms all students, but it does the most harm to those with the lowest skills. When I taught seniors in the Bronx, I worked with the highest-performing students who had already passed all their exams to help prepare them for the rigorous reading and writing they would face in college. We read philosophical and theoretical works ranging from Kant to Rawls to Nozick, and wrote and revised college-level argumentative essays. Though the Common Core was a far-off whisper at that point, my course far exceeded its demands, even if all my students could not yet meet them.

At the same time, I worked with the lowest-performing students who had yet to pass the New York State Regents. With them, I focused on mindless repetition of the facts that make up most of the Regents, and combined it with writing formulaic, timed essays that bore little resemblance to any real academic, civic, or career-based writing. I was really good at it, getting 100 percent to pass their exams in my final year leading Regents prep.

But I was doing my students no favors. I think to this day about T., a second-semester senior who could hardly write and struggled to read. In “Regents Prep Class” I worked with her on rote memorization rather than improving the reading, writing and thinking skills she would need for the rest of her life. The incentives were all wrong; sure, she passed the test, but she was still not ready for the community college work she encountered that fall. When we focus our efforts only on helping struggling students jump over the hurdle of mandated exams, the learning and opportunity gap widens.

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27 Ways to Check for Understanding [INFOGRAPHIC]

 learnanythingChecking for understanding is the foundation of teaching. Whether you’re using formative assessment for data to personalize learning within a unit, or more summative data to refine a curriculum map, the ability to quickly and easily check for understanding is a critical part of what you do. In this infographic Mia MacMeekin offers up 27 additional ways to check for understanding.

View the original posting here.

What If Assessment Elevated Learning Instead of Ranking Students?


Reposted from the Teaching Channel:

The most important assessment that takes place in any school is not the end-of-year test; it is the assessment that is going on all day long in the mind of every student. Each student is continually assessing his or her attitude, behavior, understanding, and work — “Is this piece good enough to turn in?” “Do I actually understand this concept?”

If we hope to improve student learning, we need to get inside student minds and turn up the dial for quality. Most importantly, we need to build into every student agrowth mindset — the confidence that he or she can improve through hard work — and a passion for becoming a better student and a better person.

In many schools, assessment practices provide little of this information and inspiration for students and their families. Assessment is typically seen as something “done to students,” not as a set of tools they can use for their growth. For those who are regularly ranked below average (almost half the students in any school), assessment practices often take the heart out of personal motivation. At Expeditionary Learning (EL), we focus on student-engaged assessment — a system of eight interrelated practices that positions students as leaders of their own learning.

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NASSP Rejects Value-Added Assessment

The word 'Worth' highlighted in green, under the heading 'Value'

Reposted from the Washington Post:

Even as the Obama administration keeps extending its support for using standardized test scores for high-stakes decisions — see its new draft proposals to rate colleges of education based on the test scores of the graduates’ students — a national principals group is taking a stand against it.

The Board of Directors of the National Association of Secondary School Principals has given preliminary approval to  a statement that rejects  linking educators’ jobs and pay to standardized test scores that are plopped into a formula that can supposedly determine exactly how much “value” an individual educator has added to students’ academic growth.

Last April, the  Statistical Association, the largest organization in the United States representing statisticians and related professionals, said in a report that value-added scores “do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes” and that they “typically measure correlation, not causation,” noting that “effects — positive or negative — attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.” After the report’s release, I asked the Education Department if Education Secretary Arne Duncan was reconsidering his support for value-added measures, and the answer was no.

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50 Ways to Test: A Snapshot of Current State Testing [PDF]


Reposted from the Education Commission of the States:

As many states began adopting college and career ready standards, such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a need arose for new summative assessments. New standards require new assessments measuring the skills and knowledge outlined in the new standards.

The Education Commission of the States has received numerous inquiries for information on where states are in terms of state assessments for the 2014-15 school year. Constituents also request information about federal testing requirements.

This document provides a high-level overview of the two testing consortia and federal testing
requirements. The comprehensive chart that follows provides a snapshot of which assessments are planned in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. for the 2014-15 academic year

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