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With a nod to California, a new report suggests overhauling how school and student success is measured in the United States.

The report, by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the National Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky, recommends alternatives to annual standardized tests. It says there should be far more emphasis on ongoing assessments of students as part of regular classroom instruction.

Schools should focus more on “formative assessments,” the curriculum-based problems and quizzes that teachers give to students throughout the school year for feedback on how students are doing, in addition to locally developed alternatives to assessments, the report argues. The latter could include science experiments, literary essays, classroom projects and, by the senior year of high school, internship experiences and portfolios that students can present to employers and colleges.

Written by Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the Stanford program, and Gene Wilhoit and Linda Pittenger from the Kentucky center, the report also calls for the replication of elements of California’s new funding and accountability system, the Local Control Funding Formula, which it praises for directing more money toward low-income students, English learners and foster children. Student achievement will falter in an era of higher learning standards without equitable funding and dramatic improvement in the preparation of teachers, the report says.

Wilhoit is the former executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, the nonpartisan organization of elected and appointed state superintendents that co-produced the Common Core State Standards. Darling-Hammond is a senior research adviser for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the developer of the Common Core tests that California students will take next spring. She also chairs the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which oversees the state’s teacher preparation programs.

Wilhoit and Darling-Hammond say the adoption of Common Core, with its goal of preparing students for college and 21st-century careers, marks a monumental shift in expectations of students. Wilhoit said the new standards “require students to do things they had not been asked to do before,” and to develop “habits of the mind” and abilities to solve problems, apply knowledge and think critically.

Multiple-choice, end-of-year tests, including higher quality and more complex versions such as the pending Smarter Balanced assessments, alone won’t lead students to reach those goals or adequately measure all that will be demanded of them, Wilhoit said. The report says it is critical to stop using annual tests as the chief gauge of school success and student achievement.

The report comes as Congress is deadlocked over whether to end or amend the 12-year-old No Child Left Behind law, which demanded that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014, and partisan disagreements over the role of the federal government in education.

There also is a growing backlash against standardized tests – in states opposed to sanctions under the federal law and by teachers across the nation who resent putting in weeks of preparation for annual student tests and who oppose being evaluated based primarily on student performance on tests.

Wilhoit said the new standards “require students to do things they had not been asked to do before,” and to develop “habits of the mind” and abilities to solve problems, apply knowledge and think critically.

Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, co-author of the report.

Alliance for Excellent Education webinar

Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, co-author of the report.

Last week, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of Great City Schools, which represents most of the nation’s largest urban districts, issued a set of principles on testing that called for fewer, higher quality and “meaningful” assessments.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in response, defended quality assessments, including annual tests, as “a vital part of progress in education.” But Duncan acknowledged that in some places, tests are “dominating the calendar and culture of schools and causing undue stress for students and educators.”

Earlier this year, Reps. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., introduced a bill, supported by the National Education Association, that would require testing math and reading only once in elementary, middle and high school. The Stanford/University of Kentucky report backs this approach, proposing that students take only parts of the math or reading exam. The advantage is that students can be given more complex, multi-step problems without lengthening the time of the test. The disadvantage is that such “matrix scoring” produces school- or district-wide results, rather than individual scores.

Signs of innovation

Duncan has granted 42 states waivers from the sanctions and some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Some states, such as New Hampshire and Kentucky, are experimenting with alternative forms of assessments and measurements of performance. The report highlighted the seven California districts that, in obtaining an NCLB waiver, have created an accountability index with multiple measures. They will include social and emotional learning, and difficult-to-quantify qualities, like perseverance, that affect the ability to learn.

The report doesn’t directly address the federal government’s role under the new accountability system but suggests that Congress would give states more flexibility to create strategies addressing student achievement, an equitable distribution of  resources and teacher preparation. It recommends that states establish a “School Quality Review process” in which schools will be evaluated at least every five years by teachers, administrators and outside experts who will look at the full breadth of a school’s life. California’s Local Control Funding Formula established the Collaborative for Educational Excellence, which will oversee the school improvement process, but it it has yet to meet. Kentucky, Ohio and New York have adopted elements of the inspection process.

There are multiple ways to achieve the new, high standards, Wilhoit said in a webinar last week. But for that to happen, the federal government, which “ created the mess we’re in,” must step aside to allow states to innovate.


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  1. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    I have to concur with Doug’s take on this report which, as he termed it, is a Trojan Horse, for formative and interim assessment OVER summative (in the long run). At least that is how I read this excerpt and much of the rest of the case being made: “We are positioned to move to a new system of multiple assessments in the classroom ”of and for and as learning” with curriculum embedded local performance standards embodying … Read More

    I have to concur with Doug’s take on this report which, as he termed it, is a Trojan Horse, for formative and interim assessment OVER summative (in the long run).

    At least that is how I read this excerpt and much of the rest of the case being made:

    “We are positioned to move to a new system of multiple assessments in the classroom ”of and for and as learning” with curriculum embedded local performance standards embodying and supporting learning along with richer and more meaningful assessments that evaluate leaning at the state and local levels.”

    “We propose this new approach knowing that it is an intermediate step that is designed within the constraints of the current educational system.”

    The last sentence I take to mean that testing for learning’s sake will replace the PSAA and NCLB models of testing for accountability purposes.

    Of course this conjecture since the report is unclear, IME.

  2. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    What is Linda Darling-Hammond's game? Is she not a key player in SBAC? So why is she advocating in this report: "Moving to a system of assessments necessitates that we abandon a singular focus on statewide summative assessments as the basis of all important decisions." Doug is absolutely spot on about the Trojan Horse. To answer my initial question I suspect she is trying to work away from the standardized summative assesments that can be used for … Read More

    What is Linda Darling-Hammond’s game?

    Is she not a key player in SBAC?

    So why is she advocating in this report:

    “Moving to a system of assessments necessitates that we abandon a singular focus on statewide summative assessments as the basis of all important decisions.”

    Doug is absolutely spot on about the Trojan Horse.

    To answer my initial question I suspect she is trying to work away from the standardized summative assesments that can be used for teacher evaluations.

    The increasing trend for researchers to press policy issues undermines the neutrality that we expect from scientific observation.

    That said, it doesn’t mean these are not good ideas presented in the report.

    The problem is that I don’t trust the authors because their actions belie their words.

  3. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    The report backs up California's funding formula and its focus on additional support for the 3 underperforming subgroups, but it makes no mention of the failed $5.1B School Improvement Grant program that pumped much larger infusions than LCFF into select California schools and others around the nation. Here in SFUSD SIG was touted as a success, but only 3 of 9 schools did better than average and three did worse. We have to … Read More

    The report backs up California’s funding formula and its focus on additional support for the 3 underperforming subgroups, but it makes no mention of the failed $5.1B School Improvement Grant program that pumped much larger infusions than LCFF into select California schools and others around the nation. Here in SFUSD SIG was touted as a success, but only 3 of 9 schools did better than average and three did worse. We have to look beyond funding to answer the $64,000 question.

    washingtonpost.com/local/education/federal-analysis-of-school-grants-shows-mixed-results/2013/11/21/6f6da638-52ee-11e3-a7f0-b790929232e1_story.html

  4. Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

    As I wrote before, this was bound to happen because the "progress" towards "100% proficient" was not happening at the rate demanded by NCLB. And, no, a few points per year increase on the average score would never have met the stated goal not even if they have given it 20 more years to meet it. So now we are back to square one: the old tests have been replaced by new tests that are not … Read More

    As I wrote before, this was bound to happen because the “progress” towards “100% proficient” was not happening at the rate demanded by NCLB. And, no, a few points per year increase on the average score would never have met the stated goal not even if they have given it 20 more years to meet it.

    So now we are back to square one: the old tests have been replaced by new tests that are not ready for prime time which in turn renders the entire edifice of “accountability” moot for the next couple of years.

    This is seen as an opportunity to end the tests which, in fact, cannot deliver accountability in the first place, once and for all! Naturally, this raises the hackles of the accountability folks and accusations fly back and forth.

    In my opinion, the basic problem is that the accountability crowd, both the practitioners of the black art of test making and the politicians who push it, will never recognize that the tests, as currently designed, are there to stack-and-rank the students. Nowhere in the results of test scores I’ve seen is there an indication that the tests allow for “academic growth” (whatever that actually means). What I see is stack-and-rank, pure and simple. That’s fine if you want to use the tests as the gatekeeper for college but not if “real learning” is to be truly measured.

    Unless, of course, the tests undergo a radical redesign to test for learning and independent thinking instead of rote memorization. But the chances of that happening, I believe, are next to nothing because it would require a complete overhaul of the methods used to design, administer, and score the tests. Do you think the testing companies (or those who have left to hang their own shingles) want to develop the new mathematical tools needed for that? That would be like forcing auto manufacturers to stop using internal combustion engines within three years. It ain’t gonna happen.

    Replies

    • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

      I think it would be useful to hear how the authors view these proposals in comparison with SBAC products that seem intended to achieve/implement the same thing (currently optional interim assessments, formative work plans, performance tasks (from all types of assessments) and it's Digital Library and professional development products). It seems the case being made in the paper aligns almost exactly with the arguments SBAC uses for its approach (probably not surprising as some of … Read More

      I think it would be useful to hear how the authors view these proposals in comparison with SBAC products that seem intended to achieve/implement the same thing (currently optional interim assessments, formative work plans, performance tasks (from all types of assessments) and it’s Digital Library and professional development products). It seems the case being made in the paper aligns almost exactly with the arguments SBAC uses for its approach (probably not surprising as some of the people involved are the same ones). Would the authors see that system as a valid way to ‘implement’ components of the ’51’st’ state’s? If so, would that realistically allow formative assessments to continue to be locally developed? Ie, Is there a limitation on the type of accountability being proposed by allowing that to continue? Is the SBAC Digital Library the ‘dashboard’ referenced in the paper?

      Counter to others’ impressions, I don’t think this paper means to reduce accountability or even reduce test usage in accountability (perhaps even just the opposite). From the paper:
      “Transparency in providing information to the public and to educators and policy makers is a key aspect of the new accountability. Like businesses that use a dashboard of measures to provide a comprehensive picture of performance, we need a dashboard of indicators to inform key decisions (student placement and graduation; teacher evaluation, tenure and dismissal; school recognition and intervention). Full and timely reporting of a wide array of information to parents and the community is a basic element of accountability. “
      And although it then goes on to say “test scores should never be used alone for any such decision”, this paragraph immediately follows a figure titled “relative emphasis on assessment purposes” in which a decrease in importance/scope of summative assessments used in current accountability is exactly offset by an increase in the importance/scope of formative assessments in the accountability process. So no, I don’t think this paper is suggesting scaling back accountability by any means.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        So, if you're correct about the report (and, btw, it does seem to be recommending an expansion of both instructional and accountability tests), than these educational experts seem to have no problem with piling on test after test, assessment after assessment. It is the predilection and the discipline of education researchers to use scientific measures as opposed to the more subjective measure of grades which don't provide them with the … Read More

        So, if you’re correct about the report (and, btw, it does seem to be recommending an expansion of both instructional and accountability tests), than these educational experts seem to have no problem with piling on test after test, assessment after assessment. It is the predilection and the discipline of education researchers to use scientific measures as opposed to the more subjective measure of grades which don’t provide them with the raw data they need to work.

        I read this quote in an Alfie Cohn article on homework:

        …a grade, as one writer put it long ago, is “an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite amount of material.”

        So what’s wrong with that? If we all knew exactly what constitutes knowledge and determined academic performance and intelligence as corollaries of that, what we know consider undeniable truths would never have seen the light of day.

        Today’s academicians of education have resorted to bean counting and promise those beans are not any beans, but magic beans. In the meantime, while they’re counting, our students will be engaging in deeper thinking. If they get the time…

        • John Fensterwald 2 years ago2 years ago

          Navigio, Don and others: I attended a seminar in Sacramento today on formative assessment, sponsored by PACE, Policy Analysis of California Education, which will be posted online next week. I encourage you to watch it, for it may explain the importance that developers and proponents of Common Core, like Linda Darling-Hammond, are placing on formative assessments – a lot more than the end-of-year tests that are getting most of the attention in Sacramento. … Read More

          Navigio, Don and others: I attended a seminar in Sacramento today on formative assessment, sponsored by PACE, Policy Analysis of California Education, which will be posted online next week. I encourage you to watch it, for it may explain the importance that developers and proponents of Common Core, like Linda Darling-Hammond, are placing on formative assessments – a lot more than the end-of-year tests that are getting most of the attention in Sacramento. She introduced the session via a video appearance, as she is traveling this week. I will encourage her to write a piece for EdSource Today on formative assessment for it is a defining issue for her.

          My take-away is that a formative assessment is not a traditional unit test or mini-exam to measure students’ readiness for the final exam next spring. Instead, it’s a tool in the learning process – a means for teachers to determine if individual students or a class are learning the lesson or standard. It might be a group conversation, activity or a writing exercise providing evidence if students “get it” so that teachers can adjust their instruction. In other words, formative assessment is the heart of teaching — skills that schools have abandoned during the past 12 years of pacing charts and scripted lesson plans in response to the testing demands of No Child Left Behind.

          If the goals of Common Core are to develop, as the proponents assert, habits of mind and critical thinking skills, then formative assessments will be the chief vehicle for achieving and measuring those goals – more so perhaps than the Smarter Balanced end of year tests, which, while expected to be an improvement over current state tests, will still likely end up being 70 percent multiple choice.

          This explanation is abstract, I confess, and others at the conference said it better. But i hope that EdSource’s reporting in the classroom over the next year will lay out whether and how the process is working.

          • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

            Thank you John. I did have a number of other opinions on the paper but did not sure them in the interest of brevity and the readers' sanity. ;-) But to clarify, the concern underlying my comment was less about the nature of the test in question than how it is used. The comments surrounding transparency seem to imply we will have more of an ongoing type of accountability, based on interim and maybe even formative … Read More

            Thank you John.
            I did have a number of other opinions on the paper but did not sure them in the interest of brevity and the readers’ sanity. 😉
            But to clarify, the concern underlying my comment was less about the nature of the test in question than how it is used. The comments surrounding transparency seem to imply we will have more of an ongoing type of accountability, based on interim and maybe even formative assessments (maybe we need a different word there). I also suggest reading up on performance tasks. It’s not entirely clear but they seem to be akin to formative assessments, and are already being used in our schools.
            For the record, I reject the notion that formative assessments have been abandoned. If this is a basis for the argument then I think it needs to be proven (it’s actually a very important question in this whole strategy because it somewhat implies that the current system is broken on every level. Something I know we won’t get consensus on anyway, but it’s a specific enough point hat a valuable discussion can revolve around that alone).
            The thing I’ve heard from teachers about the value of ‘common core’ seems to be petty simple: that it gives them more freedom in not just tying to get kids to score well on tests. Although clearly some of that happened, in my experience, teachers reject that (the vast majority I have interaction with have). Even to the point of moving schools and/or districts in order to do more genuine teaching. It is of course a supreme irony if genuine teaching actually leads to slightly lower test scores. But of course that not really the point anyway.
            From that standpoint, reduction in summative assessments will have value. But not if it comes at the expense of a different kind of assessment that is used more often and for even more ‘reformy’ purposes, especially as smaller sample sizes also introduce more variability.

          • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

            John: Your comment describes formative assessment practices pretty accurately, but I have to call you on the notion expressed in the sentence "If the goals of the common core are to develop . . . . . then formative assessments will be the chief vehicle for achieving AND MEASURING those goals." I'll go along with formative assessments being an important portion for ACHIEVING those goals, but not for MEASURING those goals. Why? … Read More

            John: Your comment describes formative assessment practices pretty accurately, but I have to call you on the notion expressed in the sentence “If the goals of the common core are to develop . . . . . then formative assessments will be the chief vehicle for achieving AND MEASURING those goals.” I’ll go along with formative assessments being an important portion for ACHIEVING those goals, but not for MEASURING those goals. Why? Formative assessments will not be standardized across teachers, classrooms, schools, or districts, much less the entire state. Yet, including formative assessments as part of a statewide assessment system sends the message that CA expects formative assessment practices to be standardized across the entire state . . . . and that is contrary to local control of curriculum and instruction for local districts and schools, and contrary to classroom and teacher flexibilities to choose instructional strategies that best meet the needs of the kids they teach. Formative assessments do not have a prayer of replacing summative end-of-year assessments for an external measurement of the overall results of instruction, the accountability function for any statewide assessment system, due to the lack of standardization and comparability inherent in formative as well as interim assessments. Thus, as expressed elsewhere in this comments section, promoting formative assessments as an alternative to summative accountability assessments is nothing more than a Trojan Horse anti-accountability policy position for public schools.

            From a political perspective, the “lets replace summative accountability tests with instructional formative and interim assessments” position is very attractive to teachers and many school administrators, and others inside the K-12 public education sector, a position with which perhaps 70 percent of folks in that sector agree, while perhaps less than 30 percent from the public education sector are advocates for end-of-year accountability testing. But, when one looks at the larger population that K-12 education serves, including parents and legislators and business folks and media and the general public, polling data over the years (Phi Delta Kappa surveys over 20-30 years, for example) show that 70-80 percent of the more general audience are favorable toward end-of-year accountability testing. So, the policy position advocated by Darling-Hammond (and Smarter Balanced) is popular with school folks, but doesn’t wash with the larger set of folks with interest in the achievement levels for students that are served by our K-12 schools.

            • John Fensterwald 2 years ago2 years ago

              Doug: "Measuring" was an poor choice. I should have said formative assessments will provide critical evidence of whether students are gaining more complex learning skills. There will be plenty of ways to measure learning during the year; benchmark tests, unit tests, interim tests. They won't go away and districts can standardize their own. The folks yesterday were not calling for replacing summative tests; they were arguing not to blur the distinctions between formative assessments as … Read More

              Doug: “Measuring” was an poor choice. I should have said formative assessments will provide critical evidence of whether students are gaining more complex learning skills. There will be plenty of ways to measure learning during the year; benchmark tests, unit tests, interim tests. They won’t go away and districts can standardize their own. The folks yesterday were not calling for replacing summative tests; they were arguing not to blur the distinctions between formative assessments as critical to the learning process and tests that measure what students have already learned. You share the concern over teaching to end of year tests.

              You’re right. The pendulum is swinging in reaction to how end of year tests have been used under NCLB and and concern over how they might become the sole measure of the new standards. End of year tests won’t and shouldn’t be replaced. There should be a better understanding of their benefits and limitations, no?

          • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

            Doug, that is exactly why I was asking about the role of formative assessments here. The way SBAC is approaching it (and if districts use that as a 'fallback' to avoid having to do their own work) then the goal may actually be to standardize at the formative level. I'm not sure whether there are any technical or logistical barriers to that happening but it 'feels like' that is what is being implied. Ergo my … Read More

            Doug, that is exactly why I was asking about the role of formative assessments here. The way SBAC is approaching it (and if districts use that as a ‘fallback’ to avoid having to do their own work) then the goal may actually be to standardize at the formative level. I’m not sure whether there are any technical or logistical barriers to that happening but it ‘feels like’ that is what is being implied. Ergo my more specific questions for the authors.

          • Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

            John, looking forward to a more informed discussion of what's to come, even though I no longer have skin in the game (but it is in my self-interest that schools prepare citizens ready to contribute to the tax pool better than a plain high school graduates!). I understand the need to revamp the methods of assessment. The last 12 years have been an attempt to graft industrial production practices onto K-12 education forgetting that growing human … Read More

            John, looking forward to a more informed discussion of what’s to come, even though I no longer have skin in the game (but it is in my self-interest that schools prepare citizens ready to contribute to the tax pool better than a plain high school graduates!).

            I understand the need to revamp the methods of assessment. The last 12 years have been an attempt to graft industrial production practices onto K-12 education forgetting that growing human beings are not widgets that can be treated in a single way.

            However, I share navigio’s concerns in regards to the possible uses of such formalized “formative” assessments as currently being discussed. My chief concern is that if those assessments are tracked by the district or the state they will eventually evolve into the most significant component of the student’s classroom mark and will, possibly, become the “standard” by which teachers will be evaluated. So much for locally-informed decisions that increase the opportunities for developing habits of mind and critical thinking skills while avoiding the past 12 years of pacing charts and scripted lesson plans.

            As I understand it, LAUSD already uses various tests developed by outside vendors to administer periodic assessments. At this time, I have no idea what their administration is doing with the results but I can’t help but be suspicions of the administrators’ intent. Based on what I’ve seen before, there was some push to make these assessments influence the classroom mark but it did not get far. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the near future.

          • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

            John: OK. But the "will provide critical evidence" language as applied to formative assessments is appropriate only for a very limited audience, i.e., the kid's teacher and maybe the parent. It won't fly for any aggregate data use. And for your assertion that "end-of-year tests won't and shouldn't be replaced," that is exactly what the report you summarized was attempting to do. Replacing end-of-year accountability tests with something else (i.e., during-the-year instructional … Read More

            John: OK. But the “will provide critical evidence” language as applied to formative assessments is appropriate only for a very limited audience, i.e., the kid’s teacher and maybe the parent. It won’t fly for any aggregate data use. And for your assertion that “end-of-year tests won’t and shouldn’t be replaced,” that is exactly what the report you summarized was attempting to do. Replacing end-of-year accountability tests with something else (i.e., during-the-year instructional tests) is precisely the policy goal for the authors of the report.

            • John Fensterwald 2 years ago2 years ago

              Doug: It is inaccurate to say that the authors want to replace end of year tests. Substantially diminish its importance, yes. The report’s graphic on page 12 makes this clear.

          • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

            “I am convinced that this new generation of state assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education. For the first time, millions of schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will know if students are on-track for colleges and careers […]
            For the first time, teachers will consistently have timely, high-quality formative assessments that are instructionally useful and document student growth—rather than just relying on after-the-fact, year-end tests used for accountability purposes.”
            – Duncan, 2010

          • Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

            Thanks, navigio, for dredging out this quote. I wonder if Duncan still feels the same way? I realize that he is just one more talking-head, but he is in a position to drive the country in that direction. Will everybody fall behind his leadership? I hope not. As I pointed above, this is the same message I got way back when there was a push by LAUSD to "understand" why classroom marks were not aligned with … Read More

            Thanks, navigio, for dredging out this quote. I wonder if Duncan still feels the same way? I realize that he is just one more talking-head, but he is in a position to drive the country in that direction. Will everybody fall behind his leadership? I hope not.

            As I pointed above, this is the same message I got way back when there was a push by LAUSD to “understand” why classroom marks were not aligned with where the student placed in the CST achievement bands. That was during Cortines’ previous administration and they let it die quietly. Deasy, OTOH, put his egg on the VAM basket only for the CSTs to go away just when he was starting to ramp it up.

            I would, however, think that Prof. Darling-Hammond does not want to go that route. But I could be very wrong.

          • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

            John: I'll respectfully disagree with your interpretation of the author's goal re effectively replacing end-of-year summative tests. The entire frame for their policy advocacy is quite murky with respect to what portions of their advocated assessment system is done via statewide assessments and what is done via local assessments, and clearly their advocacy is to take the statewide portion and diminish the role of end-of-year summative tests by increasing the role of formative assessment … Read More

            John: I’ll respectfully disagree with your interpretation of the author’s goal re effectively replacing end-of-year summative tests. The entire frame for their policy advocacy is quite murky with respect to what portions of their advocated assessment system is done via statewide assessments and what is done via local assessments, and clearly their advocacy is to take the statewide portion and diminish the role of end-of-year summative tests by increasing the role of formative assessment practices and interim assessments, with the eventual potential that formative and interim assessments can and will actually replace the need for end-of-year summative tests. At least that is the way I read the report. It would be clearer if the report more clearly delineated the appropriate roles for statewide assessments vs local district assessments . . . . . in my view, the statewide assessment portion should be limited to end-of-year summative assessments that are not only strongly standardized, secure, and comparable assessments across schools and districts, while the local district portion should be the locally controlled formative practices and interim tests that are tied closely local district curriculum and instruction directions and tied to other instructional supports, with no or little need for standardization, security, or comparability across district and/or school lines.

          • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

            I have to concur with Doug's take that on this report which, as he termed it, is a Trojan Horse, for formative and interim assessment OVER summative (in the long run). At least that is how I read this excerpt: "We are positioned to move to a new system of multiple assessments in the classroom ”of and for and as learning” with curriculum embedded local performance standards embodying and supporting learning along with richer and more meaningful … Read More

            I have to concur with Doug’s take that on this report which, as he termed it, is a Trojan Horse, for formative and interim assessment OVER summative (in the long run).

            At least that is how I read this excerpt:

            “We are positioned to move to a new system of multiple assessments in the classroom ”of and for and as learning” with curriculum embedded local performance standards embodying and supporting learning along with richer and more meaningful assessments that evaluate leaning at the state and local levels.”

            “We propose this new approach knowing that it is an intermediate step that is designed within the constraints of the current educational system.”

            The last sentence I take to mean that testing for learning’s sake will replace the PSAA and NCLB models of testing for accountability purposes.

            Of course this conjecture since the report is unclear, IME.

          • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

            Actually, formative assessment is designed to be used by teachers to inform their instructional practice. They are by definition "low stakes" as they are not used for grades or any other "accountability" features. The idea that there needs to be "outside monitoring" of the schools is a bunch of folderol that has been sold to some of the public. Since most of the media buys into it, as it allows for periodic alarmist headlines, current … Read More

            Actually, formative assessment is designed to be used by teachers to inform their instructional practice. They are by definition “low stakes” as they are not used for grades or any other “accountability” features. The idea that there needs to be “outside monitoring” of the schools is a bunch of folderol that has been sold to some of the public. Since most of the media buys into it, as it allows for periodic alarmist headlines, current circumstances do not give the public much else to work with. There is a great deal of serious research by legitimate scholars that support the importance of formative assessment and condemns the current bias towards that “outside monitoring” and high stakes testing. (As a colleague once said, “High stakes are for tomatoes.)

          • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

            When the board of ed voted to close down Dr. Darling-Hammond's the Stanford New Schools East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School due to persistently low performance, she said: “It is not the most accurate measure of student achievement particularly if you have new English language learners.” - referring to categorization as a lowest performing school based upon STAR. I think it is fair to say her own personal experience would indicate that she is not … Read More

            When the board of ed voted to close down Dr. Darling-Hammond’s the Stanford New Schools East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School due to persistently low performance, she said:

            “It is not the most accurate measure of student achievement particularly if you have new English language learners.” – referring to categorization as a lowest performing school based upon STAR.

            I think it is fair to say her own personal experience would indicate that she is not a big proponent of year-end high stakes testing.

            A NYT report on the closing went on to say “Even though they have been inching upward, test results for Stanford New School students are almost uniformly poor. On last year’s Standardized Testing and Reporting Results only 16 percent of the students were proficient or advanced in English and math, an improvement from the previous year. And in a three-year comparison of similar schools in 2007 and 2008 — the most recent state results — the school scored 6, 7 and most recently a 3 out of 10.”

          • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

            Gary: I'd agree that formative assessment practices are designed to be used by teachers to inform their instructional processes, and not likely to be misused for aggregate data purposes. Nevertheless, as a general policy issue, why include them in a statewide testing system, thus potentially contributing to top down instructional guidance for local districts, schools, and teachers when such instructional guidance should be locally controlled? The other instructional assessment practices included in the report … Read More

            Gary: I’d agree that formative assessment practices are designed to be used by teachers to inform their instructional processes, and not likely to be misused for aggregate data purposes. Nevertheless, as a general policy issue, why include them in a statewide testing system, thus potentially contributing to top down instructional guidance for local districts, schools, and teachers when such instructional guidance should be locally controlled? The other instructional assessment practices included in the report advocacy are interim tests, which are much more likely to used or misused for aggregate data purposes and top down influence on local instructional practices . . . . Need I mention the prospect of statewide pacing charts based on fixed time interim tests as something that blows the guts out of local control of curriculum and instruction? Much less the “complete” Smarter Balanced interim test version that clones the summative end-of-year test and is very likely to be used for illegal unethical “teaching-to-the-test” efforts to avoid the difficult task of implementing quality instruction at the classroom level? Teaching-to-the-test strategies are cancers that degrade both quality instruction and quality assessment. Yet, California’s new statewide assessment system promoted by the CDE and SSPI and approved by the SBE includes tools to facilitate growth of those cancers. Including instructional tests in statewide assessment systems is contrary to local control, and with the Smarter Balanced system there are also elements that undermine both good instruction and good assessment.

            I must also address your comment that “The idea that there needs to be ‘outside monitoring’ of schools is a bunch of folderol that has been sold to some of the public.” That is just special interest rhetoric that doesn’t contribute to serious discussion of policy issues involving summative statewide tests. External summative end-of-year tests are legitimate tools to shed light on the overall functioning of public schools over time, and they are supported by 70-80 percent of the general public. No large societal system, and certainly K-12 public schools are a large societal system in the US, should escape some sort of external accountability mechanism. Dismissing accountability testing based on special interest rhetoric is not a productive approach to dialog on the statewide assessment topic.

          • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

            With the end of CST results as a metric, I've already seen district interim assessment results specified as the benchmark and goal in LCAPs and am hearing calls for school-level comparisons using those. It's true these are more local (for now) and there is no explicit punishment yet (except for some implications in the paper) but save the federal 'failing school' label and the tutoring 'punishment' (both for now), the goal seems naturally to find … Read More

            With the end of CST results as a metric, I’ve already seen district interim assessment results specified as the benchmark and goal in LCAPs and am hearing calls for school-level comparisons using those. It’s true these are more local (for now) and there is no explicit punishment yet (except for some implications in the paper) but save the federal ‘failing school’ label and the tutoring ‘punishment’ (both for now), the goal seems naturally to find something to replace the CST and how it was used, especially if their replacement becomes less specific. Remember, CSTs were already used in a way they were not intended or designed to be. That fact did not stop anyone before and it’s arguable there will even be less reason to avoid that with all the new promises about the new tests.
            If formative ‘results’ were also somehow made available, I know there would be a call to use those as well. And to the extent a federally funded and pan-state consortium offers those assessments or petitions thereof, as a ‘product’, and to the extent local districts are resource-strapped when it comes to curriculum development, I expect there to exist momentum toward a standardized version of these things.
            So again, explicits and specifics please.

          • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

            Over the years and through the scope of her work Linda Darling-Hammond has made clear her political views and policy preferences on education and I believe these are reflected in her research choices and policy advocacy. When researchers have demonstrated historical preferences/biases this is naturally going to change the perceptions of her work as it does for Chester Finn, for example. In the case of the aforementioned report, I perceive her policy intentions, which … Read More

            Over the years and through the scope of her work Linda Darling-Hammond has made clear her political views and policy preferences on education and I believe these are reflected in her research choices and policy advocacy. When researchers have demonstrated historical preferences/biases this is naturally going to change the perceptions of her work as it does for Chester Finn, for example. In the case of the aforementioned report, I perceive her policy intentions, which have been carefully couched, as leaning towards a sunseting of high-stakes year-end testing for accountability purposes. ( Again, read the excerpt I copied in a former comment.)

            The questions raised here over the meaning of this report are at least in some part a function of what we the readers know of her work and how this new report jibes with those perceptions. However, questions of perception aside, there’s no doubt that opponents of high stakes testing within the teaching profession and the unions that represent the profession would prefer to see testing “of and for and as learning”, as she put it, rather than for accountability reporting used to close down or otherwise turn around “failing” schools using what are widely considered failing models. Darling-Hammond, as an Obama education adviser (former?), is bucking the Administration’s policy of NCLB-style accountability and she must tread carefully, hence the somewhat ambiguous language.

    • el 2 years ago2 years ago

      Realistically, if every child met the standard, then most people would be saying, "our standards are too low." We as a nation have to do some soul-searching on that. Most people don't dig in to what is expected of each grade level nor do they realize that in general we expect more of today's kids than was expected of us. These tests are being used for two somewhat disparate goals: to measure and encourage excellence, … Read More

      Realistically, if every child met the standard, then most people would be saying, “our standards are too low.” We as a nation have to do some soul-searching on that. Most people don’t dig in to what is expected of each grade level nor do they realize that in general we expect more of today’s kids than was expected of us.

      These tests are being used for two somewhat disparate goals: to measure and encourage excellence, while also measuring and encouraging a minimum level of competence, with rigid requirements of exactly when that will be measured. The problem is that too many people are trying to set both markers on the same spot.

      We absolutely have had a problem of capable kids not getting the education they deserve and could use. But, dismantling a school that is successful for hundreds or thousands of kids because of the veto of a handful of kids is not a path to the perfect system. Some kids may not be physically capable of meeting the standards. And some kids may not be motivated to meet them, or to demonstrate that they meet them.

      I see our goals as three:
      1. To absolutely provide the best, most appropriate education for every student who is ready and willing to learn, as meets that student’s needs (applies to gifted, neurotypical, ELD, special ed, and all combinations thereof);
      2. To find a way to bootstrap kids who come to school unready to learn;
      3. To find a way to motivate every child to be invested in her own learning.

      I do not believe there is any school (probably not in the whole world) that meets all those goals for any n arbitrarily chosen and assigned students.

      It doesn’t mean those aren’t good and important goals. But expecting perfection makes those goals the enemy, and they should not be the enemy of bright, hardworking educators. We need to recognize that progress to real and worthy goals will always be asymptotic.

      No one would think it was reasonable to pass a law expecting a 0 fatality rate (of any cause including traffic accidents etc) of patients in a doctor’s practice.

    • Jennifer 2 years ago2 years ago

      Well said! One test cannot be an accurate measure of TRUE learning! Resiliency, grit, perseverance, and passion speak to a person’s potential for success. I have yet to find an adult whose k-12 test scores are not a reflection of their success!

  5. Deborah Blair Porter 2 years ago2 years ago

    Thanks Doug McRae for your (as always) very logical analysis of the issue. In years before NCLB, leading educational organizations formed "The Coalition for the Development of National Voluntary Tests” to lobby Congress for funding of national tests for individual students in reading and math. Among them were the very organizations mentioned in this current article, i.e., the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of Great City Schools. What … Read More

    Thanks Doug McRae for your (as always) very logical analysis of the issue.

    In years before NCLB, leading educational organizations formed “The Coalition for the Development of National Voluntary Tests” to lobby Congress for funding of national tests for individual students in reading and math. Among them were the very organizations mentioned in this current article, i.e., the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of Great City Schools. What they are saying today contradicts what they said in 1997:

    “Our students must be able to benchmark their education progress now in ways never done before so they may prepare for their future. Although there is extensive testing in our nation, there is no individual student test of reading or mathematics which enables a student to compare his or her work with students in other states and in other nations. Our highly mobile students and their families need test results indicating their performance as they move among school districts and states. Our children will also compete for jobs across Communities, states, and nations. They need test results indicating whether their achievement is competitive with other students around the world. In short, students and families want to know what level of learning is required to reach the high standards necessary as we enter the 21st Century.”

    http://www.clintonlibrary.gov/assets/storage/Research%20-%20Digital%20Library/cohen/Box%20020/2012-0160-S-test-talking-points-3.pdf.

    The article notes “the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of Great City Schools,. . .issued a set of principles on testing that called for fewer, higher quality and “meaningful” assessments.” How perfect, given that the 1997 recommendation to Congress they supported advocated for a single test in reading and math. How ironic, however, in light of the Coalition’s request directed to Congress (clearly a part of “the federal government”), is Wilhoit’s claim that “the federal government, which “ created the mess we’re in,” must step aside to allow states to innovate.” Nothing has prevented states from innovating. In fact, the expectation of proficiency demonstrated through annual assessment which NCLB calls for is nothing more than what California’s own Public School Accountability Act required when it was enacted back in 1999. They just haven’t done it!

    The article notes a growing backlash against standardized tests in states opposed to sanctions under federal law and by teachers who resent weeks preparing for annual student tests and who oppose being evaluated based primarily on student performance on tests. So, after years of failed performance, states don’t want to be held accountable, despite untold billions of federal funds sent their way and teachers resent spending time preparing for annual tests on material they actually should have been teaching.

    The deflection and avoidance behaviors around this issue are amazing.

  6. Mary Anne Lock 2 years ago2 years ago

    I applaud this report, and I certainly would support legislation such as the bill being introduced by Reps. Gibson and Sinema. As educators, we are supposed to be preparing students to become life-long learners, as opposed to merely test takers. Sadly, the latter is happening in too many scenarios.

  7. David B. Cohen 2 years ago2 years ago

    At the recent meeting of the California Teacher Union Reform Network (CalTURN), there were some wonderful examples of how the LCFF and LCAP are facilitating important conversations among teachers and administrators about a broader, more robust, more meaningful sense of accountability, to be shaped in a transparent process that includes student, parent, and community engagement. The success of these efforts is crucial to pushing test scores into their proper place as a small part of what matters in education.

    Replies

    • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

      Is it possible to be more explicit? I would love to see examples of this as I have yet to see an LCAP with enough detail to allow such discussions/collaboration to take place.

  8. DKB 2 years ago2 years ago

    Standardized testing has and will continue to dictate the way licensed professional educators teach the most important commodity in our country. I have to say, I am "over" non-educator politicians wanting to use schools as a way of a data collection. The only real, useful and useable data worth review are assessments given at the beginning to determine what a child knows and at the end, to determine the gains in academic growth. … Read More

    Standardized testing has and will continue to dictate the way licensed professional educators teach the most important commodity in our country. I have to say, I am “over” non-educator politicians wanting to use schools as a way of a data collection. The only real, useful and useable data worth review are assessments given at the beginning to determine what a child knows and at the end, to determine the gains in academic growth. (Value-Added Statistical Analysis) Standardized tests can be used in this process, but it is all the formal, informal, formative and summative assessments given by the educators that will allow the classroom to be an environment where real teaching and learning can take place. If educators were allowed to meet the standards, assess the standards and remediate and enrich the standards to meet the needs of the students in their classrooms, I can almost guarantee academic gains. When the students who walk in every school building everyday are the real reason decisions are made, I can also promise great gains. The buildings were not built for the adults to work in, but rather for children to attend and be educated by adults. However, politics and other avenues unrelated to the well-being of every child’s education impedes the educators ability to educate. All of this can be done and be done well with less outside bureaucracy, less interference from non-educators trying to tell the professional how to do their job. Want to see test scores rise? Let the amazing educators do their job. They have had multiple years of schooling, hold a teaching license recognized by their state; yet somehow the politics of it all don’t seem to revere any of this, nor the educator’s profession. And we wonder why the U.S is so low in the academic arena. Many of our Asian counterparts are dropping standardized testing protocols all together. Interesting thought.

    Replies

    • Joy Lightner 2 years ago2 years ago

      Amen! Non-educators dictating to licensed professionals has been, and will continue to be, the root problem of academic growth for our students. We are the only business in the world who are told to produce a "one-size fits all" product, not given the choice of our raw material (our students), expected to create one-of-a-kind designer originals, and held accountable to standardized testing that does not measure creative thinking or problem solving - two critical characteristics … Read More

      Amen! Non-educators dictating to licensed professionals has been, and will continue to be, the root problem of academic growth for our students. We are the only business in the world who are told to produce a “one-size fits all” product, not given the choice of our raw material (our students), expected to create one-of-a-kind designer originals, and held accountable to standardized testing that does not measure creative thinking or problem solving – two critical characteristics necessary to any student striving to be “College and Career Ready.” Education is the only “business” that is controlled by individuals who do not understand the first thing about educating a child – Zone of Proximal Learning – Productive Struggle – Cognitive Development, etc. If we are going to repair the broken machine of education, a few things need to occur, all of which I cannot address in this response. First and foremost, is including CLASSROOM TEACHERS in all decisions related to the education of children.

    • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

      A number of interesting points; however, better go back and check the literature on “value added methodology.” The consensus view of legitimate researchers is that VAM is a non-starter when it come to evaluating teachers.

  9. Arthur Camins 2 years ago2 years ago

    I hope that the tide is turning, not just away from high-stakes assessment, but toward daily diagnose of student work and the feedback required to move learning forward. I wrote about this recently here: http://www.arthurcamins.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/What-if-we-approached-testing-this-way_-_-The-Answer-Sheet.pdf

    As a science educator, I worry that the promise of the Next Generation Science Standards will be undermined by a rush to consequential assessment. More on that and alternatives here: http://www.arthurcamins.com/?p=287

  10. Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

    The policy argument that statewide tests should emphasize instructional assessments like interim and formative tests is an argument against local control for curriculum and instruction. For sure, good interim and formative assessment practices should be part and parcel of locally controlled curriculum and instruction programs. Including or emphasizing these practices in statewide assessments amounts to state-level infringement on local district control. By way of contrast, end-of-year tests administered under strict test security conditions are … Read More

    The policy argument that statewide tests should emphasize instructional assessments like interim and formative tests is an argument against local control for curriculum and instruction. For sure, good interim and formative assessment practices should be part and parcel of locally controlled curriculum and instruction programs. Including or emphasizing these practices in statewide assessments amounts to state-level infringement on local district control. By way of contrast, end-of-year tests administered under strict test security conditions are tests designed to measure the results of instruction, or in effect accountability assessments. These assessments need to be standardized and comparable across districts. They constitute the primary component for any statewide assessment system. The policy argument in the report is de facto a Trojan Horse against accountability testing, and it should be recognized as such. Accountability tests can and have been misused, as would also be instructional tests misplaced in statewide testing programs. Policymakers need to address these misuses rather than accept a flawed argument designed to undermine accountability tests.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

      I agree. We need full accountability. We need to reward teachers for quality, and students. I often hear some kids aren't good at testing, but they should be identified and trained on test-taking. Most of the time this is an excuse for kids who don't study very hard anyways, but they find the one kid who is super smart and hard working and tests well and use it as an example … Read More

      I agree. We need full accountability. We need to reward teachers for quality, and students. I often hear some kids aren’t good at testing, but they should be identified and trained on test-taking. Most of the time this is an excuse for kids who don’t study very hard anyways, but they find the one kid who is super smart and hard working and tests well and use it as an example just like the right wing uses the one 8-month abortion to argue against the 99+% done within 90-100 days. Testing leads to truth. Grades can be influenced by popularity or the fact that a teacher or school is more or less difficult. Tests show how much is learned, how much is taught, and how much is earned. Tests are a morally neutral measure of human goodness.

    • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

      There is an interesting analogy that can be made here with the ongoing national argument over the "surveillance state." If the "state" (any state) is giving the capacity to spy on its citizens will it abuse that capacity? Some will argue that surveillance allows for the quick apprehension of criminals/terrorists (aka, "accountability") or even the prevention of criminal acts. Others argue that the potential for abuse of citizen privacy rights outweighs the potential benefits and … Read More

      There is an interesting analogy that can be made here with the ongoing national argument over the “surveillance state.” If the “state” (any state) is giving the capacity to spy on its citizens will it abuse that capacity? Some will argue that surveillance allows for the quick apprehension of criminals/terrorists (aka, “accountability”) or even the prevention of criminal acts. Others argue that the potential for abuse of citizen privacy rights outweighs the potential benefits and therefore everything possible should be done to limit the powers of the state to do the surveillance.

      So, we come to the question can the state be given the power to use test based accountability measures without abusing those powers? To cite only one source, the nation’s highest scientific body, the National Research Council, the answer is likely: No. Across the nation testing has been abused, student learning has suffered, and curriculum has been demeaned and dangerously narrowed. Politicians and the public school criticism industrial complex closely aligned with the privatizers have been totally unable to resist the tendency to abuse the flawed and false accountability of testing. There is nothing to be seen on any educational horizon to suggest this might stop and great deal to suggest the abuse would continue to the detriment of schools, children, and learning.

      Much more could be positively accomplished using the kind of “matrix model” of testing that could help drive a constructive use of test data to inform instruction that is called for in the above report.

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