An Opportunity to Improve Assessment Systems

Linda Darling-Hammond writes about the possibilities for better assessment based on the new Common Core Standards:

Because the CCSS are intended to be “fewer, higher, and deeper” than previous standards, they have created a natural opening for the development and adoption of better assessments of student learning. The assessments developed by two new multi-state consortia could move us toward more informative systems that include formative as well as summative elements, evaluate content that reflects instruction, and include some challenging open-ended tasks (TESTING TO, AND BEYOND, THE COMMON CORE; New assessments can support a multiple-measure framework to deepen teaching and learning. By Linda Darling-Hammond; Principal, January/February 2014).

The reform of testing is an ongoing business. Year after year the testing companies have refined their product. But there is a real need for changing the purpose to which these assessments are always tasked with, accountability. This accountability is narrowly defined and heavily sanctioned when schools fall behind. After 10 years of NCLB most schools have been deemed as falling behind or otherwise not making the grade. Why would we think this narrow accountability definition for standardized tests is helping anyone? It isn’t. So Darling-Hammond’s hope for better assessments that are improved by teachers and principals is welcome news:

In the coming years, principals will have a chance to help construct systems of assessment that help improve learning—for teachers, parents, students, and policymakers. Questions that principals might ask themselves in this new era include:

  • How can we engage students in assessments that measure higher order thinking and performance skills—and use these to transform practice?

  • How can these assessments be used to help students become independent learners, and help teachers learn about how their students learn?

  • How can teachers be enabled to collect evidence of student learning that captures the most important goals they are pursuing, and then to analyze and reflect on this evidence—individually and collectively— to continually improve their teaching?

  • What is the range of measures we believe could capture the educational goals we care about in our school? How could we use these to illustrate and extend our progress and successes as a school? (TESTING TO, AND BEYOND, THE COMMON CORE; New assessments can support a multiple-measure framework to deepen teaching and learning. By Linda Darling-Hammond; Principal, January/February 2014).

This has to be one of the most important set of questions about assessment in the blogosphere. Can the educational community really come to terms with the importance of situating assessment in the hands of teachers and principals? Until we do, we will be measuring student learning in narrow ways and misusing the results with no real improvement to the system of education we care so much about. If we tackle these questions our efforts could improve the measurement of student learning. Who will help answer these important questions?

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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