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Articles: Assessment

Technology may have, at last, caught up with the intentions of balanced assessments—or at least it has in the Douglas County (Colo.) School District, according to Syna Morgan, the district’s executive director of performance and accountability. Already a high-performing district with 62,000 students across 86 schools, Douglas County wanted to take its assessment data to the next level by making students not only college-bound, but global leaders.

Even before the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ended its 19-month compliance review of potential civil rights violations in the Los Angeles Unified School District, district leaders knew they had to change their program for ELLs and other students.

Nancy Diana Jones has not seen irregularities in administering the state’s standardized tests in the Encinitas (Calif.) Union School District, which consists of seven elementary schools in San Diego County. Jones, as administrator of support services, has been in charge of standardized testing for seven years. She credits her office’s vigilance and a strong message from Superintendent Timothy Baird that “puts high-stakes testing into perspective and emphasizes that these tests are only one measure of student achievement.”

Last July, the Atlanta Public Schools became the poster district for teachers and principals behaving badly. State investigators found that, in 44 schools across the city, 178 teachers and administrators had systematically cheated on the state standardized tests taken by their students in 2009.

After more than a decade of writing about educational accountability, I have come to a conclusion that we can't wait for Washington, or for that matter, any state capital, to get accountability right. The most innovative models for educational accountability will happen in districts that are willing to say to the president and secretary of education, "We do not fear accountability. In fact, we will be more accountable than any federal or state program has ever required. We will report not only our test scores, but we will also report on the other 90 percent of the work we have been doing.

With Over 60 percent of school districts considering staff reductions to balance budgets (Kober & Renter, 2011), class size is likely on many educators' minds. With money tight, schools are seeking to focus available funds on those policies and programs most likely to have a positive impact on student learning. Although the effects of class size have been debated for decades, Tennessee's STAR project in the late 1980s seemed to settle the argument.

Problem

The Rio Grande City Consolidated (Texas) Independent School District is located in Starr County, a poverty-stricken area that has a history of high death rates from diabetes. Located on the Mexican border, RGCCISD serves a 99 percent Hispanic population on 14 campuses. Of the nearly 10,800 students, 88 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. On top of that, Texas is ranked worst in the nation for health care coverage, with 26 percent of residents lacking insurance.

Enrolling in college was not part of the path for graduates of the San Antonio (Texas) Independent School District, where 93 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Shortly after Superintendent Robert Duron, known for raising achievement in the Socorro ISD in El Paso, arrived in 2006, he began to raise the bar in this 55,000-student, predominantly Hispanic, urban district.

Celina (Texas) Independent School District, roughly 100 miles north of Dallas, has 2,000 students across its four school campuses—and they're all Bobcats, says Lizzy Kloiber, secondary curriculum director, referring to the district's unifying mascot. The community is tight knit, she adds, with most teachers having grown up in the district, and families regularly mingle at church or at high school football games each weekend.

As states now begin their transition to the Common Core State Standards, seven organizations have united to provide advice on issues related to the implementations of the mathematics curriculum and assessments.

In a major address on educational policy last March, President Barack Obama underscored his priorities for the pending reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. "We will end what has become a race to the bottom in our schools, and instead spur a race to the top by encouraging better standards and assessments," he promised. "This is an area where we're being outpaced by other nations. They are preparing their students not only for high school or college, but for a career. We are not."

The Common Core State Standards are bringing some changes to curricula across the country—but not just in the classroom. School librarians are preparing for the shift and its new emphasis on 21st-century skills including information literacy, primary resources, independent thinking and complex texts. The New York City Department of Education—the nation's largest school system—is relying on its library staff to implement these standards in the coming years.

President Bush

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan perhaps reached his breaking point in early June when he gave Congress an ultimatum to fix No Child Left Behind or he would begin issuing waivers to districts facing sanctions under the bill. Education advocacy groups, including the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA), have been campaigning for this form of regulatory relief since it became clear that reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—NCLB's formal title—would not occur by the upcoming school year.

In the debate over the use of value-added analysis of student data to evaluate teachers, there seems to have been an assumption that teacher evaluation alone is an effective way to improve teacher performance. Or at its crudest level, there is an acceptance that the use of value-added data analysis will lead school administrators to replace bad or mediocre teachers with effective teachers. One of the reasons that so many teachers are skeptical about this movement is that they realize teacher evaluation does not really make them better teachers, at least using traditional methods.

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