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Articles: Assessment

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.

El Paso Independent School District (EPISD ) is the tenth-largest district in Texas and one of two in the city of El Paso, along with Ysleta ISD . At the start of the 21st century, the urban district was struggling. Scores on the 2003-2004 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) were disappointing, with 72 percent of students meeting the state standards for reading, 56 percent for math, and 53 percent for science, while just 50 percent of students passed all TAKS tests, some of the lowest scores of any urban district in the state.

In the 2008-2009 school year, Adams County (Colo.) School District 50, just north of Denver, did something only previously attempted by the small rural Chugach school system in Alaska. The struggling district with roughly 10,000 students abandoned the conventional concept of grade levels and implemented a standards-based system, which only advances students to the next level when they have mastered certain skills. Three years later, student achievement is lower than ever before, and the superintendent that guided the district through this reform is stepping down.

Buzz surrounding the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) program, released late last year, has yet to cease. The report proved that achievement gains of American students were stagnant when compared to students of various foreign countries.

In March, U.S. Secretary of education arne Duncan estimated that 82 percent of schools could fail to make adequate yearly Progress in the 2011- 2012 school year. The startling statistic left many wondering whether the problem was with the schools or with the guiding policy of no child Left Behind.

Raymond Pecheone believes that to fairly evaluate teachers, one must watch them teach and assess the artifacts—such as assignments, lesson plans, and reflections—they use daily. This form of assessment may seem like common sense, says Pecheone, executive director for the Stanford University Center for Assessment Learning and Equities Scale, although it has really been a long time coming. Specifically, this assessment, which began with performance assessments for the licensing of teachers in California, has been 20 years in the making.

"Readiness" is in. But are educators prepared for the implications?

The push for common core standards—coupled with the distressing numbers of college students who need remedial courses and the dissatisfaction among business leaders with the preparation of high school graduates—has ignited the institutional and political movement to tackle the "readiness problem."

Administrators and teachers in several large districts nationwide have cheated on standardized tests to make achievement levels look better than they actually were. The offenses range from giving students advance answers to questions on standardized tests, to erasing and changing unsatisfactory answers.

When Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top program in 2009, he added two success factors to the plate of school districts, which are traditionally measured by students’ high school success in math, reading and science: college enrollment rates and credit accumulation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which launched Race to the Top, asks states to set up a longitudinal data system to report back on students’ progress after they receive their diplomas.

As districts collect increasing amounts of information on their students, from assessment scores to attendance records, many are finding new and better ways to use the information to catapult student achievement. They are implementing solutions such as data warehouses and data dashboards, electronic tools for storing, viewing and analyzing data, which provide immediate updates on everything relevant to their students, and adjusting instruction accordingly.

I've been personally and professionally blessed to have had the opportunity to serve some very diverse and large urban school communities in several states as superintendent of schools. These varied locales have given me the unique opportunity to look at the world of system reform through a broader range of lenses. These multiple perspectives have provided me with insights into the role state policies and infrastructure play in the pace at which systemic reforms can be implemented and accelerated.