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Articles: Assessment

Gail Connelly, NAESP executive directorPrincipals represent a major force in school systems—95,000 principals are responsible for overseeing 3 million teachers and 55 million pre-K8 students.

Over the past two years in the Medway (Mass.) Public Schools, teacher evaluation entered a new era, spurred by state and Race to the Top requirements. For the past 15 years, the district used a traditional system of teacher evaluation, including classroom observations, followed by a summative review, notes Medway Superintendent Judy Evans. Administrator walkthroughs, which took less time than formal observations and provided a snapshot of teacher performance, took place only intermittently and did not include all classrooms.

Evaluating teachers—whether casually or more rigorously, annually or less frequently—has long been part of the job description of many a principal and assistant principal, who often have relied on occasional observations to make their judgments. What’s usually resulted are an overwhelming number of “satisfactory” ratings and the infrequent “unsatisfactory” designations.

When it comes to transitioning to the Common Core, this is not the time for hesitation. There is too much at stake and too much to accomplish in the very short time before the 2014-2015 assessments are administered by SMARTER Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Of course, no one wants to hurry into a mistake that would be costly. So what do you do if you haven’t yet put all of the pieces together to transition to the Common Core State Standards?

Project-based learning looks different, and may seem messier, than traditional instruction. Administrators visiting PBL classrooms shouldn’t expect to see orderly rows of students moving through the curriculum together. Instead, they’re likely to find small teams of students working on investigations of open-ended questions. Students should be able to explain what they’re doing and how activities relate to the project goals.

Ask high school juniors at Da Vinci Charter Academy in the Davis (Calif.) Joint Unified School District, to explain the causes and consequences of war in American history, and you won’t get a rote recitation of dates and places.

Instead, these students are able to demonstrate their learning by screening the preview for a feature film they produced on the conflict in Afghanistan through the eyes of a young American soldier. They can offer highlights of their interviews with Vietnam veterans, which they contributed to the Library of Congress as primary source material.

What is at stake for K12 education in next month’s presidential election? Both President Obama and Gov. Romney say improving education will be a top priority in their administrations, but their policies and initiatives would likely be quite different.

Expanded Learning ModelsAs the debate over whether increasing the school day or year will improve student achievement trudges on, a new report reveals there is just not enough evidence to support this theory.

ACT announced recently it will expand its assessment reach to students across K12. ACT’s “next generation” of assessments, as it is called, will assess students in grades 3 to 12 beginning in 2014 and then expand to include all students, beginning in kindergarten. The plan was met with mixed reviews from those resistant to more testing. However, with the latest 2012 ACT score results, released Aug. 22, revealing that 60 percent of graduates are not prepared for college and careers, the additional assessments seem to have merit.

New Hope Students Having Fun in GymWhen New Hope Academy Charter School in the School District of the City of York (Pa.) welcomed 800 fifth through 10th graders for the 2012-2013 year, it celebrated an 11 percent enrollment spike and a 95 percent retention rate.

A De Soto (Ill.) Grade School teacher helps a student with an assignment last fall. Illinois’ standardized test results show that the achievement gap among elementary school students is narrowing.

A friend of mine is in the midst of a yearlong quest to lose 20 pounds before her high school reunion. She starts each day by stepping onto a bathroom scale to measure her progress. The results are not coming as quickly as she would like. Of course, my friend could just stop her daily weigh-ins or convince herself that the scale is of no use in her effort because it isn’t as accurate as it could be. But she knows better. So she continues the slow, tough, unglamorous work of changing her eating and exercise habits to reach her goal.

Resistance to High Stakes Testing Spreads

A rising tide of protest is sweeping across the nation as growing numbers of parents, teachers, administrators and academics take action against high-stakes testing. Instead of test-and-punish policies, which have failed to improve academic performance or equity, the movement is pressing for broader forms of assessment. From Texas to New York and Florida to Washington, reform activists are pressing to reduce the number of standardized exams.

Every time I get a chance to talk to parents, I ask them this question. “What do you most want your children to get out of their school experience?” The answers, by and large, are not surprising.

On July 30, The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a nonprofit dedicated to closing the achievement gap, released a study that, according to David Keeling, vice president of communications, tells a story of systemic neglect for our nation’s best teachers.

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