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Before and during the tenure of Florida's former education commissioner, Eric J. Smith, the state made bold moves toward incorporating charter schools, began corporate "scholarship" programs that provide funding for students to attend private schools, implemented class-size caps that voters approved via referendum, and earned $700 million in federal money through round two of Race to the Top.

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."

Most educators are at least superficially familiar with the term "Response-to-Intervention," or "RTI." Since the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), which prohibits states from requiring school districts to use IQ-achievement discrepancy criteria in the identification of students with specific learning disabilities and encourages the use of Response-to-Intervention, a scientific, research-based approach (Mandlawitz, 2007), "doing RTI" has become a veritable catchphrase in schools and classrooms throughout the country.

Tracking More Data With Student Information Systems

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.

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.

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.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a plea for special education students at a March 15 conference of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). He asked that they not only be included in the general education environment, but that their schools be held accountable for their performance. He said, "We can no longer celebrate the success of students if another group of students is still struggling.

The Obama administration has grand hopes for turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools, in part by allocating $3.5 billion for School Improvement Grants. Unfortunately, there simply aren't enough qualified principals to replace those mandated to be fired under two of the four school improvement models that the federal government says districts must follow to tap into that funding.

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.

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