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Articles: Assessment

We at DA keep our ears to the ground and our noses to the grindstone always looking for new stuff to keep you, our readers, well informed. Much of what we’re hearing these days points toward the growing use of predictive analysis—looking at student data and seeing where kids are going, rather than looking at where they’ve been, as is used with data-driven decision making. Sophisticated modeling software is beginning to move from the corporate world and higher education admissions to K12, and the potential is huge.

Uve Dahmen

“The purpose is to bring out the formative nature of summative tests… to get teachers to also look forward—not just backward.” —Uve Dahmen Twin Rivers USD As school districts strive to meet Adequate Yearly Progress targets, they struggle with two key issues: how to identify students who may not achieve “Proficiency” on state tests, and then how to improve their learning and outcomes.

Superintendent Nickell at Valleyview Elementary

Describing her 2,000-square-mile district in Polk County, Fla., Superintendent Sherrie Nickell says the district is “larger than some states!” Located in the heart of central Florida, the county is known for pristine lakes and aromatic citrus groves that sit between the vacation hotspots of Tampa and Orlando. But in Polk County Public Schools, it’s all business, all the time.

When I was young, I loved puzzles. My favorite childhood toys were the Rubik’s Cube and the wooden tangram set my grandmother gave me. I’d request logic problems over bedtime stories from my father. He preferred withholding puzzles until morning to prevent me from staying up all night solving them.

Every state in the country now has a longitudinal data system extending beyond test scores, according to the Data Quality Campaign’s seventh annual Data for Action analysis. Thirty-six states—a giant leap from zero in 2005—have implemented the organization’s 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems. While the results are promising, Aimee Guidera, executive director of DQC, warns that building the data system isn’t enough.

As we welcome in 2012, let’s do a quick recap of the new state of the world of education, shall we?

Technology demonstrates its significant value time and time again, from improving productivity in the workplace, to providing a huge range of personalized entertainment opportunities, to making the slogan “Reach out and touch someone” an essentially frictionless reality. Unfortunately, in K12, technology has been a bust. In contrast to the communications industry, the music industry, the accounting industry, K12 has failed to see improvement in student achievement attributable to the use of technology.

In 2009, a year after joining Illinois School District U-46 from his previous post as regional superintendent for Chicago Public Schools’ Area 14, Jose M. Torres made unprecedented cuts to his district’s budget and personnel.


Typical public school revenue streams such as state money and property taxes were decimated by the recession nationwide, and districts across Chicago faced deficits worse than U-46’s anticipated $60 million hole in the coming years. It wasn’t a surprise that cuts in U-46 were necessary, but Torres’ tactics were.

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.

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