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Articles: Testing

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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 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.

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