Could this be the end of the test-and-punish era? FairTest has come up with a ‘system of systems‘ designed to incorporate inquiry and project based learning as well as more traditional assessments. It may not be able to turn a sows’ ear into a silk purse, but this is the direction states need to go.
Throughout the year teacher gather evidence of student learning and provide a summative assessment of students’ skills and proficiency levels. Essentially this is a form of portfolio assessment in which teachers design the tasks and students have some choice in the tasks assigned.
To make data comparable across districts, samples of student work based on state standards is rescored by an independent group. There is a critical distinction between the FairTest assessment portfolios and portfolios designed specifically at the state level. FairTest portfolios are based on student work cumulated throughout the year, not on a one time task specifically designed for state assessment.
FairTest offers some concrete examples of working through the validity concerns in a practical way. State assessments can be given once in elementary, middle and high school and supplemented by portfolio assessments in other years. Anchor projects can be offered across the state to provide comparability for specific skills. Examples from specific states are offered such as the one in New Hampshire.
Many of you know that during my career my office at the University of Florida worked closely with the Department of Education in the design, administration, scoring and reporting of state assessments. I understand the complexities, limitations and the need for assessment systems. Portfolios are labor intensive to score. Ensuring that the validity of the scoring process is a challenge. Short answer and multiple choice tests have the advantage of a seeming fairness because everyone takes the same test and the answers are the same for all. The downside, however, is the limitation in the depth of content and skills covered. A truly valid assessment has to measure more than a limited sample of questions offered on a given day. Both methods are needed.
The new ESSA federal legislation allows for innovative approaches to testing and evaluation. The federal requirements for comparability and accountability remain but may be met in new ways. Is it a dream to believe that Florida would become one of these federal pilot projects to make assessment a constructive, integrated part of classroom instruction? It would change the culture in the classroom. It could change the profession if the way in which the scores from the assessments were used to encourage districts to also be innovative rather than to simply label teachers and schools who have difficulty surmounting problems beyond their control.