The Fact Sheet on federal plans to reform the over emphasis on testing was released yesterday. The approach to school and teacher accountability has shifted from a strong emphasis on annual state assessments to one that uses multiple measures in ‘innovative’ ways. The principles for testing are those one would expect: tests should be worth taking, high quality, time limited, fair, transparent, one of multiple measures, and tied to improvement of learning.
Reading closely, it is apparent that annual testing remains for reading, writing, science and math. The use of test scores to evaluate the achievement of students in diverse groups and to determine which schools need additional support remains. There are, however, cracks in the system.
Evaluations of students, teachers and schools are to include multiple measures such as assignments, projects and portfolios. Additional factors included in evaluations would be absenteeism, student surveys, discipline and school climate. How to operationalize such measures to meet federal and state accountability requirements will be the subject of additional research. The federal government will provide technical assistance on methods to reduce testing.
Flexibility in approaches to meeting federal mandates for teacher evaluations in non-tested grades while maintaining student growth in learning measures in teacher evaluations do not address the equity issues for teachers. How do you evaluate reading, math, and writing using standardized test scores and not use them for others?
Florida school districts already include multiple measures. The legislature has already passed directives to reduce testing time. The weight allotted for student learning growth based on test scores has been reduced. Calls to reduce the “drill and kill’ test preparation strategies would be more effective if fewer baseline/benchmark tests were administered. The test culture remains. Accountability measures that focus on improving instruction when schools can not, on their own, overcome the learning challenges students face is the imperative.
States are experimenting with different approaches to school evaluation. Most of these efforts are aimed at reducing the number of tests and improving the quality of others. Minnesota is developing measures other than tests to evaluate student learning growth. Washington D.C. schools have at least temporarily dropped the use of value added learning growth scores for teacher evaluation. Where this leads remains to be seen.
As long as annual testing remains as a major accountability measure, the real damage to our schools will continue. A test and punish approach to improving teaching and learning is not working. The inequity in our schools, however, is real. A test or a hundred tests will not solve it. The administration is probably correct; in many locales, students from poor families are concentrated in schools often ignored by everyone else. There has to be a system of accountability that makes entire districts and states conscious of the need to address these inequities.