- Giving interim student assessments for accountability purposes — instead of waiting until spring when it’s too late for teachers to adjust their instruction — could "discourage weeks of pretest preparation" and provide schools with more useful feedback. But there might also be resistance to shifting curriculum and pacing during the school year, and teachers would need support in using the results.
- That’s one of the topics covered in a new "State of Assessment" report from Bellwether Education Partners, a think tank, that discusses current options and innovations in testing at a time when there is growing backlash against over-testing.
- Another trend is the increase in states getting involved in formative, low-stakes assessment by vetting and recommending resources to districts based on state standards. But state education agencies might need to improve their expertise in this area and will have to make sure districts understand the results won’t be used for accountability purposes, the authors write.
The report comes as the federal government is considering applications for a $17.6 million competitive grant program that would support efforts in four to eight states related to these areas. One priority listed for applications was “developing or improving models to measure and assess student progress or student growth” on state assessments. Other priorities for the grants include assessments related to STEM and project-based learning.
These models would be in addition to the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority pilot program under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which so far includes only New Hampshire and Louisiana. But the report’s authors stress that the “slow takeoff” of the pilot program doesn’t mean other states can’t be innovative and take advantage of ESSA’s increased flexibility.
The report also provides examples of states collaborating through shared item banks and new models involving science and social studies tests, which “are both especially well-suited to performance-based, hands-on activities and tasks, which can be engaging for students and provide deeper information on learning to teachers.”
Testing has also become “politically toxic,” the authors acknowledge. In fact, at this year’s meeting of the American Educational Research Association conference in Toronto, Amy Stuart Wells, president of the association and a sociology and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, suggested that standardized testing policies are the “Jim Crow of education” and are being used to perpetuate a separate and unequal education system for students of color.
The authors of the Bellwether report argue, however, that cutting back on tests “could leave students worse off, with less accurate information and transparency around equity gaps and long-term college- and career-readiness goals.” They call for more attention to “a positive role for assessment” and say that states’ support for standards-aligned instruction, combined with professional development related to high-quality curriculum materials, are encouraging examples. A recent RAND Corp. report delves into such statewide efforts in Louisiana.