How to evaluate students: Look at their work
This was written by Monty Neill, interim executive director at The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest.
By Monty Neill
In June, I outlined a school evaluation system to replace No Child Left Behind’s test-only accountability structure. I then described in more detail how each component would work: first school quality reviews, then annual state tests in a few grades, and now local assessments. Together, these interrelated elements provide comprehensive evidence of school progress, as well as richer information for teaching and school improvement efforts.
The best way to find out what students know and can do is to look at their actual work. In a local assessment system, teachers document student products and processes. Research projects, oral presentations, essays, problem solving using computers, and science experiments allow evaluation of higher order thinking skills and deep content knowledge that standardized tests cannot measure.
What is standardized in this system is not individual student work but the criteria for gathering and evaluating work products. With a clear structure, the work assessed can vary: what books students read, the specific choices of what to emphasize in history or biology or math, the extended projects students undertake, etc. Strong structures already exist, including the Learning Record and the Work Sampling System. Other countries have developed various approaches to this issue.
Classroom-based assessments can be adapted to students’ varying needs while maintaining high standards. Rescoring can ensure teacher accuracy and comparability across schools and districts. In essence, trained readers rescore work from a random sample of students from each classroom. This review provides useful feedback to the originating teacher, score adjustments where needed, professional development for the readers, and trustworthy data across a jurisdiction. It is a “trust, but verify” system.
Some argue that local assessments mean different standards in different places. Accountability, they say, cannot rely on classroom evidence. In fact, research in other nations and this country shows that such data can be gathered and evaluated with a degree of consistency more than sufficient for statewide comparability.
Teachers assess frequently, but they need ongoing education to develop their capabilities. And since no one teacher can develop all the good assessments she might use, the state should create an electronic library of high-quality projects and measures. These would be reviewed by expert educators. Teachers would access them as needed. Using these instruments also will contribute to ensuring the quality of evidence of student learning.
Attention to local assessment improves teaching, forges stronger communities of educators, and produces better student outcomes. Nebraska built a statewide system of local, state-approved assessments. The New York Performance Standards Consortium replaces state tests with a mix of school- and consortium-based performance tasks.
In this proposed system, schools would produce an annual report. It would include evidence of success and ongoing problems, along with improvement plans. Documentation of student learning across the curriculum would become publicly available. Such reports could be discussed by the school’s community and reviewed by higher governmental authorities.
One hundred fifty-three national education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent and civic groups have signed the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind. It directs Congress to “help states develop assessment systems that include district and school-based measures.” Congress should fund states to construct such systems.
Rep. John Yarmuth introduced legislation in 2007 toward this end, and Rep. George Miller included it in his 2007 “discussion draft” for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as No Child Left Behind. Assessment reform advocates should encourage their congressional delegation to support this approach.
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| October 28, 2010; 2:55 PM ET
Categories: Assessment, Guest Bloggers, Learning, No Child Left Behind | Tags: fairtest, learning record, local assessment, monty neill, nclb, nclb reauthorization, no child left behind, problem solving, standardized tests
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