Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Assessment 2.0 and the Every Child Achieves Act

By Heather Jung 

Since last July, I have been participating in a program to gather teacher leaders from around my home state of Virginia together to discuss issues on our current educational system.  The program is called: the Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching (VCET) and is run through the education program at George Mason University.   As part of this program, I participated in a conference call with Dr. Steve Staples, the superintendant of public education in Virginia.  I found Dr. Staples’ comments very intriguing, especially those regarding realigning and reshaping the assessments and accountability. In Virginia, we have not accepted CCSS.  Instead, we assess based on Standards of Learning (SOLs) set forth by the Virginia Department of Education.   Yet many of the current SOLs are not consistent with the 21st Century Skills that we are trying to instill in our learners and need to be revisited.  Dr. Staples has appointed a committee to revisit the SOLs, but he did not give any specifics about who was on the committee. 

ASSESSMENT word cloud, business concept

Students in Virginia take standardized SOL tests on the computer each year. These tests are used to determine if schools have met annual yearly progress (AYP) and annual measurable objectives (AMO) according NCLB.  Many of our ELL students are eligible to take an alternative portfolio assessment called the Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA).  The VGLA portfolio includes gathering evidence demonstrating student performance of the standards.  The students are required to perform 50 to 100 rote tasks and worksheets for documentation.  The rote tasks required for the VGLA take time away from authentic learning tasks that would benefit the students more.  I have heard that portfolio assessments were the great alternative to standardized tests, but when I look at the VGLA portfolio, it does not really meet the instructional needs of my students.

At my school, many students come in 3 years or more below benchmark.  Many of those students make significant progress during the school year, often as much as 1.5 to 2 years of growth.   The administration at my school does a good job of recognizing this achievement in house but, because these students are still not “meeting benchmark,” their progress goes largely ignored at the county and state level.

It seems as though we need to find an Assessment 2.0.  A method, which can track and celebrate the accomplishments of students, and teachers, who are making great growth even if that growth cannot always be measured in a standardized way.

As we look forward to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), now is the time consider how to change our assessment systems. ECAA will require students be assessed every year in grades 3 and up for math and language arts and science (though not as often).  States will have autonomy to choose their assessments as long as they "...involve multiple up-to-date measures of student academic achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding, which may include measures of student academic growth and may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extend performance tasks;" (pg 36).  

This language provides little reassurance that things will change under the new policy, but the bill has not been passed yet! Now is the time to let our voices be heard and demand that changes be made to the old standardized testing systems!