Beyond math and reading tests

The Broader, Bolder folks want to test a broad range of subjects, not just math and reading, through  an expanded National Assessment of Educational Progress, which would evaluate a representative sample of students.

In addition, the report urges letting states design their accountability systems “provided these systems include qualitative evaluation of school quality and do not rely primarily on standardized test scores to judge the success of schools.”

·        The federal government should collect state-level data – mostly from an expanded National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) – on how students of different backgrounds perform in a broad range of academic subjects, as well as in the arts, physical health and fitness, citizenship habits, and other necessary knowledge and skills;
·        State accountability systems should supplement higher quality standardized tests with qualitative evaluation of districts and schools to ensure the presence of a supportive school climate, high-quality classroom instruction and other resources and practices needed for student success.

“Eminently sensible,” writes a Mike Petrilli on Education Gadfly.

That’s a big surprise, for in the past this coalition has appeared eager to refight old battles about whether schools can be expected to help poor kids reach high standards. Now, however, it’s arguing for a broader look at school success — what might be termed “test scores-plus.” They would keep test-based accountability, tweaked in various ways (with progress-over-time measures, better assessments, a more robust NAEP, etc.) and supplement it with school inspectors. These inspectors would guard against lousy practices, such as “an undue emphasis on test preparation,” and catch schools engaged in good ones, like “a collegial professional culture in which teachers and administrators use all available data in a collaborative fashion to continuously improve the work of the school.”

Charter school advocates might support that, he writes, since most believe “it will show their schools to have more supportive learning environments than what is found in a typical public school.”

Robert Pondiscio is skeptical that school inspectors will see schools as they really are.

Spend time in a struggling school in the weeks before a “quality review” and you’ll see an extraordinary amount of teaching and learning time going to cleaning classrooms, updating portfolios, making sure bulletin boards have up-to-date student work, etc.  Having lived through a few such inspections, its tempting to suggest judging a school from a formal walk-around is like judging a household from a Thanksgiving dinner.  Remember the grief your mom used to give you to clean up and mind your manners before company came?  Now imagine mom’s livelihood depends on it.  That’s a school in the weeks before quality review.

Instead of test prep, teachers will focus on inspection prep.

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  1. Tracy W says:

    So if a school fails to teach their students how to read and do basic mathematics, they can excuse this by finding some area where their students are performing well?
    And these school inspectors – what experience will they have at effective teaching so they can identify good methods?

  2. Absolutely – there is a real discrepancy between what we ask schools to do and what we do to test accountability.

    This is precisely the point of Richard Rothstein in Grading Education. There is much we can do to expand accountability and truly evaluate whether schools are doing what we ask.

    By the way, Tracy, I don’t think this is a way to sidestep the current accountability, as it is to criticize that testing system as flawed. For example, Tony Wagner effectively discusses more valid standardized testing. Wagner offers some intriguing information on the new Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) which is “an open-ended, ninety-minute performance assessment in which students have to demonstrate their reasoning, problem-solving, and writing skills while attempting to solve a real-world problem.” From the description of this test and system, it seems like a great development in assessment, and its components should become more standard even in the classroom. It’s worth more discussion.

  3. michael mazenko – I’m skeptical about loading schools down with too many goals. The quote in question did not stop with reasoning, problem-solving and writing skills. To requote:

    on how students of different backgrounds perform in a broad range of academic subjects, as well as in the arts, physical health and fitness, citizenship habits, and other necessary knowledge and skills;

    This sort of shopping list makes me cynical. Arts, physical health and fitness, and other necessary knowledge and skills are very good things, but giving people numerous goals does not strike me as a good way of managing a complex system.

  4. A charter school in Manhattan is conducting an experiment in which it is trying to improve the overall academic environment by paying teachers six-figure salaries. The students at this school are admitted based on a history of low academic achievement and coming from low-income backgrounds. The challenge: does luring the best and the brightest with high salaries make a difference in student achievement?

    Read about it at: