Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Assessment Sanity, Scariness, and Proven Success

The Scariness: The State of Georgia is investigating potential tampering of state tests by teachers, especially in Atlanta schools. Over 250,000 erasures were made to tests last year, and even kids are reporting that teachers change their tests or give them answers. The punitive nature of our current once-per-year high stakes tests is driving teachers to perform unnatural acts. This is no way to run an education system that should be developing our kids into knowledgeable, well-rounded, creative, and productive citizens. High stakes testing with its related threats and punishments must change.

The Sanity: Finally! The USDOE announced that two consortia and a total of 47 states have been awarded over $330 million to develop new assessments for public schools. The assessments will be implemented in 2014 and are focused on measuring 21st century skills and modern ways to learn like using multimedia, project-based learning, and communication and collaboration skills. The tests will be adaptive, meaning that students will be given items based on their previous performance, not just boring, standardized items over and over.  Also, the focus of the project is to create online, formative assessments that measure students' progress throughout the year.

Theoretically, with appropriate formative testing,  schools wouldn't need to do a one-time summative assessment - teachers and administrators should always know where students are performing. Measuring progress and achievement in a variety of ways and across all important content areas is the only sensible way to assess student achievement and the effectiveness of curriculum and teaching approaches.

The Success: Cisco' Networking Academies is a program whose leaders really understand the value of formative and summative assessment. Over 900,000 students in 150 countries attend Net Acad classes at high schools and colleges to become certified network engineers. Students in the program are self-motivated because they know that after graduating from the program, which involves doing real-world work every day while students learn concepts and principles, they will get a job and be contributing to their nation's economic growth and development.

The program just achieved a huge milestone - its online curriculum and test system just registered 100,000,000 exams taken.  The exams include adaptive testing, simulations, and meaningful conceptual and contextual problems. At any time, students - and their teachers - know exactly where they are in their ability to perform intellectual and physical tasks.  Why can't we learn from this type of program?

As I've said before in this blog, I believe, and research shows, that we do know what makes effective education - we just need to put the right people in decision-making spots and measure what matters. I know it's not easy and it won't happen right away, but maybe the tide is turning.

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