Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Challenges of Assessments

Please note: In my September 7, 2011 entry I mistakenly used the term perspective when I meant prospective in speaking about students who plan to attend college. Thank you to the reader that brought it to my attention. I am pleased to have such attentive and intelligent readers. Also, some URLs included in the texts will work as links, however, when they don't, please copy them into your browser to access the sites.

New Generation Assessments
Today I attended a webinar provided by Education Week (edweek.org). The topic was an update on the work of the two consortia assigned to provide member-states with the next generation of assessments, those based on our shared Common Core State Standards. The two consortia are SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SMARTER Balanced) and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). Massachusetts belongs to PARCC. Though assessments are being developed by both consortia, it is interesting to note that they collaborate on the calibration of the tests so that either will be able to represent an equitable and substantive evaluation of the knowledge and skills called for in the common standards.

For the past two years I have worked with districts specifically focused on developing an appropriate assessment framework as part of an overall local literacy plan. An assessment framework provides the information the district needs to be able to ensure that it is providing all of its students with achievement at every grade level and in every discipline. It includes grade-level, school-wide, and district-wide assessments, in addition to the formal and informal assessments that teachers use day in and day out to adjust instruction and differentiate attention to students. Until now, an assessment framework usually has included a balance of norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests. The norm-referenced tests provided general information about student progress in areas such as listening comprehension, reading comprehension, decoding skills, vocabulary development, and fluency as compared to the population of students at grade/age level across the country. The criterion-referenced tests assess what has been learned with the expectations based on the standards for the grade level. The combination of these two types of assessments provides a range of information about student progress. By design, all of the assessments should serve instructional planning and learning without over-assessing students.

Assessments are about to significantly change. The new standards require a very different approach to grade level learning and require a level of integration that has not been stipulated in the past. With these new standards, we are challenged with developing, adopting, and/or adapting assessments so that they are aligned with the standards while still answering the questions we need answered about our work with students. In addition, results of assessments provide families, school committees, and the public with information about our successes with students. MCAS has put an increased emphasis on criterion-referenced information. PARCC does the same.

PARCC is charged with providing assessments at every grade level from 3 through 8 and for high school that will evaluate student performance in relation to the standards and certify whether or not the students are either on track or ready for college and career. In addition, they were asked by the U S Department of Education to construct the assessments in such a way as to allow states to be able to use the results to track student growth as we currently do with MCAS. Additionally, PARCC is developing a diagnostic and a formative assessment at each grade level. The diagnostic (still criterion-referenced) may be used at the start of a school year to see where students are with relation to standards. It and the formative assessment may be used any time during the year, prior to the end of the year, to judge whether or not students are progressing on track prior to taking the summative assessment.

The summative assessment will have two parts - a performance-based activity that may be accomplished over a short time period and a computer-based evaluation. The computer-based evaluation will provide the student with items based on student responses so each test will be individualized as students move through the items. In addition, PARCC is developing a way to test the Speaking and Listening (S/L) Standards.

Using the Model Content Frameworks from PARCC
PARCC expects educators from the member states to begin using the document this spring. They will solicit feedback during the summer and make refinements if necessary. In the meantime, the Model Content Frameworks are expected to help inform district and school choices in curriculum, instruction, and assessment; to increase educator understanding of and engagement with the common standards; assist all of us in evaluating resources and materials; provide awareness of the need for a balance of texts and integration of instructional activities; and provide the impetus for grade-level and vertical conversations addressing the use of the standards. Eventually they hope to produce model instructional units, a more refined text complexity tool, a working group of educator leaders to work on developing items; and item and task prototypes.

In the meantime, I encourage all of you to access the materials at http://parcconline.org/parcc-content-frameworks . District and school leaders will find a wealth of information in the content frameworks documents (There is a math document, as well.). You may also wish to watch and listen to the archived webinars. Under the Implementation heading, there is a Common Core Implementation Workbook that may be downloaded and used as a guide for ensuring that the district is on track for adopting the standards. It is based on the delivery philosophy and is designed to help you manage the transition to the new standards and assessments. In addition, there are older archived webinars there that may be useful as you continue the transition work with all members of the district and school communities.

Continue to check our website regularly at http://www.doe.mass.edu/ . Begin to work now with the three types of writing called for in the new standards. Writing in the MCAS scheduled for 2012-2013 school year will ask students to use all the types of writing in the written items (short responses, open responses, and long compositions). Any work you do with students in writing opinion/argument and explanation that involves responding to more than one text will prepare them for future assessments, the future in general, and this year's MCAS assessment, as well.