19 Aug Back to school season is a busy one for state testing
Author: Dale Chu
With many students returning to school this month, high-quality annual assessments and the significant role they play are as pressing as ever. Annual tests help us all (1) take stock of how well states are doing; (2) gauge state progress toward workforce readiness; and (3) ground education policies and practices in real results. And under the auspices of the latest iteration of the federal education statute, four states have signed on for a unique demonstration pilot to explore new and alternative models for assessing student performance.
There is so much happening now in states on the assessment front that it’s easy to overlook the forest for the trees. Some are in the throes of retooling their current tests; others are in the midst of acquiring new ones. In all cases, the appetite for standardized testing is on the wane—with state and district leaders anxious to pursue what’s next. I share some of this eagerness and enthusiasm for discovering innovative alternatives, but believe some caution is warranted too. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that abandoning the current testing regime prematurely would be a recipe for disaster for children from more troubled circumstances.
This raises the considerable obstacles confronting annual state testing, which are hard to overstate. First, there is the esoteric nature of assessment policy. As a result, parents and families—the most important consumers of assessment data—are routinely overwhelmed when they receive their children’s test results, which are often written at a college reading level. Second, assessments come with their own set of arcane buzzwords and an alphabet soup of acronyms. Trying to decipher all of this is tough because it makes assessment experts sound authoritative, and they know it. Third, assessment literacy is in short supply among educators, let alone parents. And to further complicate matters, annual assessments are seen by many as a political loser. One doesn’t need to search very far to find an article or an op-ed lambasting the utility of annual testing. Principled leaders willing to go to bat for high-quality annual assessments are harder and harder to come by.
Now that the federal government is taking a hands-off approach, the state of assessments is currently a disjointed one, without a clear and coherent narrative. This is where Assessment HQ comes in. We see ourselves filling a valuable role in weaving together a narrative that highlights the pioneering work some states will lead as they embrace this opportunity to improve and to innovate. When breakthroughs are made, we will shout it out from the mountaintop. By the same token, Assessment HQ will also defend assessments as a cornerstone of equity, by ensuring that they remain accurate and consistent measures of student learning.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in a slightly different form on LinkedIn.