Student assessment during COVID-19: A conversation with Laura Jimenez (Part I)

Student assessment during COVID-19: A conversation with Laura Jimenez (Part I)

By Dale Chu

Laura Jimenez is the Director of Standards and Accountability at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy and research think tank. Last month, Laura authored a report titled Student Assessment During COVID-19, which discussed why schools should assess students next year using annual state tests, the role other assessments might play in supporting high-quality instruction, and what states and systems can do to support measurement and data in the wake of the pandemic. Because of her expertise in state assessment systems, Laura was a guest speaker last summer as part of Assessment HQ’s webinar series. I wanted to spend more time delving into her paper and her outlook on state testing. In part one of this three-part interview, Laura talks about what states should be doing now on testing and which states are leading the way. Here’s what she said.

Dale Chu: What should states be doing right now to be ready for testing next spring?

Laura Jimenez: There are two big buckets of considerations: The first is what to do immediately for this year’s testing and accountability. The second is how to deal with the implications of not having testing data in 2020 and limited data in 2021.

Regarding testing and accountability this year, states should first work with their technical advisory committees and testing vendors to determine goals for testing next year and identify what is possible. Second, develop a plan and execute it. In designing this plan, make it public to allow constituents to weigh in. Third, develop a communications plan to ensure that all schools know how tests will be administered. This communication should also include resources for districts on how to reach out to parents, so they know what to expect. All communications on testing must be provided in a language that parents can understand. Fourth, submit a limited request for accountability, since the Department of Education has signaled it will be flexible in this regard.

However, the annual assessment is not the only important kind of information on students to collect. Given the massive changes students are experiencing and the potentially negative impacts on them, states should be developing protocols for districts to use to collect data on how students are doing socioemotionally as well as what are their conditions for learning. For example, are students experiencing trauma? Are students without access to the Internet and unable to log into their classes? With this data, districts can then marshal resources to support students immediately.

We also know that schooling will look differently – from how education is delivered to how much – and states should collect data on what type of schooling each student has so that we can begin to understand which models were more effective and not. States should also collect data on which curricula schools use as this could be a starting point for determining how to match the assessment most closely to what is being taught in the (virtual) classroom.

The second bucket is the impact of the lack of testing in 2020 and limited testing in 2021 on accountability systems moving forward. Accountability systems typically use multiple years of data in order to smooth out year-to-year fluctuations. For example, many states use three years of state test results for their academic achievement indicators. They also often use multiple years of data to identify low performing schools.

For decisions this year and in the near future, it is very likely that test results will not have the same technical quality as in prior years. As a result, this can allow these state policymakers to be more creative about what portion of the test to administer and how – since these results will not be used to rate school performance.

Dale: Your report outlines four steps states can take to support good assessment practice. Are any states ahead of the game here?

Laura: In reviewing state websites, we found no examples of states taking on all of the recommendations, but there are examples of different states implementing three of the recommendations.

Recommendation 1: Collect and report data on school models in which students are enrolled

Most states are requiring districts/schools to report what model they will be using (remote, hybrid, in-person) generally in the form of a school reopening plan. We have not seen state guidance around collecting and reporting student model enrollment data disaggregated by model. However, Massachusetts provides an Excel sheet of district reopening models broken down by school level that could be used to calculate the data.

Massachusetts: List of Reopening Models by District for Fall 2020

Recommendation 2: Provide guidance on streamlining academic assessment systems

Some states have provided guidance on what test will be administered and are providing the possibility of taking assessments remotely, but the guidance focused mainly on state summative assessments. California provides guidance on diagnostic and formative assessment use related to our recommendations. This guidance provides examples of what diagnostic and formative assessments are available but not how to streamline local assessment systems

California: Guidance on Diagnostic and Formative Assessments

Recommendation 3: Collect data across four dimensions related to learning

We do not find much available that speaks to the data collection across the four dimensions of learning, outside of attendance. Many states provide guidance on social-emotional learning but do not provide guidance on tracking and reporting students’ social-emotional needs at the local level. However, some states are also providing guidance to conduct a needs assessment and provide spaces for families to share their questions and concerns.

New Mexico: Attendance for Success Act

Recommendation 4: Modify policy and guidance to administer the annual state assessment in 2020-21

Most states plan to administer their summative assessment in 2021. Much of the guidance is around what test will be given, how it will be administered (remote option), or the testing dates (extended or pushed back).

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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