Trick or trade-offs: The tensions in assessment innovation

Trick or trade-offs: The tensions in assessment innovation

By Dale Chu

With Halloween right around the corner, I’ve been catching up on some light reading and came across this gem by the Center for Assessment’s Scott Marion and Carla Evans titled, “Following their Lead: Conversations with Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority State Leaders.” Their piece summarizes lessons learned from state officials in three of the five states implementing assessment pilots as part of IADA, exploring key challenges and advice for other states interested in pursuing their own pilot programs. It’s an easy read, and helpfully broken up into sections featuring short video clips from their interviews.

The upshot from Marion and Evans is that the challenges to assessment innovation are daunting. From psychometric questions to those related to comparability, the responses from states underscore the multifaceted tensions involved in light of the pilot’s constraints. The emerging solution seems to be through-year testing, which is all the rage these days, but there’s a larger question of whether innovation is ultimately a test-design issue. Indeed, if Moses came down from Mount Sinai with an assessment that easily met all of IADA’s requirements, it’s unclear whether the never-ending debates around testing would be much improved. And even if it were, whether the exhausting energy and effort spent to get there is worth the return on investment.

A big takeaway for me was a point made by Georgia DOE’s Allison Timberlake, one of the smartest and most thoughtful assessment directors leading on this important effort: “It is good to think about teaching and learning when designing an assessment system.” Too often, it’s easy to fall into the category trap of assessment as a discrete process, when, properly understood, there is no good teaching and learning without it. States would do well to heed this oft-overlooked consideration. (Earlier this year, incidentally, I had the pleasure of participating in a conversation with Allison on the future of assessments under the auspices of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Georgia CAN, and the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. You can watch the entire recording of that event here).

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