Lots and lots and lots of assessment activity

Lots and lots and lots of assessment activity

By Dale Chu

At first glance, a new report from KnowledgeWorks on emerging trends in K-12 assessment innovation is impressive. Indeed, it paints one of the rosiest pictures I’ve seen on the current state of play on this important yet precariously fraught topic. To wit, the report’s authors characterize what’s been happening in states (more on that below) as a “movement” fueled by “a new urgency” to “cast a new vision” for improving assessments. When it comes to state testing during the last few years, more flowery words have seldom been written.

Spurred on by the pandemic, states have been working individually and in concert as part of a “significant increase in recent state-level energy and action” to develop new and theoretically better forms of assessment. According to the report’s authors, there are five multi-state initiatives worth watching as well as twenty states discretely pursuing a variety of new assessment designs—including those implementing pilots as part of IADA and some that are planning to apply.

Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with many of the initiatives highlighted in the report and initially embarrassed to think that I had missed all of this incredibly praiseworthy assessment activity happening right under my nose. The shame! But then the sage words of John Wooden came to mind:

“Don’t mistake activity for achievement. To produce results, tasks must be well organized and properly executed; otherwise, it’s no different from children running around the playground—everybody is doing something, but nothing is being done; lots of activity, no achievement.”

The image of children on the playground is an apt metaphor for the states listed in the report—a few of which are currently led by officials that have been openly hostile—even AWOL—on assessments. It doesn’t matter how many communities of practice are formed or how sophisticated the newly developed rubrics may be, it requires suspension of disbelief to take some of these efforts seriously.

Now to be fair, the role of KnowledgeWorks in the report is as a cheerleader. The last eighteen months have been challenging on schools and communities, so states are understandably looking for reasons to pat themselves on the back. At the same time, we must remain clear-eyed, honest, and sober about the headwinds and reality. While the “activity” described in the report is all well and good, there’s reason to worry that for the most part, states are still avoiding the really hard conversations on testing, and will continue to do so absent strong leadership.

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