Part 1 of 2 Suggesting an Improved Approach to Accountability and Testing
I recently had an informative discussion withÂ Stuart Kahl, founding principal of Measured Progess. Stuart has been at the forefront of large-scale education assessment for decades. Those who read EmergingEdTech regularly know that weâ€™ve been exploring the importance ofÂ assessmentÂ as an opportunity to evolve educational practice and improve teaching and learning, so I welcomed the opportunity to talk with Stuart and gain new insights.
It was encouraging to hear Kahl, who has been immersed in the controversial and frustrating world of standardized assessments for a long time, share his passionate belief that we need to move towards more formative and curriculum-embedded assessment models to better serve both students and teachers.
Together Â with Â Bryan Goodwin ofÂ McREL International and Peter Hofman, Stuart published the white paper,Â Re-Balancing Assessment, in January 2015. Following our talk, I began to explore this insightful document, subtitled â€œPlacing Formative and Performance Assessment at the Heart of Learning and Accountabilityâ€.Â
High-Stakes Testing: Unimpressive Results, at Best
The mixed results of high-stakes testing and accountability initiatives such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) programs indicate that these endeavors are not effective enough to remain in place as is. We need a better approach. While there have been pockets of improvement, these plateaud quickly, and there have been unintended consequences that indicate the need for change.
Numerous studies are cited in support of these challenges and limitations:
â€œAn analysis of trend data in 25 states since the implementation of NCLB â€¦ showed that â€˜students were progressing in math at a much faster rate before the national high-stakes testing movementâ€™ â€¦ â€˜data suggest that pressure has diminishing returns for math achievement over timeâ€™.â€ (Nichols, Glass, & Berliner, 2012, p. 26).
â€œLong-term trends from the NAEP reveal a similar pattern â€¦ we appear to have hit a performance ceiling. As a result, we have been unable to help great numbers of students, especially older ones, master high-level reading and math skills.â€Â (Institution of Education Sciences, 2013).
Similar results were observed with comparable programs in the U.K. â€œThe problem is that top-down strategies have a very limited half-life. Once the school or system has begun to improve and to take ownership of its own development, the continuing pressure for external accountability becomes oppressive, alienating, and counter-productive.â€ (Hopkins, 2013, p. 9).
While limits on the impact of high-stakes testing and accountability are unfortunate, their unintended consequences are even more of a concern.
- Increasing stress levels for professionals: A recent study by MetLife Foundation indicated that 51% of teachers and 48% of principals were under great stress several days a week or more. This was a significant increase in comparison to the results from similar studies conducted in prior decades (MetLife, 2012). â€œSuch stress, it turns out, impedes performance.â€
- Little positive impact on classroom teaching: A study of 994 students in grades 1, 3, and 5, across the U.S., determined that despite efforts to ensure greater teaching consistency through these efforts, just7 percentÂ received high-quality instruction and emotional support over all three years.â€ (Pianta, Belsky, Houts, & Morrison, 2007).
- Disengaged students: â€œResearchers have observed that test-harried teachers often have little time to pause and respond to teachable moments or episodes of spontaneous student curiosity, thus reducing student engagement and interest â€¦â€ (Engel, 2011).
Pivoting to a New Formula
So what is the answer? How can we implement some sort of standardized accountability, but do so in a way that really integrates with teaching and learning in a supportive, positive manner? Shouldnâ€™t assessments actually help teachers teach and help students learn? Is our current high pressure system of summative assessmentÂ all bad? Not necessarily, as the paper notes, â€œthese policies have helped focus our entire system of education using data, raising expectations for learning, and, in the case of No Child Left Behind, the moral imperative of helpingÂ allÂ children succeed.â€ Nevertheless, we seem to have reached a point of diminishing returns.
A wide range of entities are working towards betterÂ alternatives to the single test-based accountability paradigm, with a focus on performance based assessment. â€œThe time is right for a new formula centered on the game-changing assessment systemâ€ proposed in this paper.
In Part 2 of this series, we explore the approach advocated in this white paper, which reflects the research, evidence, and experience and â€œthe solid foundation laid by others, including the National Research Councilâ€™s (NRC)(2012) calls for greater emphasis in schooling on deeper learning.â€
Engel, S. (2011). Childrenâ€™s need to know: Curiosity in schools.Â Harvard Educational Review, 81(4), 625â€“ 645.
Hopkins, D. (2013).Â Exploding the myths of school reform.Â East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Centre for Strategic Reform.
Institute of Education Sciences. (June 2013).Â Â The Nationâ€™s Report Card: Trends in Academic ProgressÂ Washington, DC:Â Author.
MetLife, Inc. (2012).Â The MetLife survey of the American teacher: Challenges for school leadership.Â Retrieved from https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/ foundation/MetLife-Teacher-Survey-2012.pdf
National Research Council Board. (2012).Â Education for life and work â€“ developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21stÂ century.Â Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Nichols, S. L., Glass, G. V., & Berliner, D. C. (2012). Highstakes testing and student achievement: Updated analyses with NAEP data.Â Education Policy Analysis Archives, 20(20).
Pianta, R. C., Belsky, J., Houts, R., & Morrison, F. (2007). Opportunities to Learn in Americaâ€™s Elementary Classrooms.Â Science, 315(5820), 1795â€“1796.