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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Turning Policy into Learner-focused, Teacher-driven Practice

In August, the US Department of Education released its Applications for New Awards for their Enhanced Assessment Instruments Grant Program (EAG). Taking a look at the priorities outlined in this year’s EAG, there is a notable shift, and an unfamiliar flexibility. The passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act in December 2015 opened the door for a new generation of accountability—a historic opportunity to rethink assessments in our country. Through the EAG, the US government is providing states with the financial resources to experiment with assessment systems and practices that support student-centered, personalized approaches to learning.

At the heart of this invitational initiative is a radical paradigm shift in accountability systems, from externally created and managed assessment systems to locally-based, teacher-generated assessments. But, to turn historic education policy into learner-focused, teacher-driven practice, we need teachers with the training, knowledge, skills, and opportunities to make this vision a reality. This will require a sizable investment in professional learning on the part of states and districts. Let’s take a look at each of the three priorities outlined in the 2016 EAG from the perspective of the teacher on the ground. How can states and schools support educators and build their capacity to make this shift? How can we create better assessments that drive better teaching and, ultimately, lead to better results in our schools?

Priority 1—Developing Innovative Assessment Item Types and Design Approaches

“Innovative item types such as performance tasks, simulations, and interactive, multi-step, technology-rich items that support competency-based assessments or portfolio assessments which demonstrate applied skills, have the potential to provide a more comprehensive view of a student's knowledge and mastery of standards.”

This is at the heart of Quality Performance Assessment and what we do at CCE. We believe that well-constructed performance assessments allow all students to demonstrate what they know and can do—and better prepare a diversity of students for college, career, and life. At the center of this work are teachers. To effectively support deeper student learning, teachers must be involved in the design, field testing, and quality review of performance assessments, as well as the scoring of student work and discussion of the instructional strategies and approach to embedding assessments into curriculum. Within a new state accountability system, some of these assessments will need to be common, or administered across schools and districts. In this work, we must create spaces for teachers across districts to work collaboratively to create, share practice, and gain mutual understanding about the role of assessment in the learning experience of ALL students.

Priority 2— Improving Assessment Scoring and Score Reporting

“While developing high-quality assessments that measure student knowledge and skills against States' standards is an essential part of building strong assessment systems, ensuring that assessment results are available sooner, and provide clear and actionable information is also critically important.”

If teachers are designing and administering performance assessments, they will be scoring the resulting student work as well. Teachers who know the students and the curriculum best will also be your best and most effective interpreter of student progress, growth, and needs. Calibration processes, where student work samples are scored or re-scored by multiple teachers, provide a way to document evidence of inter-rater reliability and engage teachers in valuable professional learning. This body of work can be accomplished in a much timelier manner than sending out completed assessments for external review and scoring. As well, teachers engaged in scoring will be more adept at using resulting data in meaningful ways and communicating score reports to students, families, and the greater public.

Priority 3—Inventory of State and Local Assessment Systems

“While the Department believes that assessments are important tools for measuring progress and improving outcomes for all students, we also recognize that too much testing, or unnecessary testing, takes valuable time away from teaching and learning in the classroom.”

Student-centered, teacher-driven assessment must be part of the learning process. If we create high quality, engaging, curriculum-embedded performance assessments—in which assessment doesn’t look and feel like a “test” and engaging in the assessments is part and parcel of the learning process—the concern about over-testing will disappear. Over-testing comes about when it is perceived that assessments are taking time away from learning, which is exactly what standardized tests do. While standardized tests will likely continue to play a role in the foreseeable future, we can focus on eliminating duplication and shifting the balance of assessments to those that are part of the learning process. Teachers need to understand why they are giving a particular assessment, and then be able to clearly communicate to students and families what the need and purpose for each assessment type is and how they all work together to provide the clearest picture about student growth.

ESSA and the EAG mark a clear shift in our country’s education policy—schools and teachers must seize this opportunity to transform assessment and accountability in our classrooms. We need to work together to develop practices and systems to foster teacher-driven assessments that assess student learning with a purpose. And we must make sure that educators, students, and families are all part of the process.