I read online that TFA is hiring a national assessment director, thus implying the creation of a nationwide assessment. I would love to work on this, but I'm not leaving the classroom mid-year for anything short of World War III. But I sent them my thoughts on what I would do if I could...
Instead of sporadic summative assessments, duplicating work already being done and over-testing our students, TFA should offer very frequent, highly focused, and nationally uniform assessments. They should be given, scored and logged online, in a common database. These could replace existing classroom assessments, lightening student and corps member test load while vastly improving opportunities for tracking students, collaboration among teachers and partnering with students and families.
By breaking the assessment mold, this is a tremendous opportunity for TFA to radically reform the landscape of high-stakes accountability, as well as improving corps member effectiveness. Based on the size of its organization and the skills of its members, TFA could implement a technology-driven, modern assessment program that fits our organizational needs, boosts student achievement and serves as a model for the entire educational community.
Why does TFA need to revolutionize the high-stakes assessment field?
The achievement gap does not occur two weeks in May. It is built across every week of the school year. We need an assessment program that reflects the urgency of each day of instruction. All stakeholders in a child’s education should know on a highly regular basis his/her progress towards achievement.
Likewise we have an urgent need to identify and remediate the teaching gap. End-of-the-year tests serve only as a post-mortem. For the students in that class, the year has already been lost. We should be able to identify successful and unsuccessful teachers immediately, utilizing their abilities or addressing their deficiencies within weeks, not years. As an organization bringing thousands of intern teachers into the classroom each and every year, it is a necessity that TFA excel in this domain.
Why can TFA do it better?
The educational technology industry has the capability to offer district-, state-, or even nation-wide assessment that could be completed and scored on a weekly basis. The testing industry and state departments of education will take generations of students through the same old yearly benchmark process before ever considering such a change.
TFA can and must model the alternative. It is too powerful a change to ignore.
Teach For America has the focus on and understanding of data required to value such an undertaking and a broad, national student base to demonstrate such a program’s scalability. The obvious commercial benefits to developing such a system, paired both with Teach For America’s flexibility for piloting and its media-cachet for future marketing, make a partnership ideal for any educational technology/testing company.
What would it look like?
Every week, corps members across the country give reading, math, science or social studies tests. Simply put: they should be giving the same tests and they should be logging the results into a common database.
Won't this just take teaching to the test to the nth degree?
Teaching to the test happens when the test doesn't reflect what otherwise should be taught. If teaching to the test becomes teaching students to pass a vital, standards-based, focused assessment each week, isn't that just teaching with a test?
Why is this worth it?
The benefits of such a system are myriad. The uniformity of these assessments would enable regional collaboration among corps members and program staff at a tremendously higher level. The immediacy of the feedback gives students real ownership over their success on the assessment, improving engagement. Reporting options could easily be focused to give parents frequent updates on their child’s progress, offering a degree of home-school partnership impossible with the quarterly report card. Redundancy in assessment and grading could be minimized, freeing more time for instruction.
How does this work with different standards and curricula?
Focus the test ---one specific objective, five careful questions. A sufficiently discrete objective cuts across the barrier of differing state standards. A long division test is a long division test, whether administered to a 3rd grader or a 5th grader. Discerning fact and opinion in a seventh grade passage is the same skill in Mississippi or Hawaii. While state and local history offer obvious issues, the vast majority of fifth graders or algebra students across the country are learning much the same things, on an objective by objective basis.
Similarly, such focused assessment forestalls issues with varying pacing or curricula. Teachers queue their assessments as part of long term planning, and whether they assess multiplying mixed numbers in December or March, they can use the same test. Common curricula will assure simultaneity within regions, facilitating collaboration, common assessments will assure comparability with other regions, furthering collaboration at the program level.
How does this work, technologically?
Corps members with access to sufficient number of computers could conduct the entire process online. Corps members without such resources could print the tests from online and administer them on pencil and paper. The paper tests could be collected weekly and scanned on computer-connected machines placed in alignment with corps member clusters. All of this technology is available right now, it just needs to be aligned and distributed.
How does this work, programmatically?
This winter, program directors, second-year corps members and alumni from each region would examine their state standards and develop weekly objective lists for each course CMs will be teaching in the fall. Over the spring and summer, TFA, nationally, merges the objective lists and develops or licenses an assessment bank for all the objectives. At the beginning of the year, CMs correlate these objective lists with their district pacing guides and mandated curricula, essentially the same process as creating a long term plan. These plans are calendared online. Each week, in advance of their instruction, CMs and students can see some exemplar problems of their weekly standards. On Thursday/Friday, the actual test is made available for administration. Even those using scanned pencil and paper tests would have their results by the weekend.
Do our kids really need more tests? Do our teachers really need more work?
This system should simply replace teachers’ on-going classroom assessment, requiring less tests for students and less work for teachers. Even if the district context requires a redundancy in tests, TFA’s should be so short, ten to fifteen questions, as to create little burden. Creating, grading and recording assessments would be done. Teachers could focus on analyzing and responding to the data. Standards-based report cards would be done, with more accuracy than possibly permitted by a summative exam. Rubric-based report cards could be run directly from the tracked information.
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