Assessments in education are tools which enable us to evaluate the performance of students—and to a certain extent—serve as the evaluative measure of the depth of instruction. There are myriad forms of assessments ranging from cold-calls and non-verbal signals to unit and semester exams. The largest component of education aside from facilitating instruction is tracking students’ growth throughout an academic year.
According to research conducted by Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessments, 39 states no longer tie high stakes to standardized testing. In fact, Texas could eliminate high stakes testing altogether without any concern, since federal law does not require high stakes assessments. Prior to announcing his retirement from the Texas Senate, State Senator Kel Seliger understood the importance of local autonomy regarding the future of Texas scholars who are the next in line to enter our robust workforce when he successfully sponsored Senate Bill 149, which enacted the use of individual graduation committees. The Texas Tribune reported in 2015 that “SB 149 allows individual panels made up of educators, counselors and parents to weigh factors like grades, college entrance exam scores and attendance to determine whether a student should get a diploma despite state standardized exam performances.” Fortunately, the desire to provide a holistic evaluation of students’ academic growth rather than simply basing it off students’ assessment performance has exponentially increased in light of the new House Bill 1603 which passed during the regular session of the 87th Texas Legislature. If ever there was a time for stakeholders to advocate for test reform, this is it.
While every educator or public school stakeholder I know supports and even demands assessments, the same consensus is not present when the discussion turns to whether or not the high stakes associated with grade promotion or graduation should exist. While the state’s accountability system may provide an evaluative measure of quantitative growth per subject per grade, local assessments inform instruction in real-time and measure individual progress in myriad ways. According to Raise Your Hand Texas, “Texas is ranked 41st in overall child well-being, including indicators related to economic well-being, education, and health.”
Therefore, more work needs to be done to ensure we are meeting some of the foundational levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs before we can justify placing high stakes on assessments. Assessment effectiveness should be a goal, but may only be achieved if it yields opportunities for feedback, which contribute to academic growth. Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, John Hattie, suggests there are five assessment strategies with the greatest effect size. However, I would like to focus on one of those: Deliberate practice.
John Hattie’s research concludes, “Teachers need to take steps to deliberately improve student performance using the results from testing, such as teaching the specific skills needed to answer a difficult problem, making a success criteria explicit, or giving feedback to explain where the student needs to focus revision.” However, the type of data-analysis and intentional interventions in response to students’ assessment data required by this strategy are most effectively implemented by locally created assessments throughout the academic year as opposed to the standardized assessments administered at the conclusion of an academic year. What it boils down to is the current high stakes system of assessment administration is flawed.
In yet another consequential election year, voters will have a plethora of choices to make when they arrive at their respective voting booths. However, there are myriad ways to remain aware of decisions regarding public education and prospective elected officials’ positions on high stakes testing. Please take time to educate yourself on the various issues affecting our public schools and contact your Texas legislators’ offices regularly. Get involved with the work of nonpartisan public education advocacy organizations to lobby for what is needed within our schools.
Most importantly, find some way to volunteer in our public schools so you can see firsthand the value of local assessments and the effect of the educational interventions employed by our extraordinary professionals to support the academic growth of our Texas scholars.