By Tamra Taylor, Superintendent Live Oak School District
Over the last decade we have heard a lot about testing and accountability for student learning. This emphasis was on assessment as a tool to determine district and school academic efficacy. No Child Left Behind federal legislation applied economic sanctions to districts and resulted in a system of accountability that had more and more school districts falling into program improvement status each year. This movement is now in question and being rectified at both the federal and state level. In its place we will likely see a more balanced accountability system that attends to student engagement, school safety, social and emotional well-being, college/career readiness, and student performance on state testing.
With all the talk about harsh accountability measures that were a consequence of state assessment results, the most important aspect of student assessment was lost. In the Live Oak School District, we believe that the most important role of assessment is to inform a teacher and student of the student’s progress in order to support the student’s future learning. This is the type of assessment that happens in the classroom on a day-to-day basis. It happens through the reading of student writing, anecdotal records of student reading and reading comprehension assessments on classroom text. These types of assessments can prompt a teacher to realize when students are still confused about a concept and then make changes in his/her lesson plans to either support a few students who need help or, when necessary, the whole class with more opportunities to apply the correct concept. It is on-going and it happens in every classroom every day.
Other times assess-ment happens in a more summative nature. A student takes a quarterly assessment that tests their knowledge of the concepts taught in that quarter or time period. In the Live Oak School District, we feel it is important to have summative assessments of student learning as these assessments help us refine our program delivery and to place students in tutorial or intervention programs that will give them in depth practice of the content they are struggling with. We review with staff and our community our annual state assessments and our local summative assessments as part of a cycle of inquiry regarding program effectiveness. If we find that students as whole are not making progress on our local curriculum embedded assessments, then it is incumbent upon us to analyze our practices, research best practices in the area of weakness, and then make the instructional and program delivery changes that will better support our students’ learning. The difference is instead of an external hammer of accountability, we embrace an internal process of taking responsibility for our students’ progress.
Another type of assessment happens annually at the state level. Recently parents across California received a letter from the California Department of Education that summarized their child’s results on the 2015 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). These new assessments replaced paper and pencil-based tests with new computer-based tests for English language arts/literacy and mathematics. The new tests are very different than the state exams students took in the past. They include a wider variety of questions than the multiple-choice tests they replaced. Students are asked to explain how they solve problems, to think critically, and to write analytically. They are designed to assess students’ readiness to successfully enter the 21st century workplace when they graduate. This year’s scores are better thought of as a starting point—a baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time.
In summary, the first and most impactful role of assessment is “assessment for learning.” Here assessment is viewed as a student-centered tool to inform a teacher’s instructional practice. It is used in teacher collaborative teams to plan lessons together. And it is sometimes used by the student and teacher to set student-identified learning goals. The second role of assessment is as a means to review the efficacy of school and district programs. Here we take responsibility for our students’ progress by viewing overall assessment results as a gauge for helping us take stock of the quality of our instructional programs in meeting students’ academic needs.