K-12 Student Assessments

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Student Assessments (4/8)

Testing the Tests

The current testing ecosystem is in flux and everyone is frustrated from teachers to students; change is on the way

American Parents Opinions on Standardized Testing

Gallup shows that 2/3 of American parents believe there is too much emphasis on standardized testing in this country; public school parents feel stronger than private and other schools

Source: Phi Delta Kappan, Gallup Poll September 2015

In 2015, the world of K-12 assessments witnessed a seismic shift that has huge implications for everyone from test-makers to test-takers. Thanks to grassroots opposition and a reversal of federal policy, the big tests are in trouble. Instead, the industry is looking toward smaller, ongoing assessments, and the development of alternative measures of achievement is accelerating.

Top universities are calling for revisions to admissions policies based partly on applicants’ demonstrated commitment and compassion, while K-12 schools are looking at project-based, portfolio-style and behavioral measures of achievement. A small but vocal number of parents are getting fed up: in 2014-2015 at least 625,000 students in 13 states—less than 1.5 percent of K-12 students—“opted out” of statewide summative tests, according to the anti-test group FairTest.

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Nearly two-thirds of students in a 2015 Gallup poll say there is too much emphasis on testing. In December, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which grants states new flexibility in weighing test results, easing the testing burden imposed by No Child Left Behind. ESSA requires 34 states without opt-out provisions to establish such policies and offers grants for innovative approaches.

Big Changes for Assessments

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers states flexibility, unprecedented over the last decade, to design their state assessment program. This will likely have big implications for assessments with repercussions that should ripple across technology purchasing and priorities as states and districts reimagine the role of summative and formative instruments and programs.

Under the prior law, NCLB required state educational agencies to invest in large end-of-year summative assessments. Many states and districts kept “two sets of books,” implementing formative assessments as decision support tools, in parallel with the large-scale assessments required for federal compliance. The ESSA may change this. State assessments can now be administered through a single summative assessment (as currently done), or through multiple statewide interim assessments during the academic year that result in a single summative assessment score. ESSA also allows districts to administer a locally selected tests instead of the state designed academic assessment. Under the new law, the Secretary of Education is also authorized to allow up to seven participating states to participate in a three-year assessment and accountability demonstration pilot. The assessments used in the pilot could be competency-based, instructionally embedded, or performance-based that combine into an annual summative determination, and other mastery- or proficiency-based programs.

The new federal requirements are important because they will not only inspire new (and presumably better) ways to assess student learning, but they will also free up funds for states and districts to invest in new models. This will begin at the state level, but it will also impact districts, which in time, may no longer have to commit their resources to a formative program that works well for them and a state summative assessment that's required by federal law. Streamlining may allow them to allocate resources for other matters.

These changes will not happen immediately. It will take years for states and districts to explore their options and stress-test the new models, but the shift is well on its way.

Traditional tests are for the most part straightforward question-and-answer exams with right and wrong answers. But next-generation assessments will track reasoning, be embedded in coursework and require the collection, storage and meta-analysis from a host of different data sources. Edtech assessment platforms and tools (and the data they produce) can enable the assessment evolution. Teachers are already using painless assessment tools like quizzes, polls and gamified exercises like those provided by Quizlet, Kahoot.it and Socrative. Companies such as Kickboard, LiveSchool and Three Ring record, track and measure behavior, with the aim of improving student performance. The Los Angeles Archdiocese is using Renaissance Learning’s adaptive STAR assessments to track student learning and reduce testing time, with each test taking only about 20 minutes on average.

Estimated # of Students Refusing to take Standardized Tests (2015)
Nearly 650,000 public school students in the US opted out of standardized testing in 2015 according to FairTest

No Data





Source: FairTest

Over the next two years, states will likely field fewer and shorter summative assessments as administrators look for tests to trim. While the new Common Core-geared assessments provoked an anti-big testing backlash over the past three years, those standards have pushed states to upgrade their digital infrastructure and so are paving the way for next-gen digital testing products.

Teachers welcome alternatives to testing with a big “T”, and are steadily expanding how they use edtech assessment tools in the classroom. Assessments embedded in learning programs are becoming less obtrusive and more comprehensive but companies will have to tread carefully to avoid raising privacy and security concerns. The advantage will go to companies that have built robust privacy into their products from the start.

ESSA and the popular revolt against big testing will boost startups developing software to measure social, emotional and cultural assessment tools. Companies focused on project-based, portfolio-style assessments may also benefit, as the number of science academies and other learn-by-doing schools grow. Some of these schools are also looking at innovative ways to prepare their students for the big summative exams. The trend to more types of tests producing a variety of data will drive new spending on interoperability.

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One kid wrote, ‘I’m so stupid’ over and over again all over his paper;[…] he didn’t understand what the test was asking him to do.
Big Test. Big Pain.

Teachers feel the pain that students go through as they try to tackle big summative assessments, but often feel helpless to make things better. Things got so bad, that in the fall 2015 Seattle teachers went on strike opposing excessive testing linked to Common Core assessments. Cheryl Steighner, a teacher-blogger at Camelot Elementary in Federal Way, Washington says the big tests are stressful for her students and do little to help improve instruction. Some of her students broke down in tears or stared blankly at their computer screens during Common Core-linked SBAC tests last spring, she says. “One kid wrote, “I’m so stupid all over his [scratch] paper, because he didn’t understand what the test was asking him,” she says. As the assessment world evolves, teachers are hopeful that new forms of assessment support student growth and their instruction. Steighner said she’d prefer other ways of measuring progress, such as assembling a package of their work during the year. “I think it would be easier to have a portfolio that would show what our amazing students can do rather than highlighting what they can’t do,” she says.

5th Grade Teacher at Powell Valley Elementary School in Gresham, Oregon
Why is digital native a bad expression?
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The Digital Divide

As teachers introduce students to more and more digital assessment, new challenges have arisen that can widen the gap between those with access and without access to technology at home. New exams often require students to use typing, highlighting and drag and drop skills in order to respond to questions. These are discrete skills that students are not explicitly taught. This is particularly challenging in the younger grades, where students might not be as exposed to computer literacy. Doug Robertson, who teaches fifth grade at Powell Valley Elementary School in Gresham, Oregon says, “The whole myth of the digital native drives me insane,” because it wrongly assumes that all students are ready to use computers by the time they reach school. “I’ve had lots and lots of parents hold up their cellphones and tell me this is our gateway to the internet, because we can’t afford an internet connection,” he says. As a result, elementary school teachers are investing time and resources into preparing kids for their tests. “My kids get a lot of keyboard time,” says Robertson, by using software on kidblog.org.

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