State assessments and testing are often catalysts for discussions that can lead to bashing public education. In addition to privacy issues in some states and the regionalized opt-out movement in others, state testing will once again become an issue as states are now wrestling with their new approaches to their assessment program mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Our prediction is that the new assessments will either sink or swim in the court of parent and public opinion depending on increased authentic communication and collaboration completed with staff, parents, and students.
If we want to see how implementing ESSA can fail, just take a whiff of the Common Core implementation where little attention and spotty consideration were paid to early communication and engagement with these same key audiences.
Where commitments were made to early communication and collaboration, implementation was, for the most part, successful. And we all know the “rest of the story” when the value of two-way communication was ignored, critics filled the void that our collective inaction created.
Good News: We Still Have Time and New Insight to Make Good Things Happen
In early May, a new Gallup report, Make Assessment Work for All Students, was released. Commissioned by the not-for-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), it reveals that educators, parents, and students want a balanced approach to K-12 testing, using a variety of academic assessments with a strong preference for those that improve teaching and learning.
Through Gallup, the NWEA surveyed more than 4,200 students, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents. We urge you to use this new free resource because it will give you insight on what collaborative steps you can take within your district as well as well as throughout your state. The resource can also help drive some messaging when it comes to testing and communication in your district.
Last week a discussion about the survey took place at Gallup Headquarters in Washington, D.C. One of the findings in the report that was embellished during that discussion rings true for all communicators: We know that our messaging has to be relevant for our audiences. In the report, parents and students noted that “the assessments don’t have anything to do with us.” They said it was just used by their state to measure the schools and did not focus on student learning.
Additional key findings from Make Assessment Work for All Students include:
- Three in four students (75%) believe that they spend the right amount of time or too little time taking assessments, as do more than half of parents (52%). In contrast, 83% of teachers, 71% of principals. and 79% of superintendents say that students spend too much time taking assessments.
- More than 6 in 10 parents, or 61%, say they rarely or never have conversations with their child’s teacher about assessment results.
- Data coaches are available in a relatively small proportion of schools and districts, but principals and superintendents who have access to data coaches overwhelmingly say they improve student learning (71% and 85%) and the quality of teaching (82% and 89%).
- Parents need more information about assessments.
- Gaps in understanding of the purpose of assessments remain.
The report makes a number of recommendations and also touches on the opt-out movement and the need for more time to communicate, collaborate, and train staff at all levels.
Local educators also need to get aggressive with their state departments of education and “shake some trees” to learn more about their approaches and commitment to collaboration and communication.
The time is needed to Get It Right so that education leaders can prove that we learned some lessons with the bumpy and pot-holed roll-out of the Common Core policies of a few years ago.
To see the full report released last week, go to Make Assessment Work for All Students: Multiple Measures Matter including findings and recommendations.
Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director