I believe that the CATS assessment is better for children than an off-the-shelf norm-referenced test, but I do not think it is the best it can be. Four concepts seem to me to hold special promise for creating a stronger test and promoting higher student achievement.
First, we should aim for balanced assessment. Short, clear, powerful standards can guide great classroom work. With those standards, teachers and students can organize their activities around regular evidence of forward movement. Mathematics standards should be our first priority, because that is where our progress has been weakest thus far. Beyond that, all Core Content subjects should be set up for a similar classroom method. The best revisions to Kentucky testing will flow from standards that also work for classroom excellence.
Second, international benchmarking can help us check that our standards and our student results are high enough for global competition. Again, math is the place to start, but other key subjects should follow quickly.
Third, end-of-course testing may be the right way to get high school improvement back on track. I do not want exit exams that keep a student from graduating, but I do see benefits in having the end-of-course scores be a fraction of student grades. Designed well, those tests could also provide sturdy data on readiness for college and for work. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling recommends this approach.
Finally, we can set program standards and monitor implementation in some areas where pencil and paper tests just do not work. In the arts, the Department of Education is already moving forward with efforts to create a far more performance-oriented approach. We may want to adapt a similar model for some skills that employers have repeatedly asked schools to address, including oral communication and teamwork skills.
In recent months, I’ve been in many conversations about ideas like these, including the work of the Task Force on Assessment and Accountability. I’m concerned that we make changes at a responsible pace, one that involves educators, allows good design and permits teachers to implement classroom adjustments well, and one that does not jeopardize our federal funding.
Still, these four ideas give us options for accelerating student progress, and I think we should move quickly to understand their potential.
(That’s the quick overview. Blogging will let us share more details and links to other sources about these ideas soon, and we hope you’ll read, ask questions, raise concerns, and offer your own ideas, starting with the comments section immediately below.)