Saturday, October 22, 2016

Science Assessment: Powerful Developments Underway!

| By Susan Perkins Weston |

I've been hearing for a while that Kentucky's bold new science standards will require a bold new approach to assessment, and this morning I was delighted to spot a great video report on the work underway. Do view the video, both for the information and for the lucid and personal approach taken by Commissioner Pruitt and by Associate Commissioner Karen Kidwell, Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning Division of Program Standards [Added to correct my error on Karen's title.]
To go with their words, I'll share what struck me most as I watched.

Big purpose
In Dr. Pruitt's words, "This is about doing the things we need to do to ensure that our kids are actually being successful." Seeing the process as all about external accountability would be a big mistake.  It's about seeing what's happening for students and creating continuous improvement in their learning.

A system with three kinds of assessments
Students and teachers will be working with three different kinds of assessment, each of which contributes to ensuring that students move forward.

1. Day-to-day, minute-to-minute checks
For student progress, it's important for teachers to check steadily on how the learning is going.  That checks provide evidence to make very rapid learning adjustments. The adjustment may mean quick help for one student to catch up on something missed or some added challenge for a student who has clearly mastered a learning step. It may even mean changing plans for the whole class. These classroom assessments will help teachers gather that evidence and put it to use in "real time."  Done well, this approach can have strong, research-proven, impact on student growth and especially on growth that narrows gaps between student groups.

Two key notes here: First, teachers can gather their data from students' ongoing assignments. This part of the system does not have to involve a pause in learning in order to test.  Second, these results are not going to be used for state accountability. This part of the system is for improving learning, period.

2. Shared through-course tasks
These tasks will happen several times a year, taking a deeper look at what students know and can do and calling for teachers to work together to understand where students are, where they need to go, and what steps can best help students get to full success. These will be "rich, three-dimensional tasks," so that students' responses integrate scientific practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.

The Department's big request is for teachers to form their own networks: maybe within a school, maybe across a district, maybe a team across a larger area. They'll have the option of drawing tasks from a Department library or designing their own using templates that support the science standards.  Then they'll study the task and think together about how to facilitate students carrying out the task.  After students complete the task, the teachers will reconvene to analyze the student products.  The Department also plans to build a bank of "anchor papers," samples of strong work that will help teachers across the state aim for similar levels of quality.

Two more key notes: First, the Department is not going to specify which tasks are given or when they're given or which educators collaborate on the work. This is a system to be build out by and for teachers. And second, this part of the system is also not for accountability use.  It's for improving learning, deepening teachers' professional expertise, and building the kinds of collaboration that let the whole profession share and expand its strengths.

One added comment: Both American and global research on education show that this kind of ongoing professional collaboration can generate importantly higher levels of student learning, so I'm super-excited about this part.

3. Statewide summative assessment
This part will be the most like testing we've seen before, in that it will yield results that are reported to the public and used for accountability. Based on Dr. Pruitt's comments, it will also differ from past science assessments in important ways, but the video doesn't give detail on those differences.  For that, stay tuned!

A concluding thought
If we can make this big shift deeply and consistently, I believe we can make a huge difference for Kentucky's future.  It's a direct bid to change what happens when students and teachers work together on scientific understanding and, as a result, to change what the next generation can achieve with what they've learned. It's got deep roots in what we know about effective learning around the world, and it will be exciting to watch and support its development.

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