Thursday, January 4, 2018

Benchmarking performance for student growth and engagement | Better tests, better learning

| Post by Cory Curl |

Note: We're in the midst of discussing what's new and what's around the corner for student tests in Kentucky, focusing on issues of interest to families and communities. With this post, we're exploring how one Kentucky school district uses tests to benchmark student learning and engagement in their schools, as compared to schools across the U.S. and other nations.

  • Learning
  • Informing
  • Clarifying
  • Benchmarking
  • Measuring

  • Krista Decker, Director of Assessment Support in Boone County Schools, recently spoke with me about how and why Boone County uses the OECD Test for Schools to benchmark student performance.

    First, some background:
    The OECD Test for Schools is based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) administers the PISA every three years to a sample of 15-year olds in more than 70 countries or economies. The purpose of the test is to evaluate education systems across countries and draw lessons to improve both excellence and equity.

    At the country level, PISA results not only differentiate performance in reading, mathematics, and science literacy across countries but show that progress (or decline) in a short amount of time is possible. The PISA also goes well beyond evaluating student knowledge and skills in three subjects -- it seeks understanding about student experiences with learning in school and at home. The most recent administration of the PISA was 2015.

    Image of PISA 2015 Mathematics results from OECD

    At the state level, both Massachusetts and North Carolina have elected to have more students sampled for the PISA test so that they receive statewide scores and information.

    Through the OECD Test for Schools, school districts such as Boone County have access to similar information to learn how student performance and engagement in their schools compares to other students in the U.S. and other nations. In November 2016, a sample of students in Boone County's four high schools took the OECD Test for Schools and the district received reports on the results for each school. Krista Decker presented the results to the district's school board in September 2017.

    Sample report from OECD Test for Schools from NWEA

    Krista shared with me three reasons why the results have proven essential to Boone County's strategic efforts, well beyond "just another test":
    1. Support from the business community: Not only is benchmarking performance a familiar concept to business leaders, they know that students need to be able to compete in a global economy with the kind of deep knowledge and skills evaluated by PISA.
    2. Student engagement and motivation: The students who take the PISA answer questions about their experiences in school. The reports illuminate insights about student motivation and belonging in the schools. Boone County has hired a student engagement director to act on what has been learned.
    3. Teacher professional learning and student growth: In Boone County, teachers work together to analyze data from the OECD Test for Schools reports and to learn about the questions on the test itself, which may demand more from students (the U.S. falls in the middle of countries on science and reading and below average in mathematics).
    Next month, a new cohort of students in Boone County will take the OECD Test for Schools and the results will be comparable to the PISA 2015 test. In summer 2018, Boone County will work with neighboring districts that are also administering the test and acting on the results.

    For more information about the OECD Test for Schools:

    Next time, for our final post in this series, we will discuss what may be ahead for the way Kentucky uses tests to measure student, and school, performance.

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