Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New end-of-course tests on the horizon | Better tests, better learning

| Post by Cory Curl |

Note: Happy New Year! We're continuing to discuss 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 Kentucky uses tests to clarify student learning expectations.

  • Learning
  • Informing
  • Clarifying
  • Benchmarking
  • Measuring

  • In spring 2019, high school students across Kentucky will take new "end-of-course" tests in Algebra II, English II, and Biology. (This spring, students enrolled in these courses will take "field" tests to help the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) finalize development of the new tests, but these will not produce information for parents or the public about student learning in these subjects.)

    From what we know so far (mostly from pages 32-34 of Kentucky's proposed state plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act - ESSA), these tests will have at least three important differences from the ACT Quality Core end-of-course tests that Kentucky high school students took in Algebra II, English II, Biology, and U.S. History from 2011-12 to 2016-17.
    1. They will be developed by Kentucky educators for Kentucky students. As the proposed ESSA plan states, Kentucky has "ended the use of an off-the-shelf product for this test".

    2. As required by Senate Bill 1 (2017), these tests will align to Kentucky's academic standards. The ACT end-of-course tests were not aligned to Kentucky's academic standards. This has put school district leaders, school-based decision making councils, and teachers in the unenviable spot of deciding whether to focus learning around Kentucky's academic standards or those articulated by the testing company.

    3. Professional learning sessions taking place across the state suggest that the tests will reflect high expectations for students to take on challenging work in these subjects. (We look forward to learning more about this, including seeing sample test items.)

    Image of color swatches downloaded from Pantone

    Complex debates about the value of standardization versus customization affect student testing as much as they affect other education policy issues. End-of-course tests like these serve clarify student learning expectations. Why is this important?
    • Consistency: Tests like these can help ensure that "Algebra II" in a school in one area of Kentucky has similar content and expectations for students as "Algebra II" in another school, by providing consistent signals to teachers as they make decisions about classroom materials and assignments.
    • Equity: Tests like these can help ensure that students of color, students with low family incomes, students with learning disabilities, or other historically underserved students have exposure to similar content and expectations as more advantaged students.
    • Excellence: Tests like these can be part of broader efforts -- along with robust professional learning and student supports -- to shift the whole system higher toward excellence, helping communicate to students, teachers, parents, and communities the level of challenging, meaningful work students should be prepared to do in these subjects and beyond.

    Next time, we will discuss how tests are being used to benchmark performance across districts, states, and even countries.

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