Authentic Assessment: Will New York State Begin to Move from “Bubbling” to “Deeper Learning”?

Back in 2009 The New Teacher Project (TNTP) issued a report, The Widget Effect, school districts only rarely observed teachers or even attempted to discharge teachers.

“A teacher’s effectiveness – the most important factor for schools in improving student achievement – is not measured, recorded, or used to inform decision-making in any meaningful way.”

If we could “measure and record” teacher effectiveness, if we could identify the worst teachers and fire them we could improve student achievement. What we have seen is an unrelenting assault on teachers: use student test scores to assess teacher quality and remove tenure (See Vergara v The State of California here); make firing teachers easier.

The assumption that there is a long line of highly effectiveness teachers waiting to replace the “bad” teachers is ludicrous. In fact, 40% of teachers leave within their first five years of service, in high poverty, low achieving inner city schools the percentage of much higher; a revolving door of new teachers seriously impacts student achievement.

A perhaps well-intentioned reform, replacing “bad” teachers with new teachers had an unintended consequence,  a hugh unintended consequence. Since student test scores now drove teacher competence decisions, prepare for the tests, in fact, preparing for the tests became the driver of instruction.

In New York State the opt out movement exploded and eventually Governor Cuomo, to his credit, announced a four-year moratorium on the use of student test scores to assess teacher quality.

Couple the moratorium with the new ESSA requirement to create a new student accountability model and a window opens. Watch a webinar from the Learning Policy Institute laying out the opportunities under ESSA here .

Under the far more permissive regulations in ESSA, the new law states have wide discretion.

Teachers agree:  we should assess what we’re actually teaching?

In the ideal world, we teach a curriculum, a word that has virtually disappeared from the education vocabulary, we assess student performance periodically based on maybe a portfolio of work, a series of performance tasks, a lab report based on an experiment:  referred to authentic assessment:

A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills” — Jon Mueller

“…Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.” — Grant Wiggins

Performance assessments call upon the examinee to demonstrate specific skills and competencies, that is, to apply the skills and knowledge they have mastered.” — Richard J. Stiggins.

The movement, frequently called “deeper learning,” supports the change from bubbling in multiple choice answers to “create and produce,” a Stanford University online (MOOC)  Massive Online Open Course describes performance assessments,

Whether students are learning to select, use, and explain evidence to support a claim or to analyze data to evaluate a hypothesis, tests that require that students only bubble in a scantron are inadequate to measure (or support) students’ learning and growth. Performance assessments are more suited to this task. Performance-based tasks require that students create and produce rather than recall and regurgitate. While performance assessments vary along multiple dimensions, including duration and focus, they all demand that students use and apply critical skills and knowledge to demonstrate understanding.

Stanford has created a performance assessment resource bank, , a rich repository for schools planning to move from bubbles to deeper learning.

I believe the state is edging in that direction; remembering the Common Core disaster. The introduction of the Common Core Learning Standards coupled with Common Core state tests angered everyone and saw standardized test score grades flip from two-thirds “proficient” to two-thirds “below proficient.”  Either teachers forgot how to teach and students forgot how to learn or the entire process was deeply flawed.

A “deeper learning” approach to teaching, the use of authentic assessments requires “buy-in” from schools and extensive teacher training. Keeping track of student progress in a class of twenty-five or thirty students can be onerous, a three-day test in April may be viewed as a lot easier.

We don’t have to use a “one-size-fits all” approach to teaching and learning. School districts or clusters of schools in the “Big Five” can opt in while other schools continue the more traditional approach.

Commissioner Elia has been extremely sensitive to the “field,” aka, the stakeholders; opportunities for consultations and engagement have been myriad. For example, the Higher Education Committee is moving toward recommending changes in teacher preparation regulations, there have been I believe ten open forums around the state, all the Deans, from CUNY, SUNY and the privates have been invited to be part of the process.

A reminiscence: an authentic assessment.

An alum is writing a history of the school at which I spent my career teaching and is interviewing former students and publishing the history in the alum bulletin.  I was surprised and overjoyed at one of her articles. Around 1980 I was teaching a Sociology class, and, decided to create an exercise: create a statistically correct (“stratified random sample”) survey of student attitudes and opinions, questions dealing  from homework, to pot-smoking, to condom distribution to the quality of teaching to race relations. We worked on the assignment for weeks, eventually presented the report to the Principal and invited him to the class to discuss the findings. When the alum interviewed the former students and asked them what they remember about their school career three of them referenced that assignment – more than thirty years earlier – think they remember what was on the Regents that year?

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