Accountability: Who and How Will Determine “How We’re Doing?”

Ed Koch, a New York City mayor was famous for constantly asking, “How am I doing?” 

Student, teacher, district and state accountability tools ask the same question and use tests to make determinations.  We’re been doing so for a very long time. New York City gave reading tests to students in the 4th and 8th grades; the results were published in the print media, usually a story about the highest scoring school, perhaps in Bayside, Queens and the lowest scoring school in Soundview in the Bronx. Principals made sure the most effective teachers taught the 4th grade, began after-school small group instruction or classroom push-in to kids in 40th to 49th percentile in the 4th grade. (Some things don’t change)

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a bi-partisan bill, sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy required English and Math testing in grades 3 to 8 and in 2015 the law, renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act, was reauthorized with states given added flexibility in creating plans; Randi Weingarten, the AFT President lobbied for alternate year testing; however, the major civil rights organizations successfully lobbied for the testing to remain annual. The law did contain a section allowing states to apply for  alternative assessment waivers, a few states began the process, New Hampshire chose performance tasks and for a number of years required both testing and performance tasks.  See New Hampshire plan here.

New Hampshire’s PACE (Performance Assessment of Competency Education) is an innovative assessment and accountability system grounded in a competency-based educational approach designed to ensure that students have meaningful opportunities to achieve critical knowledge and skills. The PACE system is designed to support deeper learning for students and powerful organization change for schools and districts using a combination of local, common and state level assessments. 

The core of the PACE innovative assessment system is locally-developed, locally-administered performance assessments tied to grade and course competencies determined by local school districts that are aligned with the State’s challenging academic content standards.

In each grade and subject, one common complex performance task, the PACE Common Task, is collaboratively developed and administered by all participating schools and districts. The PACE common tasks are designed to serve as calibration tools, providing evidence about the comparability of judgments related to student achievement across New Hampshire PACE schools and districts. Comparability means that if a student is deemed proficient in one district, that same student would also be deemed proficient in another school district.

Determinations of student proficiency, required under federal law, are produced using: (1) educator judgments at the end of the school year based on which achievement level best describes each of their students; and, (2) end of year competency scores for each student. PACE is designed so that the resulting levels are comparable in rigor and substance to the statewide assessment by using achievement level descriptors that are aligned across the two systems.

Other states are beginning discussions around revising ESSA plans and seeking waiver approval from the US Department of Education. Montana is in the early stages of creating a pilot of a through-year assessment tool (Read description here) and reports the caveats (referred to as “considerations” by the planning team)

Several states, including Montana, are in various stages of exploration, design, and development of a through-year assessment system, where:

 • multiple, distinct assessments are administered throughout the school year, and

 • these assessments are intended to support both

(a) a summative determination for each student and

(b) at least one additional goal.

 In other words, a through-year assessment system involves a distributed design that provides a summative determination of student proficiency on state content standards as required by current federal law and, further, supports a more specific goal (e.g., identifying students needing extra support). A summative determination can take the form of a total score or an achievement level (e.g., proficient) at least once per year, generally at the end of the year.

New York State is unique in a number of ways, a state law allows parents to opt out of standardized testing and almost 20% of families, mostly on Long Island (50% opted out) and other higher achieving schools (See Long Island Opt Out here) opt-out of the tests.. The results of required standardized testing (April/May) usually reach school districts in August; so far this year no results have been announced raising a variety of speculations about the delay.

In addition the state is in the midst of a lengthy review of high school graduation requirements called Graduation Measures  (Read website here) and has just appointed a 63-member Blue Ribbon Commission to spend the school year creating a Report to be presented to the Board of Regents in the Spring/Summer, 2023. See press release including Commission members here.

The Performance-Based Assessment Consortium, about forty high schools in New York City has used a portfolio-roundtable system (Read here), the students only take the English Regents, the schools are small and structured differently than other high schools. The Consortium has been a careful gatekeeper.

Vermont spent a decade exploring portfolio-based assessments and eventually concluded that inter-rater reliability was too great an obstacle (See Vermont Portfolio Assessment Project here)

Linda Darling-Hammond took a very deep dive with concrete suggestions for states, Pathways to New Accountability Through the Every Student Succeeds Act, (April, 2016) Read here and recommends multiple measures especially performance tasks,

An important tool for states wanting to develop richer tasks is the Performance Assessment Resource Bank, which is a joint project of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), in collaboration with the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO) Innovation Lab Network. This online resource provides performance tasks within key subjects and across disciplines linked to new standards and learning progressions. Developed with educators across the states, these tasks have been piloted and vetted for quality and offered with rubrics and scoring protocols. There is a substantial knowledge base about how to develop, administer, and score reliable and valid performance assessments from the United States and around the world, the sites also includes portfolio frameworks, learning progressions, curriculum units in which tasks are embedded, and tools to help educators design and review tasks, and score them with consistency

New York State has 4400 schools in over 700 school districts, scaling up Darling-Hammond’s “suggestions” appear to be an insurmountable challenge.

New York State received a grant and is at the beginning stages of a multiyear exploration of performance tasks, called, Performance-Based Learning and Assessment Network (PLAN) Pilot, (See here)

The Performance-Based Learning and Assessment Networks (PLAN) Pilot aims to help New York explore the conditions and supports schools need to transition to a research-based comprehensive assessment strategy designed to communicate feedback to students, parents, faculty, and the community, and to improve the quality of education.

In the PLAN Pilot, NYSED will seek to deepen the connection between assessment and quality teaching, learning, curriculum, and instruction. This initiative will look to match promising models for high-quality teaching, learning, and assessment strategies with participating pilot schools interested in multiple ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of learning standards.

The Equity Coalition, is suspicious, is the New York State Education Department/Board of Regents nibbling away at graduation requirements to increase graduation rates. (See Report here)

As NYSED develops a Blue Ribbon Commission on graduation measures and local education agencies celebrate record graduation rates, there are deep concerns lurking beneath the surface. The widespread use of exemptions in high-need districts and in each of the Big Five signal that students may be under prepared for postsecondary opportunities – college or career. The findings in this report underscore the need to take a closer look at classroom teaching and learning, curriculum, and transition supports for graduating seniors.

EDTrustNY agrees with the Equity Coalition   ,

New York’s educational system is currently moving in the wrong direction, but it’s not too late to change course. The state is convening a Blue Ribbon Commission on graduation requirements, providing an opportunity to better balance the need for flexibility with necessary accountability and academic rigor. Achieving this balance will result in better-prepared students and a return to national prominence for New York’s once-proud educational system.

Massachusetts, year after year is at the National Assessment Educational Performance (NAEP), New York is well down the list, Massachusetts avers their success is due to,

Expanding access to high-quality, standards-aligned curricular materials can significantly improve student outcomes, especially when teachers have the professional learning opportunities they need to make the most of those materials.

The Curriculum Matters (See here) site is superb, perhaps New York State can use as a guide.

The words on W.E.B Du Bois

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