Equity, Assessment and Accountability: Part 2

October 22nd was NAEP Day, the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “The Nations Report Card.”  Reports of 4th and 8th grade scores in Reading and Mathematics in all states and major urban centers. States are ranked and scores can be compared to previous years  

The results are both “troubling” and not surprising, remote schooling in not a substitute for a teacher and students interactions in classrooms.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education, offers trend data that is comparable across states. NAEP is required by law to be administered every two years; however, it was postponed in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results from the previous assessment in 2019 had already begun to reveal some troubling trends, with scores for fourth and eighth grade reading and eighth grade math significantly declining from 2017.

Beyond national trends, gaps between student scores in the lowest and the highest achievement percentiles also increased significantly.

Due to disrupted learning brought on by the pandemic, these national trends accelerated in 2022. Both reading and math scores for fourth and eighth graders showed marked declines. Sharper declines were shown in some categories among students of color, female students, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and students who scored in the lowest achievement quartile.

EdTrust warns “this is not the time for hand ringing” and urges the education community to put in place evidence-based practices for students and schools most in need.

Coupled with data from statewide assessments, NAEP data is an important tool for understanding how our nation’s schools are educating students and how the pandemic has impacted learning, especially for the most underserved students. But we must pivot quickly from asking “What does the data say?” to “What will we do because of the data we see?” If every parent, teacher, education leader, and elected official in the country asks that second question — about the evidence-based practices we will put in place for the students and schools that the data shows are most in need — real change is possible.

If we want change output we must change input, and by input we mean “evidence-based practices,” not a pre-packaged reading or math program, I mean teachers, collaboratively, adjusting their day-today classroom performance. Teachers are writers, producers, directors, actors and reviewers of a play with a run of one day.

I was invited to sit in on a math teacher meeting in a high school. The teachers had completed grading an Algebra 1 Regents exam and constructed an error matrix, the most common incorrect answers. They were reviewing their lesson plans for the “most common incorrect answer” lessons.and adjusting their plans, changing the input to hopefully change he output.

We should be assessing student work and our work each and every day. As we gain experience we gain the ability to alter our practice from period to period, from day to day to meet student needs.

In NYC as we are assessing student performance we are being assessed by student performance (Measurement of Student Learning (MOSL)) and supervisory lesson observations – see a detailed explanation of the process here

In addition the Every Student Succeeds Act requires annual grades 3-8 reading and math assessments and an English, Math and Science assessment between grades 10-12; in NYS the Regents Exam in English, Algebra, Science, Global Studies and American History with a number of multiple alternative pathways.  (See here).

NYS is in the midst of a top to bottom review of graduation measures with most of the discussion centering around whether Regents  Examinations should be abandoned or delinked from graduation requirements; EdTrust and the Equity Coalition opposes what they see as lowering standards. (See here ). The NYS Education Department is exploring whether performance-based assessments can replace the current Regents Examinations (see here)

Scott Marion, at the Center for Assessment takes a nuanced examination of the meaning of the NAEP scores and agrees with Ed Trust,

And understanding must lead to action! The federal ESSER funds provided much-needed – but short-term – emergency relief. Remember: These funds must be spent by September 2024, but the need will continue well beyond this time. State political and policy leaders must continue the funding necessary to enable students to make up lost ground. State departments of education and other partners must provide clear guidance and leadership on evidence-based practices to support accelerated learning.

In the short run states/school districts are awash in federal dollars until September 2024: how are they spending the dollars?  Are these dollars being used to “catch up” or being frittered away?

The larger, much larger question is whether twenty years of No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act moved the nation’s education forward for all children?   Scott and his homeboys are beginning to explore “personalized and competency-based learning systems,

For personalized and competency-based learning systems to work well, educators and others need to support students in tailoring their own learning to meet ambitious goals such as those identified in a portrait of a graduate. Further, if states and school districts aim to support schools in moving toward personalized learning for students, isn’t it a contradiction then to require all students and then all schools to meet the same targets using the same indicators at the same time? Besides the contradictory messages, we have to question the theory of change that requires all entities to shoot for the same targets measured in exactly the same ways. When do people or organizations truly improve performance in some way simply because some external entity directed them to do so? It must be internal, or at least substantially internal, to support sustained change.

In other words, it always starts with teachers in classrooms.

We have to decide what we are going to assess before we design assessment tools and the goal must greatly exceed rasing graduation requirements: what are the skills necessary to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing world and how are schools responding to these changes?

We have to agree upon what we’re going to assess before we decide how to assess it.

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