Authentic Assessments

I'm excited to report that I'll be leading an important delegation to New York City next week. PAT educators will be joined by PPS Board member Amy Kohnstamm, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith, and several other top PPS administrators, as well as the Director of Assessments for the Oregon Department of Education and OEA President Hanna Vaandering.

We'll spend two days observing and learning from our peers in the New York Performance Standards Consortium. Over the past two decades, while the rest of the country embraced high-stakes tests like the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the Consortium has gone the opposite direction.
Instead of one-size-fits-all standardized tests, Consortium schools developed a method for evaluating students based on their performance, including the preparation and presentation of in-depth research projects, papers, and portfolios. Several PAT members and a PPS official visited the Consortium last year, and we were blown away with what we saw. Students have to defend their work in front of a panel of educators and fellow students. I was amazed watching one high school student discuss some of the finer points of the U.S. Constitution and the connection to racial inequality today.
I was just as impressed with the Consortium's overall track record. Although Consortium students are twice as likely to be English Language Learners, and suffer from a higher incidence of poverty than the rest of the city's public schools, their dropout rate is half the city-wide average, and their graduation rate is 50 percent higher. Clearly, these schools are doing a lot we can learn from.
This trip couldn't come at a more important moment. Across Oregon, like the rest of the country, more and more parents are opting their children out of high-stakes tests like the Smarter Balanced Assessment. And legislators from Salem to Washington are slowly getting the message that things have to change.
One important opening is contained in the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed by Congress late last year. The law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, will create a pilot program for a handful of states to test alternative assessment systems at the local level.
Oregon is well-positioned to participate in the pilot, and lead the way in developing a more authentic method for evaluating student performance. In fact, after our visit to New York, OEA President Hanna Vaandering and PAT member Lisa Kane will head to Washington, D.C. to make the case to federal officials that Oregon should be selected as one of the seven pilot states.
Now more than ever, we need PAT members and our parent allies to keep pushing so we can take advantage of these political openings, and finally put an end to nearly two decades of test-driven education policy.
In Solidarity,

Gwen Sullivan