Making Headway on Assessments

Earlier this month, over a dozen Portland educators and administrators spent two days examining the work of our peers at the New York Performance Standards Consortium.  The results of this work could put PAT and PPS on the cutting edge of developing alternatives to high-stake standardized tests.

testing-stock.jpgInstead of one-size-fits-all standardized tests like the Smarter Balanced Assessment, Consortium schools have developed a method for evaluating students based on their performance, including the preparation and presentation of in-depth research projects, papers, and portfolios.

This was my second visit to the Consortium, and it was amazing to see the process in action. For example, one student presented a detailed report on how the Constitution reflects attitudes about race, gender, and class, both historically and contemporarily. In addition to talking about the document's framers, their lives and potential biases, she even presented a count of every time hehis, or himappears in the Constitution. We saw another student discuss possible pathways to peace for India and Pakistan.

A PPS administrator noted that performance-based assessments require an incredibly complex process of investigation and inquiry, reflecting a much higher level on Bloom's taxonomy. It's the kind of engagement we want for all our students, and it's clear the system works. Despite a higher incidence of poverty, and more special needs and ELL students, Consortium schools have much higher graduation rates, much lower dropout rates, and far fewer suspensions than the rest of the city's public schools.

That's why our delegation-which also included several PAT educators as well as PPS Board member Amy Kohnstamm, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith, the Director of Assessments for the Oregon Department of Education and OEA President Hanna Vaandering-couldn't have come at a more important moment.

We're continuing to advocate at both the state and national level for Oregon's participation in the pilot program, created as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, where a handful of states will test alternative assessment systems at the local level. 

We're also working with the District to identify areas where we can implement performance-based assessments. For example, if a high school student does not pass the SBAC test, then they are required to submit a work sample to graduate. Why not use work samples or performance assessments at the high school level in the first place, instead of wasting valuable time on SBAC? When families opt out of SBAC at any grade level, why not have students develop work samples or performance assessments as an alternative? In the past, the state has said direct writing assessment was too expensive because you had to pay certified teachers to grade them, and they were double-scored. But how much time and money are we sinking into SBAC?

Fortunately, parents aren't waiting for politicians in Salem or Washington, D.C., they are opting their children out of high-stakes tests like the Smarter Balanced Assessment at higher and higher rates each year. Now, more than ever, we need to keep up the pressure, so we can finally put an end to nearly two decades of test-driven education policy.  

In Solidarity,

Gwen Sullivan