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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Placing Teachers at the Center of Assessment

For too long, standardized testing has been the predominant form of assessing student learning, while ignoring the deleterious effects of narrowing the curriculum, promoting teaching to the test, and emphasizing lower order cognitive skills. Students’ complexities, individual strengths, and areas for improvement are masked in lieu of singular ratings that have high significance and little meaning or use.

The Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment seeks to redefine the measures of student learning. The consortium believes that “In this day and age, we need to re-conceptualize assessment rather than tinker to refine a testing model that has limited value in furthering public education,” and that  the best way to assess student learning is to return the role of designing assessments to those closest to students – teachers.

Teacher-generated performance assessments have the potential to be contextualized and seamlessly embedded in the curriculum. As teachers learn to design assessments that are open-ended, project-based, and engaging, students are provided with greater choice and voice in determining how they demonstrate proficiency over content and skills. For example, to demonstrate proficiency of the properties of energy, imagine a fourth grade science task in which students must construct a solar cooker that increases the temperature by X degrees through developing prototypes, testing them out, and analyzing and reporting on data. Conversely, envision a set of multiple choice and open-response questions on the properties of energy. Which assessment would give you the most valuable information about what a student knows and is able to do? Which assessment would engage the student in a meaningful learning experience in addition to assessing proficiency?

To build teacher capacity to create rich, valid performance tasks, and to reliably score student work, MCIEA performance assessment lead teams from a first cohort of 15 consortium schools are participating in a four-day institute over four months. Teachers learn a suite of protocols and resources to engage one another in rich conversations about what makes a high quality, engaging performance task that places students in optimal position to demonstrate proficiency. Particular attention is paid to creating performance assessments that have technical quality, for example, introducing tools for ensuring:

  • Validity: the task and rubric are aligned to the standards or competencies that are intended to be measured
  • Fairness: the task is culturally responsive and accessible to students from all subgroups
  • Reliability: teachers from different classrooms, schools, and districts have a common understanding of what constitutes quality student work, as evidenced by consistent scoring of student work

In turn, these school teams are charged, with CCE assistance, to build the capacity of the entire faculty to engage in the full performance assessment cycle. In the future, cross-district task validation sessions as well as calibration scoring of student work and proficiency determinations will further build teachers’ instructional craft as we build a system that demonstrates validity, reliability, and comparability.

MCIEA embraces the belief that we can only change the educational system if teachers are at the forefront, working collaboratively toward a shared vision. The consortium fosters spaces of professional learning for educators from varied districts and experiences to come together to create high-engaging, valid, curriculum-embedded performance assessments that can be shared and used across the network. As Erica Pastor, a teacher from Boston’s Orchard Gardens (K-8) Pilot School, stated at the end of the first QPA Institute day, “I think that the [MCIEA] districts that are here today represent different demographics, different income levels, and sometimes I think that when you are in schools with high-poverty levels people think that those kids need something different from kids in wealthier districts and it’s not true. Kids are kids and all kids want to be engaged and all kids deserve a rich, inspiring education.

Another teacher at the end of the institute day highlighted the advantage that performance tasks provide to hone in on more meaningful knowledge and skills, “I appreciate the opportunity to assess deeper knowledge as compared to typical standardized testing.” A third teacher noted the advantage of performance assessment in empowering the learner, “I appreciate the focus on having students take more accountability for their learning by choosing a topic that engages them and seeking out their own sources of information. Students can approach a task in many different ways and show what they learned and know in exciting and unexpected ways.”

When teachers lead the design of assessment systems, there is going to be greater ownership and commitment. As teachers learn and practice the cycle of designing, validating, administering, and scoring curriculum-embedded performance tasks, they improve their instructional practice while providing students with deep, engaging tasks in which they can exercise choice in how they demonstrate their learning of essential knowledge and skills. As one MCIEA teacher noted, “[MCIEA provides an] opportunity to reflect deeply with broad input to and feedback from colleagues about the types of assessment projects or products that really matter.”

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