Last week in Philadelphia, I attended meetings and workshops with Association Directors on accreditation, strategic partnerships, schools of the future, and assessment.
Accreditation? Assessment? Associations? What does it say about me that I find this stuff exciting?
One highlight was the presentation on assessment. American public teachers are burdened with pressure to teach to standardized tests. In fact, educators in North America whether in the public or independent sector, are all facing increasing pressure to ‘show us the money’ as it were. Parents these days, themselves the most highly educated cohort in history, are demanding objective tools that will not only assess where little Johnny is relative to established, age-appropriate standards, but also to give a sense of the quality of the teacher and a school’s curriculum delivery.
Educators tend to resist assessment tools, not because they’re hiding anything, (for the most part), but because the tools have traditionally been sorely wanting in terms of providing a consistent and unimpeachable benchmark that embraces learning on all levels, and not just math scores. And the idea of ‘teaching to a test’ is increasingly becoming anathema to 21st century educators who know that a child needs more than a good grade to make the grade in today’s world.
At the conference in Philly, the question posed was this: What if someone could design a test that was worth teaching to?
NAIS has done a great review of some of the existing assessment instruments such as school ratios, various types of tests, and ranking/rating lists. Check out their pdf called “Demonstrating Independent School Quality: Inventory of Institutional Assessment Instruments.”
The assessment presentation was by Kevin Mattingly, Dean of Faculty at The Lawrenceville School. Kevin asked some questions worth considering: how do we assess those things that are most important? What’s worth teaching that is enduring beyond school? What is the value-add of our schools? Since 2006, Lawrenceville is one of now 73 schools using a test called the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA).
The CWRA is a modified version of the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) that presents realistic problems that require students to analyze complex materials varying in reliability and accuracy, and to construct written responses that demonstrate their abilities to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and communicate clearly and cogently. These skills are intertwined and the CWRA measures them holistically. Additionally, the institution—not the student—is the primary unit of analysis.
Kevin argued that the CWRA is a test worth looking at and that teaching and learning should be aligned with assessment. What caught my attention most was his passion. Here was an educator making that case for using assessment to support teaching and learning. That alone is a worthy pursuit. But here is also a change leader who readily admits that his school is taking risks and trying new ways to engage and challenge students. And he had the guts to share his progress.
It’s far from an answered question, and maybe it never truly can be. But the quest to find ways to realistically and usefully assess a student’s progress in school, and with it, the progress of the school itself, is a worthy pursuit. And not just because parents and politicians are calling for more accountability, and not just because we all need some objective measures that can help in the mix of ensuring that little Johnny is ready for the big leagues at university, but because improvements to teaching and learning is our daily goal for every student.