In D.C. School, ‘Assessment Becomes a Tool’

Anecca Robinson is no stranger to interim assessment. In fact, she creates her own.

As assistant director at the Paul Public Charter School in Washington D.C., which serves middle school and high school students, Robinson coordinates all testing and manages curriculum and intervention programs. A few years ago, she and her team began developing interim assessments to prepare for the end-of-year summative tests.

“We’ve found from our own analysis that sometimes our assessments are even more rigorous than the summative end-of-year assessment,” she said. “So when our kids do well on the in-house tests, we have a pretty good guess, by conjecture, that our students will do well on the summative.”

Washington D.C. is a success story in the national education landscape, according to the latest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as “the nation’s report card” or simply NAEP.

It joined Mississippi as one of two places to substantially improve in most of the metrics that are tracked and had the highest gains in eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading over the 30 years since NAEP testing began. While there are many reasons for Washington’s success, efforts by teachers and administrators like Robinson play their part.

Robinson said she combines test items that have been made public with those from an item bank to create interim tests that give teachers timely feedback. The tests are carefully calibrated. “I pay attention to question type, level of rigor and how it’s assessing a particular standard,” she said.

The standards steer almost everything, Robinson said. “We are using the standards for the foundation of our curriculum updates, how we plan for instruction and how we plan for professional development,” she said. “It guides our efforts.”

“When I started here in 2017, we did a lot of professional development around reading and math, focusing on Common Core,” she said. “Our teachers said we need to design our curriculum so that the bulk of our efforts are focused on the key skills that are spelled out in the standards.”

The interim assessments used by the school also closely align to the standards, Robinson said. She rejects the idea that interim assessments encourage “teaching to the test.”

“What I always try to emphasize to the teachers is that we always have standards, and those standards inform how we teach and what we teach” she said. “As educators, we have to make decisions on how to pace instruction, how to modify curriculum based on class and individual student needs, but without watering down the standards. Assessment becomes a tool.”

Editor’s Note: For those who want to follow Ms. Robinson’s example, New Meridian makes exemplar classroom tasks available that are aligned to grade-level standards and assessments.