Those of us who pay close attention to the education landscape have witnessed quite a bit of change in recent months, much of it fueled by political transitions.
The 2018 elections produced a significant shift in the governing makeup of the states, and the changes are likely to have important consequences in state education policies across the country.
— Democrats gained seven gubernatorial seats among the 36 states that had governor’s races on the ballot (Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin).
— Republicans won the governorship in Alaska, while the previously Democratic-controlled House in the state is now deadlocked, without a governing majority.
— For the first time since 1995, Arizona has a Democratic superintendent of public instruction.
— Six state legislative chambers flipped from Republican control to Democratic control (Colorado Senate, Maine Senate, Minnesota House, New Hampshire House and Senate, New York Senate).
These transitions are likely to manifest themselves in changes to accountability systems mandated by ESSA, including significant changes in the way states employ assessments as a means of achieving policy objectives. While it’s still early, we expect to see some states rewriting their ESSA plans to reflect revised priorities.
While approaches to accountability don’t fall neatly along political lines, we see generally a growing trend to rethink test-based accountability. States nationally continue to reduce the use of assessments as a high school graduation requirement, expanding the use of alternative pathways by which students can demonstrate their readiness for post-secondary success. Numerous states since 2017 have begun reducing the weight of student achievement in teacher effectiveness ratings. And most recently, local superintendents in several states have pushed back strongly as states released their new school report cards based primarily on standardized tests.
Some interpret these signals as states backing away from high expectations for all students to graduate ready for college and career, or from their commitments to ensuring that all students regardless of zip code have access to quality teachers and courses.
I think not. I prefer to believe that our educational leaders are calling not for a roll-back of high expectations and accountability, but for new approaches to inspiring deeper learning that engages students and leads them toward their highest potential. Parents and educators are not calling for us to abandon high expectations, but to stop reducing students, teachers, and schools to a single number or grade, to recognize that the knowledge, skills, and abilities we want our children to develop (and our children’s teachers to support) are diverse and multidimensional.
What this means for designers and users of assessments is not simply to stop assessing but to rethink how good assessments support good teaching and learning. That means engaging students in more-authentic tasks that are relevant and worthwhile, tied to what they’re learning in school, and that model the kinds of complex and creative thinking and problem solving that students will need to thrive in an increasingly complex and ever-changing world.
One end-of-year, standardized assessment cannot provide all that. Which is why it’s exciting to see states like New Hampshire, Louisiana, and Georgia piloting innovative assessment and accountability designs, and fourteen states participating in innovation networks to reimagine assessments and accountability that start with a commitment to promoting greater student ownership of their learning through richer performance tasks.
At New Meridian, we embrace this vision for a more authentic, student-centered assessment, and we’re excited about the prospect of working with states to design innovative, next-generation assessment systems that support good teaching and learning. Our pool of over 20,000 high-quality performance tasks and test questions—all of which have been produced, reviewed, and approved by states—were designed to engage students in more authentic tasks, tasks that measure critical thinking, reasoning, research, and communication skills. These include tasks that can be embedded into the curriculum for instructional purposes and common tasks that can be administered statewide throughout the year. With these building blocks, states can finally build balanced systems of assessment that engage students, inform instruction, and provide a reliable measure of student learning more cost effectively.
Progress cannot happen without change. And helping states adapt to a changing landscape is what we do best.