A New Paradigm for Assessing “Readiness for College”

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A new paradigm for college and career readiness has been reported by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the National Center for Innovation in Education by the University of Kentucky. Among other gems in this report are ways in which assessment could be better aligned with accountability resulting in greater learning for more children.

As schools across the country prepare for new standards under the Common Core, states are moving toward creating more aligned systems of assessment and accountability. This report recommends an accountability approach that focuses on meaningful learning, enabled by professionally skilled and committed educators, and supported by adequate and appropriate resources, so that all students regardless of background are prepared for both college and career when they graduate from high school. Drawing on practices already established in other states and on the views of policymakers and school experts, this report proposes principles for effective accountability systems and imagines what a new accountability system could look like in an imagined “51st state” in the United States. While considerable discussion and debate will be needed before a new approach can take shape, this report’s objective is to get the conversation started so the nation can meet its aspirations for preparing college- and career-ready students. (Darling-Hammond, L., Wilhoit, G., & Pittenger, L. (2014). Accountability for college and career readiness: Developing a new paradigm. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Abstract.)

It is no coincidence that better alignment of assessments so that testing does more than sort and rank students would help prepare students for college readiness. But most important in this report is the push for higher-quality assessments that dig deeper on student learning and reveal what meaning students are making of their experience. It is at this deeper level that many pathways become closed, students falter, and teachers are unable to correct.

A system of higher-quality assessments, both state-designed and locally developed, should include authentic performance tasks (e.g., classroom-based projects and products like those used in other countries) that assess and encourage the development of the full range of higher order skills. These kinds of assessments should be part of student learning evaluations and should also be part of a multifaceted collection of evidence for teacher evaluation and school review. Moving to a system of assessments necessitates that we abandon a singular focus on statewide summative assessments as the basis of all important decisions (Stanford University and University of Kentucky Report, page 5)

Although Statewide summative assessments report on student scores, a higher-quality of assessment that reports not just scores but also student thinking might lead to a much better discussion on how to improve student learning and teacher instruction. It should be a dialogue.

Such a system should be: reciprocal and comprehensive, focused on capacity-building, performance-based, and embedded in a multiple-measures system(Stanford University and University of Kentucky Report, page 5).

Most importantly a new paradigm should be constructed with multiple-measures of student learning, probing for problem areas and reporting back to teachers, students and administrators.