News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Assessments

conv logo 2Illinois is currently in the middle of its annual state assessment of students with the PARCC exam. We have highlighted the video series discussing the role of assessment and how they inform teachers. At the 114th Annual Illinois PTA Convention, Dr. Kay Dugan, Assistant Superintendent for Learning at Bensenville School District 2, shared what her district has learned about how to effectively use assessment as part of the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) Student Assessment Inventory Pilot Program. Bensenville School District has 2,151 students, three-quarters of whom receive free/reduced lunch, two-thirds of whom are Hispanic, and over one-third of whom have limited English proficiency.

Types of Assessment

Dr. Dugan noted that it is important to distinguish between the different types of assessments that teachers use. Formative assessments are used to determine where a student is in the learning process to inform the teacher where students need additional instruction and where they have mastered the material. Dr. Dugan compared formative assessments to a chef working in the kitchen, tasting dishes to see if the cooks have prepared the dishes correctly or if more seasoning is needed. Formative assessments may be done in a variety of ways, including classroom discussions, exit slips, quizzes, observation, and other means.

Summative assessments are intended to provide a summary of how well students have mastered the material after instruction is done, such as a final exam in a course, a student portfolio created over the semester or year, or the PARCC exam. Dr. Dugan stated that summative assessments are like the chef’s dish heading out into the dining room for the restaurant critic.

In between these two are interim assessments, things like chapter or unit tests, which measure how well students have mastered materials but also inform how the teacher should proceed. Dr. Dugan noted that formative assessments generally should not be for grades, as students are still struggling and learning the material. She shared how some students can lose hope when these assessments are graded, because they may do poorly on them while learning the material and then when they have mastered the subject, their summative assessment can’t pull their grade up by itself.

Balanced Assessment

The key, Dr. Dugan shared, is to have balanced assessment with frequent formative assessments, periodic interim assessments, and limited summative assessments. Yet when Bensenville School District began their first assessment inventory, they found that they were completely out of balance. There was almost no formative assessment being done. There were some interim assessments, but they were used in a more summative way, mirroring the ISAT’s multiple choice format. There were many summative assessments. Dr. Dugan described their approach as over testing but under assessing.

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Critical Questions About Assessment

As a result of their first assessment inventory, Bensenville began having frank discussions about which tests were providing valuable information. Coupled with research showing that regular, high-quality, classroom level formative assessment could increase student achievement, Bensenville realized that they needed to change how assessment was done in the district. Dr. Dugan noted three critical questions that they asked about every assessment:

  • Does the assessment arise from high-quality standards?
  • Does the assessment produce accurate evidence of learning?
  • Does the assessment provide results that reliably inform decisions?

Dr. Dugan also noted that the district needed to have teachers well-versed in the role of assessment in the classroom. The district provided extensive professional development for teachers on assessment, both in knowing its role in informing instruction and it creating effective formative assessments for the classroom. The effect of this approach has transformed how the district teaches students as well as how it assesses them.

ISBE Resources on Balanced Assessment

ISBE has provided school districts with information and training on how to conduct a student assessment inventory like Bensenville, Urbana, and West Aurora did in the pilot project. ISBE also has a page dedicated to balance assessment.

Finally, Dr. Dugan will be presenting at an event hosted by the P-20 Council Data, Assessment, and Accountability Committee in West Aurora on Thursday, April 21 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Attendance is free, but registration is required. A similar free (registration required) event will be held on Wednesday, April 27 from 3:30pm to 5:30pm at Urbana High School sharing their experience with the Student Assessment Inventory.

Sign the Testing Bill of Rights!

This post by Jacki Ball originally appeared on National PTA’s One Voice blog. Jacki Ball is the director of government TestBetter-Promo1affairs at National PTA.

National PTA is pleased to join forces with the Center for American Progress (CAP), America Achieves and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), among others in support of the Testing Bill of Rights to ensure assessments are fair, reliable, relevant, and aligned to high-quality standards.

The Testing Bill of Rights outlines the need to accurately measure student learning in a way that is useful for parents and teachers and less burdensome for students. As states continue to transition to higher standards and a new generation of high-quality tests come to fruition, more needs to be done at state and local levels to address over testing and provide greater transparency about the purpose and benefits of each test. No parent wants their child reduced to a test score, and assessment results should be used to inform instruction, provide parents and communities with information about whether students are working at grade level or are struggling, and allow teachers to diagnose and help their students. The launch of the Testing Bill of Rights is part of a campaign led by CAP to educate school leaders, students, teachers, and parents about the need for better, fairer and fewer tests.

National PTA understands the frustration that parents, students and educators have expressed regarding over testing. However, instead of walking away from assessments themselves, National PTA seeks to empower and engage parents in the important conversations around the amount and types of tests students take as well as advocate for parents to be at the table as these discussions occur at state and local levels. Parents are an important part of the solution to improve assessments, and we can’t walk away from this responsibility.

The association believes that in order to provide the most accurate information to parents, educators, schools, districts and states all students must participate in required state assessments. The information gathered from assessments helps to make sure all students and schools are receiving the necessary resources and supports in order to reach their full potential. Additionally, if we do not have full data sets, we won’t know if the assessments actually do what they are designed or purported to do.

National PTA has always believed that educational improvements and increased well-being for our nation’s children comes from engaged and empowered parents and families. The parent voice is critical in the discussion around educational equity. Parents must be part of the solution for fairer, better and fewer tests.

National PTA urges you to sign the Testing Bill of Rights to ensure students are taking high-quality and aligned assessments, parents have accurate information on their child’s progress and achievement and teachers have a tool that helps improve instruction.

7 Things Families Need to Know About the New Illinois Science Standards

In 2014, Illinois adopted a new set of science standards, based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). School districts have been implementing the standards since then, and all schools must use the standards beginning in the 2016-2017 school year. Here are X things that families need to know about these new standards.

  1. The standards emphasize a more engaged, hands-on approach to science. Students are not asked to just memorize facts; they are expected to apply them, to analyze them, to interpret them, to compare them, and to use them to make models. The aim is to give students a deeper understanding of core science and engineering concepts and to have them apply those concepts to real-world skills.
  2. The standards focus on performance  Each standard, such as the fifth-grade physical sciences standard for Energy below, states what students are expected to be able to do at the top (the standard). Each standard has associated Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), and Crosscutting Concepts. The standards also show connections to other DCIs at the current and other grade levels as well as links to Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts and Math.5th Grade Science Standards - Energy
  3. The standards reflect the interconnected nature of science. Science is not just a collection of facts, but an interconnected network of ideas and concepts. The standards incorporate this by linking standards within a grade level and across grade levels.
  4. The standards are not curriculum. The standards spell out what students need to know and be able to do at the end of the school year. How teachers teach students to meet those standards is where curriculum comes in, and it will be up to each school district to select the curriculum materials that they believe will provide the best instruction for students to meet those standards.
  5. The standards incorporate engineering and design. Each standard has associated science and engineering practices associated with it. Engineering design was included in the standards to provide the core ideas of engineering and technology the same status as those in other major science disciplines. There are two reasons why engineering and technology were included in the standards. First, from a practical standpoint, engineering and technology provide opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of science by applying their scientific knowledge to practical problems. Second, the connection of scientific knowledge to real world applications can motivate students to continue their science and engineering education longer into their schooling, a critical component for our country producing enough scientists and engineers to address the major challenges facing the world in the coming years.
  6. The standards are designed to prepare students for college, career, and citizenship. Our world is becoming increasingly complex, and science and technology are critical for understanding that world. Whether it is making informed decisions about healthcare, choosing and using technology, or understanding current events, understanding science is key. In addition, critical science and engineering skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem solving prepare students for success in all careers, not just those in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
  7. Illinois will administer the Illinois Science Assessment (ISA) this spring. The new Illinois Science Assessment (ISA) will be given to students in grades 5 and 8 and once at the high school level this May (although April may be a possibility). The high school assessment will be given to students in Biology I. The new assessment is aligned with the new Illinois science standards. It was developed in collaboration with the District of Columbia schools, which administered an NGSS-aligned assessment in 2015.

New Report Evaluates Content and Quality of PARCC Assessment

Fordham Report CoverIn less than a month, the testing window for this year’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) will open and schools will begin assessing students in grades 3 through 8 and in high school. There was some controversy surrounding last year’s PARCC assessment, and this year’s assessment is changing to address some of those issues—a single testing window, fewer testing modules, and shorter time required.

A new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute highlights two years of research into the new assessments being used by states to provide an independent, third-party review of the tests’ content, quality, and rigor. The researchers used the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Criteria for Procuring and Evaluating High-Quality Assessments as their benchmark, and focused on the end-of-year assessments in grades 5 and 8.

With regards to PARCC, the researchers found that the assessment was an excellent match in content and depth to the English/Language Arts standards and a good match to the math standards in both content and depth. The math assessment could be improved by increasing the focus on the major work in grade 5 and providing a few more easier problems in grade 8 to better assess the lower-performing students (because the grade 8 math PARCC assessment was found to have an uneven distribution of problems at all difficulty levels).

The researchers recommend that state policymakers make quality assessments a requirement. They note that while current assessments such as PARCC have room for improvement, weak assessments leave state leaders, educators, and families believing that their students are doing well when they are not