notes on Boston fed hearing on assessment Nov 12
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- Subject: notes on Boston fed hearing on assessment Nov 12
- From: "Monty Neill" <email@example.com>
- Date: Fri, 13 Nov 2009 13:21:10 -0500
A few notes from the hearing Nov 12 in Boston on uses of the RTTT assessment fund.
That fund is $350 million, to go to consortia of states to develop assessments (or merely tests) based on the forthcoming 'common standards." Half the funds will have to be distributed to districts, focusing on the lowest-income. [In my oral remarks I said those funds should be used to develop local formative and summative assessments, as recommended by MA legislation that I cite in my written remarks, at www.fairtest.org.]
The Ed Dept is holding hearings in Boston, Denver and Atlanta. Yesterday's was on 'general assessment' issues. Six invited experts presented to and discussed with 4 staff from ED. 10 people gave 5 minute commentaries from the audience, with no response time from ED or experts. My testimony, in full with references and links, is on the FT web; I only slightly modified it for my 5 minute oral presentation. From the audience, Marilyn Segal of MA Citizens for Public Schools, Worcester School Committee-elect and long-time test reform activist Tracy Novick, and Patrice Ball who flew on her on from Milwaukee presented excellent remarks. The whole thing was transcribed, and presenters and commenters have written remarks submitted that I assume also will be on the Dept website. People can send in their comments by Dec 2 tp firstname.lastname@example.org. More info generally is at http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/index.html
I took extensive notes on the presenters and their discussion, and will not even try to provide any detail on them. The best of the panelists was Scott Marion from the Nat Ctr for Improvement in Ed Assessment, formerly from Wyoming Dept of Ed where he helped lead implementation of 'body of evidence' approach to graduation based on actual student work (districts could include test results at their option, if memory serves me). Much of what he said is congruent with what FairTest and the Forum on Educational Accountability's Expert Panel on Assessment have proposed (3 of those panelists are invited experts in this series of hearings, none on 12th in Boston). The differences are not irrelevant, but his ideas would make a huge difference in the federal role in assessment. Some points from other people backed him up, but most did not stray too far from the limits defined by the federal register notice announcing the hearings (see my testimony for more on that).
That is, most of them kept the centrality of state exams, with other things remaining as adjucts to it. That approach will not lead to constructing assessment systems that help kids. The experts discussed quite a bit on how to include performance tasks. There was disagreement on whether local evidence should be included in state accountability (Ed Week story of 11/13 captured some of that). While the Dept's conception of assessment for learning (formative) is wrong and flawed, some of the discussion around it could lead the Dept to improve its approach. There seemed to be a recognition by many presenters that interim assessments could be useful but should not be simply a set of standardized mini-tests (as they now are). One proposal for performance tasks would have them tied to curriculum mini-units, and those could be interim assessments during the year (by now I may be combining a couple specific proposals in my mind - they did blur - trying to give an overall sense). Some pointed out the issues involve teaching and curriculum and professional development, not assessment in isolation. There was also quite a bit of discussion of new technology, general praising it - but a session on morning of 13th was to focus on that (I could not make it). Such technology could reinforce central control or be used to assert classroom, school and local control, in my view; some may be intellectually useful, much reduces human thinking to what a computer algorithm can be made to understand. That area will need to be watched carefully.
In sum, the presentations did not directly challenge the ED framework, but some aspects of some presentations, esp Marion's, clearly went past those boundaries. Many specifics could be useful in challenging the framework offered by the Dept. The questioning was often thoughtful, so maybe there is some hope the staff present, who included Joanne Weiss the Director of the RTTT program and other reasonably high-ranking people, were hearing and could be influenced.
So, content-wise, while on the one hand this was largely a cautious set of comments too tied (with some exceptions) to existing tests and psychometrics (rather than starting with how people learn and what systems/structures will best support and enhance that), it is also possible this will lead to something definitely better than the Dept's initial thinking. I would note that many experts I think could also go well beyond the Dept's boundaries will testify at the other meetings.
At the end of their discussion, they got into pragmatic issues. Henry Braun esp pushed this. For example, states now have contracts with test companies extending years into the future - how will that be negotiated? States lack infrastructure as do schools (one commenter, a teacher, said she had one electrical outlet in her room! - so much for new technology). If consortia do form, how will they make decisions that will be binding on states, what processes will be acceptable and could work? Braun said a good system (his had some positive points but not as good as Marion's) could be built in 3-5 years - if there was not now a system. But there is, and it will cause major problems for moving ahead. This was actually quite interesting in that one could see many ways in which this whole thing could collapse or drag on for years - for good or bad. This discussion should be part of the transcription of the meeting, folks may want to look for it.
The upshot will be revised guidelines I think in Jan. They too could well influence ESEA reauthorization. So for the new guidelines and reauth, it is worth sending in comments, even brief ones, outlining key things the Dept should do (I hope my comments are useful to you in that regard - steal anything you like).
And if any of you do read anything from this process that you think is worth informing us about - dangers or good ideas - share it.
Ed Week on Boston hearing is at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/11/13/12stim-assess.h29.html?tkn=QTLFRYyBCY7bkwe5f%2B1UZN9ysl4n5nV8m6Cl
Monty Neill, Ed.D.
Interim Executive Director
15 Court Sq., Ste. 820
Boston, MA 02108
857-350-8207 x 101
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