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Topic: grist for the mill
Replies: 1   Last Post: Aug 11, 2000 3:37 PM

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Michael Paul Goldenberg

Posts: 7,041
From: Ann Arbor, MI
Registered: 12/3/04
grist for the mill
Posted: Aug 11, 2000 1:09 PM
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att1.html (16.1 K)

taken from:

Substitute your favorite inadequate high-stakes instrument where appropriate
while reading.

Michael Paul Goldenberg
5900 Bridge Rd #715
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
home: 734 482-0497
cell: 734 604-8559

"Truth is a mobile army of metaphors." Friedrich Nietzsche

Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education
c/o FairTest342 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139ph. 617-864-4810
fax 617-497-2224


A Call for an Authentic State-Wide Assessment System


* Education Reform in Massachusetts began with high hopes. As educators,
parents, and citizens, we believe those hopes have been eroded by the
Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests. These tests have
disrupted our classrooms and schools and diverted valuable resources away
from efforts that put decision making more appropriately in the hands of
local communities, schools, and teachers. High stakes testing, in which
students and schools are judged by the results of a single test, is a quick-
fix strategy that does not lead to sustained improvement in learning,
teaching, and assessment. Despite probable test score increases due
primarily to students and teachers becoming familiar with the test, MCAS
will only serve to narrow curriculum and instruction to focus on raising
test scores, create less interesting and challenging educational
opportunities for students, increase grade retention and dropout rates,
particularly for low-income students and students of color, and lower levels
of trust among teachers, administrators, students and parents. The use of
test scores to make decisions that will affect students¹ future
opportunities violates both principles of fairness and professional

The original intent of the Education Reform Act was to foster both
excellence and equity. The Act¹s accountability system was intended to
assist schools to create high quality learning opportunities for all
students, to hold schools responsible for implementing high quality
schooling, and to assess students¹ mastery of an essential set of core
knowledge, skills, and habits of mind. In doing so, an accountability system
needs to ensure that all students ­ including low-income students, students
of color, limited English proficient students, and students with special
needs - have access to high quality teaching and are well prepared to
participate as informed citizens in a democratic society.

However, the MCAS is being misused for high stakes decisions ­ no one test
should be the sole determinant to decide whether a student graduates from
high school. Rather than raising achievement for all students, this narrow
approach to accountability will increase the gap in opportunity and
performance between low-income and more affluent students, between regular
education and special education students, and between white students and
Black, Hispanic, and Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. The creation
of multiple levels of diplomas would only exacerbate the problem

While agreeing that many schools need to improve, the high stakes nature of
the MCAS and emphasis on a single paper and pencil test has diminished the
exercise of democracy and local innovation by excluding parents, teachers,
students, and administrators from participation and decision making in the
assessment process, and by undercutting intellectual freedom. We are on
dangerous ground, with MCAS threatening to undermine the benefits brought on
by the first years of Education Reform.

The Education Reform Act specifically called for the state to create a
multi-layered assessment system that included local as well as state
assessments, and work samples, portfolios, and exhibitions as well as paper
and pencil tests. The state should return to these original mandates for
shared accountability.

CARE proposes a comprehensive state-wide accountability plan that would
preserve a focus on high standards for all students and public
accountability for all schools, promote authentic reform in teaching and
learning in all schools and classrooms, and require schools to account for
their practice and results. In contrast to current efforts, this plan would
unite teachers, students, and parents around education practice that
develops students¹ intellectual skills. We propose to return to the original
tenets of Education Reform, that of a participatory and democratic process
that focuses on ensuring that all students are successful.

CARE¹s proposed system of accountability consists of four integrated
* Local authentic assessments that are gateways to graduation, approved
by regional boards and based on the Common Core of Learning and a
streamlined set of competencies
* A school quality review model to assess the effectiveness of school
practices, based on the models in Britain, Boston Pilot Schools, Rhode
Island, and Massachusetts¹ own process for reviewing charter schools
* Standardized testing solely in literacy and numeracy, to provide one
method for tracking progress of schools from year to year
* Required annual local reporting by schools to their communities, using
a defined set of indicators, that also focuses on equal opportunity and
access to knowledge for all students

We believe this set of accountability components, together, will go much
farther than the current MCAS in furthering the original aims and goals of
Education Reform, and will lead to steady improvement in our schools. This
model preserves the twin Education Reform goals of excellence and equity,
and leads to even greater accountability for schools in assisting all
students to learn at high levels.

CARE¹s Proposed System of Accountability

1) Local authentic assessments that are gateways to graduation, approved by
regional boards and based on the Common Core of Learning. CARE supports an
assessment system in which districts and schools, rather than the state,
would determine graduation. CARE supports having the state define an
essential, but limited, body of knowledge, skills, and habits of mind that
all students should acquire. However, this system should be built on a set
of focused, but broad state-defined competencies, while allowing local
schools and districts the freedom to create assessment systems that meet the
needs of their unique student populations. In this model, only one form of
high school diploma would be awarded, rather than multiple levels as
currently proposed.

The state¹s Common Core of Learning provides a good base from which to build
a streamlined statewide set of competencies for grades four, eight, and
twelve. While broad, they provide an understanding of what it means for
students to be well educated, and also allow for the diversity of interests
and talents found among students. In this case, the Curriculum Frameworks
become a guide, rather than a required body of knowledge to master.

Using the Common Core and a streamlined set of competencies, each school in
the Commonwealth would develop its own accountability and assessment plan.
The plan, developed by teachers, administrators, and parents, and approved
by the school council and district, would outline how the school will ensure
that students demonstrate that they meet the Common Core, rather than only
counting courses, leading to graduation. This plan would specify the
curriculum, instructional approaches, assessments, and accountability
measures, including any additional competencies in addition to those
identified in the Common Core. Plans would be encouraged to include
authentic assessments, including portfolios, exhibitions, performance tasks,
student products, and external reviews, as well as how it will use this
information to improve itself. Such a process will assist teachers to focus
on high quality instruction and curriculum, rather than merely teaching to
the test.

Each school would submit its accountability plan to a regional board,
established by the Massachusetts Department of Education, which would
include teachers, administrators, teachers, parents, higher education
representatives, business representatives, community people, students, and
state education agency staff. The purpose of the body would be to ensure
that the school has developed a coherent plan that would lead to reliable
and genuine assessment to determine whether students have met the Common
Core learning goals and competencies. In reviewing and approving the plans,
the Regional Board might offer recommendations, and the Department of
Education could assign resource assistance, including people in other
schools who might be useful. In particular, significant assistance would be
directed to schools serving the highest percentage of low-income students
and students of color.

2) A school quality review model to assess the effectiveness of school
practices, based on the successful models in Britain, Boston Pilot Schools,
Rhode Island, and Massachusetts¹ own model for charter schools. In addition
to assessing what students know and are able to do, a genuine accountability
system also assesses the quality of opportunities, resources, instruction,
and curriculum that are offered to students. School quality reviews,
implemented in Britain, Rhode Island, and with the Boston Pilot Schools and
Commonwealth charter schools, similar to the school accreditation process,
is one way of providing schools with comprehensive feedback on their
practices, while also putting in place a state-wide system of quality
control and accountability. A key goal of school quality reviews is to
ensure equitable and quality resources and learning opportunities are being
provided to all students, and that the school can demonstrate it is working
to improve achievement of all students while also closing the achievement
gap between low-income and affluent students, and between white students and
students of color.

In a school quality review process, all schools would be placed on a three-
to five-year cycle for review and evaluation. Thestate would develop a set
of benchmarks for successful schools. For example, with the Boston Pilot
Schools benchmarks, the categories include vision; governance, leadership,
and budget; teaching, learning, and assessment; professional development and
support; and family and community partnerships. Using a similar set of
benchmarks, a school selected for review would engage in a period of
self-study to assess where it stood in reaching the benchmarks, and collect
evidence in the form of a school portfolio to demonstrate its progress in
meeting them. Teachers play a key role in conducting the self study. To
assist in the self study period, schools will be encouraged to form small
consortia to collaborate and assist one another in this process.

The state would then send in a team, made up of school practitioners from
other districts and other qualified people, to spend an intensive 3-4 days
to observe students and teachers, interview parents, review the portfolio,
and collect evidence to determine whether progress toward meeting the
benchmarks was being made. In particular, the team would also review a
random sampling of assessments of students who have graduated or been
promoted, to determine whether the school¹s assessments and the students¹
performances meet the demands of the Common Core and state benchmarks.

At the end of the review, the school would receive written feedback from the
review team, including recommendations for improvement, as well as a
presentation by the review team. Schools failing to reach the benchmarks
would be placed on a one-year follow-up review cycle, with further
intervention required if the school still did not make progress. CARE agrees
that schools which fail to serve their students well and which are unable to
improve despite help should not be allowed to continue without significant

3) Standardized testing solely in literacy and numeracy, to provide one
method for tracking progress of schools from year to year. The state may
still feel the need to have data that can be compared to other states, and
across districts. In this case, while recognizing their limitations,
inherent biases, and potential danger to instruction and curriculum, CARE
supports the limited use of standardized testing as an additional source of
information. Such tests should not have high stakes attached to them, should
take only a few hours to administer, and should assess only literacy and
numeracy. A commercial test may be more cost-efficient than creating,
administering, and scoring a home-grown standardized test such as the MCAS,
saved costs which could be much more usefully applied to building a more
comprehensive and shared accountability system. CARE also believes parents
should have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing.

4) Required annual local reporting by schools to their communities, using a
defined set of indicators, which also focus on equal opportunity and access
to knowledge for all students. Genuine accountability also requires public
reporting to the community. However, this reporting has much more meaning
when it is locally tailored to the needs of the community. In this case,
CARE advocates that the state develop a list of indicators that every school
and district must annually report to their respective communities. This list
of indicators should include reporting on outcomes of students by race,
gender, low-income status, special needs, and limited English proficiency.
The reports would include information derived from the assessments described
in points #1-3. However, how the report is crafted should be left up to each
individual locality. Schools and districts would be required to disseminate
their reports to parents and the community, while also sending them to the
Massachusetts Department of Education. The state may play a role of
reviewing and providing feedback on the reports to help make them useful. As
well, the state would be responsible for taking the data submitted and
preparing an annual document on the state of public education in

In this public, decentralized system of genuine accountability, the state
education agency assumes a resource and monitoring role. It provides
technical assistance with portfolio development, appropriate uses of tests,
the development of performance tasks, examples of organizing public
exhibitions, uses of rubrics, and protocols for public reporting. The state
annual report would include local examples of authentic assessments, as well
as aggregate data on student performance. The state¹s role, then, also
becomes one of disseminating and promoting best instructional, curriculum,
and assessment practices. While preserving a focus on high standards for all
students and public accountability for all schools, this system of genuine
accountability also encourages and promotes local innovation, creativity,
and freedom. Finally, such a multi-layered assessment system actually
promotes greater public accountability than the single, paper and pencil
MCAS, as it builds in multiple means of assessing a school¹s performance
through a system of local assessments, school quality reviews, and limited
standardized testing.

For more Information contact Karen Hartke, 617-864-4810,
or Rob Riordan, 617-492-3133,

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