Philip D. Lanoue is the superintendent of the 13,000-student Clarke County School District in Georgia, the most impoverished county in the state — and he is the 2015 American Association of School Administrators National Superintendent of the Year. As Clarke superintendent since 2009, he is credited with making more gains to close the achievement between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students than any other district in the state. Here’s a piece by Lanoue on the difference between high-stakes testing and meaningful assessment.
By Philip D. Lanoue
We are in the midst of a testing epidemic. We are requiring teachers to give students test after test, and students are asking who the test evaluates – because it is not about them anymore. Why are we only looking at students as no more than a test score, and evaluating teachers in the same way? Evaluating the total learning experience for either students or teachers through high stakes testing has no real research base and holds little value for students. Let’s not confuse the high-stakes testing movement with the practice of effective and meaningful assessment.
Is the testing movement really about children learning?
That is the question that is most perplexing to me. I look at my colleagues in other districts across the country, and I believe there is consensus among educators that conversations regarding school transformation must shift from problems and failure to solutions and successes.
It is clear that the annual testing merry-go-round is not going to get the results we want: all students engaged and performing at high levels. Rather, this fixation on ratings through high stakes testing is so entrenched that we are missing the bigger picture about the true purpose of our classrooms. Teachers need to be able to inspire students to seek answers using new skills and knowledge to solve problems. Students and teachers alike should not have such great emphasis on singular tests that hold the key to how both are ultimately assessed.
Can we approach assessment differently and meaningfully?
We need to shift the conversation away from testing and toward one where the primary focus is educating students to be inquisitive and engaged, and to foster their own understanding of individual strengths and areas for growth. Through clearly articulated performance standards, teachers can design lessons to challenge students and create assessments to inform both students and teachers of their progress. Teachers can then provide students with the needed feedback and support to ensure they are growing and learning.
With education technology constantly evolving, we can leverage new solutions with new processes. We must also ensure strong professional development is in place to use these new tools. The process must be continuous to effectively develop new ways to assess students and monitor their progress, create a challenging curriculum aligned to standards and personalize instruction to meet students where they are. By using tools that offer real-time monitoring protocols with new assessment strategies, educators can identify academic gaps as they arise, instead of when it’s too late to correct them.
How can school districts create the change needed so that all students are challenged – and not simply tested?
In Athens, Georgia (Clarke County), we are doing just that. We have developed strong partnerships with the business sector to develop new assessments strategies and tools that foster student interests, while ensuring proficiency. By using data insightfully, we can understand where students are at any point in time. This is done through realistic and sensible formative assessment measures of growth, and we are able to personalize learning in ways not possible in high stakes testing environments where results are delayed by months. Educators don’t need or want to wait for post-test or end-of-year summative test results to understand how well students understand critical concepts and skills. Instead, teachers can be working with students every step of the way to offer the guidance and support they need to succeed, and it’s up to administrators to empower their teachers to use these tools. It provides everyone with accountability that can be used to improve learning outcomes, rather than evaluate educator performance. The learning focus must return to students with teachers held to a standard of performance that promotes growth as a formative process.
Using new tools alone will not move us ahead; it’s a new mindset. New models for collaboration using growth models need to be designed to replace our current framework of testing, so accountability is more powerful for students and teachers. Students and educators need to have the capacity to ask: What do I need to know, and what do I want to know? By working together to develop a plan and implement and monitor student growth in real-time with innovative tools, we can begin to see results. We are on the cusp of making radical transformations without the high-stakes testing regiment, but it is up to the educators, administrators, parents and students to demand this change come to fruition.
We need to have a voice – a strong voice that is not predicated on a false transformation using fool’s gold. Our children deserve more from us!