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Wed, Aug. 21

Streeter: Assessing what matters, a broader perspective

Daniel Streeter, Superintendent of Humboldt Unified Schools. (HUSD/Courtesy)

Daniel Streeter, Superintendent of Humboldt Unified Schools. (HUSD/Courtesy)

The restlessness of spring fever is upon us as we are beginning to see glimpses of warmer weather, our days are getting longer, and of course, for our schools, it is standardized testing time.

While the earliest form of standardization can be traced back to the 1892 Committee of Ten, it was the early 1980s that introduced today’s notions of accountability.

The seminal report A Nation at Risk appeared stating that our schools were substantially underperforming and in need of reform. This set off a wave of reform efforts focusing on standardized testing as a means to measure quality that continue to influence education policy today.

So it stands that schools across the state of Arizona are pulling over from their curricular and instructional paths, interrupting critical interdisciplinary and thematic units, and reshaping school schedules over a three week period all in the name of standardized testing. Perhaps it is time to move away from these narrow forms of accountability.

I think that we can agree that a broader perspective of teaching and learning is needed in order to provide the educational experiences that will develop the skills that students will require for success in the 21st century. This does not mean that our schools should not be held accountable. I believe that accountability is a critical component of our education system.

However, in a time in which there is a general agreement that our educational system needs to provide all students with a strong academic foundation that includes the ability to adapt to rapidly changing environments, build resiliency and self-directedness, as well as the ability to critically analyze problems, it seems a better answer than standardized testing exists.

The challenge today is the disconnectedness between policy and reality. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a call to “rethink” schools in her address to the American Enterprise Institute stating, “Our children deserve better than the 19th century assembly-line approach. They deserve learning environments that are agile, relevant, exciting. Every student deserves a customized, self-paced, and challenging lifelong learning journey.”

Yet, when the state of Arizona set out to provide a customized approach through the introduction of the menu of assessments for state testing, it was the U.S. Department of Education that rejected Arizona’s request for a waiver from these traditional guidelines.

My hope is that this is a temporary setback. I believe that Arizona can join the handful of other states that have aligned the values and skills that have been identified as necessary for our students in the 21st century. I look forward to integrating performance-based components into our assessment system.

This would allow us to more closely reflect the genuine performance skills that measure students’ ability to apply skills and knowledge learned from units of study; require students to engage in time-intensive, in-depth research projects and papers; and to engage in rigorous performance tasks that require critical thought.

Getting to a point in which we can assess performance authentically will allow us to generate positive instructional impacts as well as leverage our accountability systems in a way that will provide future graduating classes with the skills our society and economy is seeking.

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