Student testing can lift overall achievement

If you are a parent of a student in any of our public schools, you are probably aware that the annual state assessment is upon us.

A couple of weeks ago, students in third grade were assessed in reading and in the next three weeks, all students grades three to 10 will be assessed in reading, writing and mathematics, and grades five, eight and 10 will be assessed in science. These assessments are an opportunity for students to demonstrate learning from the last year and provide feedback to parents, students, schools, our district and the state.

In the coming year, we will see major changes in the ways students are assessed. The current Transitional Colorado Assessment Program is an assessment much like the ones we may remember from school. While there is some application of skill embedded within TCAP and some opportunity for open response, it really, for the most part, remains a “find the information or answer” type of assessment. In 2014-15, Colorado will shift to a new assessment in reading, writing and math along with 23 other states.

The PARCC test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) will be administered to students in grades three to 11. This test will reflect the new Colorado Academic Standards, which include the National Common Core Standards, that have shifted from “what kids need to know” to “what kids need to be able to do” at each grade level. The results of these assessments will not only inform schools and districts about the quality of learning, but also have implications for students as they register for colleges across the country. With this being a national assessment, results may be used to determine placement and influence admissions for post-secondary institutions as well.

Next year (2013-14), the state will implement a new assessment in science and social studies that will be based on the same “application of skill” concept. Students in fourth, seventh and 12th grades will take an assessment on cumulative standards in social studies while students in fifth, eighth and 12th grades will take an assessment on cumulative standards in science. All of these assessments – both state and national – will be online so results can be received and help parents, students and teachers gain information more rapidly.

In Durango School District, we have focused the process of shifting to the new Colorado Academic Standards, and we are working to change the way we think about student assessment. We’ve engaged teachers across the region in developing relevant, authentic assessment tasks that teachers can use throughout the year.

This assessment bank will not be used as “an event” but rather embedded in our instruction next year to monitor progress. Working together, our team will ensure that students are not only ready to demonstrate their skill when assessed, but are ready to take on the new challenges life will present after they graduate.

While it’s easy to have increased stress levels for both students and teachers when high-stakes assessments are administered, this assessment is only one data point about student learning – though an important one.

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Daniel Snowberger is the superintendent of the Durango School District.