Fueling the National Conversation about Education Reform

collaboration in the classroomOne of the wonderful aspects of working in the education marketplace is that partnerships between public and private entities regularly form for the purpose of research. Often, the research is freely shared for the benefit of the entire education community and marketplace.

Such are the new study results on assessment from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) a not-for-profit committed to child-centered education and Peter Grunwald and Associates, a public relations and research practice focused on children, families, technology and education.

The factor that sets this K-12 study apart from others is that it adds a new voice to the conversation – parents. Most studies about assessment focus on students and educators only. As the study points out, parents are the primary consumers of assessment information and foot the bill for the assessments through taxes.

Agreement on Fundamental Goals

Not surprisingly, there is fundamental agreement between parents and educators about the goals for assessment:

  • Zoom in for a close-up view of performance progress and needs of individual children.
  • Zoom out by using a wider lens from multiple angles, over many moments in time – to assess student achievement in a full range of subjects and skills.

The study notes that formative and interim assessments are perceived as more valuable and more closely aligned to parent and educator priorities AND they provide a positive impact on instruction.

Since all three groups (parents, teachers, district administrators) find formative assessments more valuable and want more of them, the question becomes, why are we spending so much money and time on summative assessments? It is impossible to have this conversation without considering the effects of NCLB over the last ten years. Many critics believe that NCLB has lowered academic standards, narrowed the curriculum and initiated too many punitive measures.

NWEA makes recommendations for assessment developers and policy makers based on findings from this study:

  1. Broaden dialog beyond summative assessments and high stakes accountability.
  2. Avoid tunnel vision. Focus on more than English and Math and take the full measure of student learning across the curriculum.
  3. Develop innovative ways to measure the application of critical thinking, learning and life skills.
  4. Encourage local decision making on assessments that support learning.

Why does this matter?

Throughout this recent period of high unemployment, millions of U.S. jobs have gone unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers. The skill deficits for these jobs are primarily in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.  U.S. graduates are not prepared to move into these jobs. Nor are they ready for the many thousands of jobs that haven’t been created yet but which will almost certainly require skills in technology and engineering.

The future of our economy depends on our abilities to reform our education system to prepare graduates for jobs that require critical thinking and collaboration in addition to technical skills. The recommendations of this K-12 assessment study point us in the right direction, and deserve wide readership.

How are you participating in this essential national conversation?

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