Ann Cook and Phyllis Tashlik: In assessing student learning, one size doesn’t fit all
This op-ed from the New York Daily News explains how student assessment could be far better than the Big Standardized Test, pointing to an option that has been thriving in 38 New York public high schools for more than two decades.
Performance-based assessment is a wholly different approach to accountability. The traditional standardized test is imposed on the classroom and forces teachers to teach to the test, severely narrowing curriculum in an effort to preserve school (not individual student) ratings. Performance assessment grows out of the classroom: from what students are learning and exploring, the give-and-take of discussions, the relationship and trust that grows between teachers and students, and the deep knowledge teachers have of their discipline and students.
In performance assessment classrooms, students are expected to grapple with complexity and analysis; evaluate multiple perspectives; develop both arguments and probing questions. They write analytical papers across the disciplines (literature, history, science, math) and defend their work before panels of external evaluators. Student work becomes the prime evidence of what students know and can do, instead of standardized test scores, which are poor facsimiles of actual knowledge.
The message is clear: One size need not fit all. That has been a hard lesson for policy wonks: despite being a pervasive billion-dollar industry with advocacy from wealthy foundations, mandated standardized testing has not produced significant educational gains. Nor does it provide the specific information parents want to know about their child’s growth and potential.