Dr. Jack Bierwirth is a retired superintendent who spent the last 15 years of his career at the helm of Herricks Union Free School District in New York. Jack shared his views on defining the purpose of assessments and how to go about the process of selecting the right assessment for the right purpose.
From the beginning, our delving deep into assessment was very much related to our instructional goals and aspirations for the district. We wanted benchmarks which would measure the skills and knowledge we wanted kids to have. And we wanted to do so in ways that would inform our instructional improvement and help us improve that – be more effective, be more efficient – but also tell us whether or not we were making progress. All of these objectives were completely interwoven and integral to our decision-making process.
One of the things that was important in our assessment selection was that we knew what we were looking for. We knew the kind of benchmarks we wanted. We knew what kinds of skills and knowledge we were trying to measure that existing assessments either didn’t measure or measured very inadequately. We wanted things that would give us a much better picture of where our kids stood beyond what our individual classroom teachers were doing on their own.
Historically, one of the things that’s happened both at the state and local levels is that people start with the instructional goals that they have, and then start developing assessments. And when they can’t assess something, they sort of forget about the goals and work backwards from what they can assess. Then the assessment starts driving things.
…we introduced MAP, and the test results were immediate and reliable. It was real, it was useful, it was transparent, it was instantaneous.”
We were looking at it in a different way. We said, “These are the things that are important to us. If we can find assessments that measure them, great. If we can’t, we’ll keep looking. What we’re not going to do is drop our instructional goals simply because there are not adequate assessments in some areas.” Our practical and philosophical approach towards assessment was somewhat different than what becomes a de facto decision-making process in many American schools and districts.
Once you select an assessment, it’s important for teachers and parents to understand the purpose and the value – and to see it for themselves. But without having long, district-wide meetings about the purposes of assessment. Try to educate people on an intuitive level, and they’ll get it. For instance, we introduced MAP, and the test results were immediate and reliable. It was real, it was useful, it was transparent, it was instantaneous. And the effect was kind of infectious because the teachers were happy with it. The teachers were saying to everybody, “This is the most accurate reflection of how we think students are actually doing of any standardized assessment we’ve ever been involved with.” They were happy about MAP and excited about MAP, and parents got it. If one assessment is useful and the other one isn’t, parents don’t need any more explanation. That kind of clarity and simplicity is really important.
At the end of the day, we came to assessment selection in our district with a purpose. The purpose didn’t change when we found the assessment. We had the goals, and we found assessments that did what we needed to inform and benchmark our instructional goals, not the other way around. Those assessments did not change our instructional goals. They highlighted areas we needed to work on, but they didn’t change the goals.
For more information on designing coherent assessment systems, register for our upcoming webinar, Multiple Measures Done Right: The 7 Principles of a Coherent Assessment System. And for more on the different types and purposes of assessment, check out the resources on AssessmentLiteracy.org. Next week, check back for the second blog in our series about purpose-driven assessment and setting your district up for long-term success.