How my district is rethinking state assessment

How my district is rethinking state assessment - TLG-IMG-01232020Clayton County Public Schools, where I work as a psychometrician, is a member of the Georgia MAP Assessment Partnership (GMAP), a consortium of districts in Georgia dedicated to reducing overall testing and making assessments more instructionally useful.

We’re partnering with NWEA as an early adopter of through-year assessment, a new solution they’re developing that takes the best of MAP® Growth™—the assessment that inspired our consortium’s name —and adds measurement of grade-level performance. This will provide educators with both growth and proficiency information during the school year—when they can use it to improve learning—and will eliminate the need to administer an annual summative test—which will reduce overall testing.

Participating in innovative projects like this can be time-consuming and risky, so I wanted to share why we’re so committed to this endeavor and why we think it will be a game changer for our teachers and students.

About Clayton County Public Schools

We are fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACSCASI). Our district offers a focused, world-class program based on a challenging curriculum that is taught from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

A summative test simply doesn’t reveal how much students learn during a school year and how much growth is occurring in a school or district.”

Serving over 55,000 students in Jonesboro, just south of Atlanta, Clayton County Public Schools is among the 100 largest school districts in the country and the fifth largest in Georgia. Our community struggles with the adverse effects of poverty, and we have one of the highest student mobility rates (33%) in Georgia.

Our teachers have always done a great job growing students who struggle in math and language arts, despite the challenges they face every day. They have so much ground to make up, however, that those efforts are not always reflected on a state summative assessment. A summative test simply doesn’t reveal how much students learn during a school year and how much growth is occurring in a school or district.

Why we’re all in on through-year assessment

One of the reasons we decided to become an early adopter of through-year assessment is our past success using MAP Growth data to demonstrate student growth every school year.

Our teachers have always worked hard to accurately assess students throughout the year so they can close gaps in their learning. But before we started using MAP Growth, our assessment methods were often conducted in isolation, so they were not transferable from year to year. Teachers would release students to the next grade, and the process would start over from scratch the following school year. This start-and-restart cycle of learning cost us a lot of valuable time and energy that we feel could have been used on instruction and getting to know the students better. When this cycle is repeated from third to fifth grade, for example, a student who was on grade level in third grade would lose about 18 months of growth.

[Through-year assessment] will provide educators with both growth and proficiency information during the school year […] and will eliminate the need to administer an annual summative test.”

MAP Growth has helped us regain that lost time because it adapts outside of grade level to show how much learning is happening, even if students are not yet proficient. It also allows students to pick up learning where they left off on the last assessment. We can look at their academic growth longitudinally.

While through-year assessment is different from MAP Growth, it will function similarly, adapting within and off grade level as needed, and showing fall-to-spring growth to provide a more accurate view of school performance. And through-year assessment will take us even further by also measuring student performance relative to grade level.

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Here are a few more things we’re excited about:

  • Through-year assessment will adapt in a nuanced way across skill levels within each grade-level standard
  • Teachers will receive information that helps them meet students where they are while also supporting them in moving students to and beyond grade-level learning targets. This kind of proficiency information is traditionally not available until after the school year is over, when it’s too late to apply it in the classroom
  • Overall testing time will also be reduced for our districts, because the spring through-year assessment will produce summative proficiency scores, negating the need for the extra, lengthy annual summative test

It’s important to note, though, that while through-year assessment will address multiple needs, it is not the be-all and end-all. Rather, it is part of a balanced assessment system that includes other components, such as formative instructional practice and professional learning.

There’s a better way

If school districts in other states want to effect change the way we’re hoping to, I recommend they demand more out of their assessment system. This means that all assessment cycles, from the local level to the state level, must work in concert to improve student learning every step of the way and cogently inform all stakeholders. In Georgia, this innovation is possible due to collaboration not only across participating districts but also across other entities, including the Georgia Department of Education, State Board of Education, and legislature.

This is hard and complex work, but it can be done, and we are driven by the promise of what’s to come.