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Thoughtful Choices: The Future of Assessment in California



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Thoughtful Choices: The Future of Assessment in California


We often ask two fundamental questions when designing tests:

  • What do you want to know?

  • What do you want to do with the information?

The answers to both vary considerably according to whom we ask. Policymakers, for example, want assessment results to tell them whether their policies are working and whether the tax dollars the state has invested are worthwhile. Parents want to know how their children are doing and if they are on “on track.” Teachers want diagnostic information that allows them to tailor instruction for their students. Education leaders want management information that tells them which programs are effective. Universities and community colleges want information that helps them place students in the right courses. In short, stakeholders want engaging, high-quality tests that provide a wealth of information. They want the results quickly, and they want the amount of testing time reduced. We know that these are often competing and incompatible goals.

In Recommendations, SSPI Torlakson recognizes these competing factors and outlines a comprehensive system of assessment to respond to them. Not all tests need to function in the same way because each is tailored to answer the two fundamental questions of test design differently. In some cases, we don’t need to know detailed information about the performance of each student because we want to use the data to inform policymaking at a macro level. Alternatively, we might not need to know aggregate information on a specific concept within a standard at a school or district level because we want to use the data to inform instruction in real time. As the Recommendations note, the current system was not designed to satisfy these varied expectations, as it was developed according to discrete needs over the course of time and did not have the opportunity to be designed as a coherent whole.

The expectations for California’s next generation of assessments are more demanding, and each new assessment will be a building block toward creating a coherent system to meet those expectations. The State Superintendent has already identified the mission, purpose, and principles of the state assessment system in the Executive Summary of his Recommendations.

Mission

Use a variety of assessment approaches and item types that model and promote high-quality teaching and student learning.

Purpose

To ensure that all California students are well prepared to enter college and careers in today’s competitive global economy.

Guiding Principles

  1. Conform to rigorous industry standards for test development.

  2. Incorporate multiple methods for measuring student achievement.

  3. Use resources efficiently and effectively.

  4. Provide for inclusion of all students.

  5. Provide information on the assessment system that is readily available and understandable to parents, teachers, schools, and the public.

In defining its mission for the assessment system, California has identified the need to use a variety of measurement approaches to meet the expectations of its next-generation system. Likewise, to model and promote high-quality teaching and student learning, the system will need to be more transparent and ensure that the tests consist of item types “worth teaching to.” Using the summative accountability tests solely to forward this revised mission is not prudent, so California has wisely recommended using other assessments such as interim and formative measures to support this comprehensive mission.

The purpose of the assessment system articulated in the Recommendations is to ensure that students are well-prepared for college and careers. In light of the CCSS, the manner in which we assess students to measure their progress toward that goal must change. For example, the mathematics and English language arts standards of the CCSS have a higher expectation around and greater focus on process knowledge that is not easily captured in a strictly multiple-choice assessment. Thus, we know that the assessment system must use a variety of item types to access those constructs. In addition, the system needs to provide enhanced information on students’ progress toward readiness for college and careers. Using a variety of approaches such as interim assessments and formative methods will allow teachers to review the status of students on this path more frequently and in more informative detail than the single, once-per-year summative assessment.



If California is to achieve the assessment goals set forth in the Recommendations, then the decisions that the state will make in the immediate, intermediate, and long term must be guided by the principles set forth in those Recommendations. Developing a component of the next-generation assessment system that does not contribute to measuring student performance using multiple methods will not align with the expectations and values of California. Designing a system that has not accounted for the inclusion of all students in meaningful ways will not meet the state’s requirements. The recommended tasks in the immediate timeframe must align with these principles. The considerations for future system design must support these values. The guiding principles play a critical role in ensuring that the system achieves its purpose, fulfills its mission, and remains coherent.

Immediate Tasks & Intermediate Considerations of the 12 Recommendations


In his January 2013 report, SSPI Torlakson proposed twelve recommendations to fulfill the mission set forth in that document. These recommendations cover a broad swath of activities, including logistics, budget, design, and policy. Many of the recommendations involve multiple activities. Our purpose in this section is to identify recommended tasks that would be necessary to either complete the recommendations by December 2014 or position California to complete the recommendations shortly thereafter.

Recommendation 1 – Suspend Portions of the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program Assessments and Adjust the Academic Performance Index to Reflect Suspension of Such Assessments

Beginning in the 2013–14 school year, suspend all Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program state academic assessments that are not required to meet ESEA or used in the Early Assessment Program (EAP).
It is, of course, the role of the CDE, the State Board of Education (SBE), the California State Legislature, and the Governor to make this major policy change. Assuming the alteration is made for the 2013-2014 school year, Table 1 below identifies immediate tasks that would be required to implement this new policy.

Table 1: Immediate Implementation Tasks for Recommendation 1


Task #

Activities

Participants

Description

Result

1.a

Suspension authorization language or actions

State Legislature


Introduce, discuss, and vote on legislation to implement the proposed suspensions

Assembly bills

1.b

Cost savings calculation

CDE, DOF, Testing Contractor

Determine costs savings for suspended assessments

Savings on budgeted dollars on current contract

1.c

Communications plan

CDE

Draft updated communications for stakeholders on assessment requirements in 2013-2014 school year

Communications plan

1.d

Enact law

Governor

Legislation to take effect on or before July 1, 2013

Authorized legislation or budget

1.e

Implement suspensions

SBE, CDE, Testing Contractor

Begin changes to the test materials production and testing system to implement the changes

Revised test materials


Intermediate Considerations for Recommendation 1:


The intent of Recommendation 1 is to reduce the burden of the system transition on all stakeholders and to make available additional funds that can be used in the transition or in other assessment development activities. A suspension can increase both instructional time and educator focus. For example, the grade 2 testing, taking approximately 300 minutes (i.e., 5 hours), becomes available for instruction while suspension of the grade 8 History-Social Science test provides an added 130 minutes (i.e., over 2 hours) for that grade. At the high schools, the STAR tests are administered in the same timeframes as the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), Advanced Placement (AP) exams, SATs, and school finals. Consequently, suspending most of the high schools tests provides significant administration relief for these schools. See Table 1.1 on the following page for an outline of the time comparisons.

At the state level, the CDE estimates an overall savings of about $15.1 million for the 2014 administration if legislation was enacted no later than July 1, 2013, to implement the suspensions. Approximately $11.35 million of that is cost savings from the STAR administration contract. It is important to note that the cost savings described here are based on a suspension of all the tests identified and a July 1, 2013 suspension being enacted. The cost savings are minimized if fewer tests are eliminated or if the date of the implementation is later. For example, by October 1, 2013, it is appropriate to anticipate an approximately 40% to 50% reduction in the cost savings since program operations must continue until suspended. By January 1, 2014, the state would only realize approximately 30% of the cost savings for the test suspensions since almost all operational preparations would have been completed by that time.  



Table 1.1. Time Chart Comparisons of Current Program versus Proposed after Suspensions (all times are in minutes)

CST

Grade

ELA

Mathematics

History-Social Science

Science

Total Minutes Spent

Total Minutes Saved

Current

Proposed

Current

Proposed

Current

Proposed

Current

Proposed

2

150

0

150

0

0

0

0

0

300

300

3

150

150

150

150

0

0

0

0

300

0

4

170

170

150

150

0

0

0

0

320

0

5

170

170

150

150

0

0

140

140

460

0

6

170

170

150

150

0

0

0

0

320

0

7

170

170

150

150

0

0

0

0

320

0

8

170

170

180

180

130

0

120

120

600

130

9

170

0

180

0

110

0

120

0

580

580

10

170

0

180

0

110

0

240

120

700

580

11

185

185

195

195

220

0

120

0

720

340

CSTs to be suspended per SSPI recommendations:



  • Grade 2 ELA and Mathematics

  • Grade 8 History–Social Science

  • Grade 9 ELA

  • Grade 10 ELA

  • Grade 11 U.S. History

  • EOC Algebra I (for grades 9-11)

  • EOC Algebra II (for grades 9-10)

  • EOC General Mathematics (grade 9)

  • EOC High School Summative Mathematics (for grades 9-10)

  • EOC Geometry (for grades 9-11)

  • EOC Integrated Mathematics 1 (for grades 9-11)

  • EOC Integrated Mathematics 2 (for grades 9-11)

  • EOC Integrated Mathematics 3 (for grades 9-11)

  • EOC Biology

  • EOC Chemistry

  • EOC Earth Science

  • EOC Physics

  • EOC Integrated/Coordinated Science 1

  • EOC Integrated/Coordinated Science 2

  • EOC Integrated/Coordinated Science 3

  • EOC Integrated/Coordinated Science 4

  • EOC World History

As in many activities in long-term assessment, California will be challenged by two competing resource considerations in Recommendation 1. First, the state will want to substitute the reduced testing activity with activities that help prepare students, parents, teachers, and administrators for CCSS implementation (e.g., professional development, curricular materials, and communication). Second, while the activities in this recommendation are intended to affect only a single year, it is important that the state not lose ground on content areas for which testing will be suspended but that will reappear shortly, possibly in altered form. A bridge between the elimination of one assessment and the introduction of its replacement — especially when spanned across more than contiguous years — is important to consider. These “bridging” activities will compete for resources freed up by suspending some number of current tests.



AutoShape 11As companion activities to the suspension of the exams, California may wish to consider options that refocus the teaching of standards in light of the new assessments. The state may also wish to signal that it is not abandoning other assessments while some tests are suspended. Below are possible intermediate activities related to this Recommendation.

1.1 Transition Checklist


One of the most effective ways for teachers to become knowledgeable about the content of standards is to immerse themselves in them by digesting them, discussing them, and implementing them within their own classroom lessons. The Internet and social media have the ability to reach teachers in ways that were not possible the last time California experienced a standards transition. California should consider low-cost options to ensure that its teachers have a basic knowledge of the CCSS, even if they are not teachers of the content areas for these standards. The CDE has already developed a wealth of resources at http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc/. Likewise, free resources such as https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/ or http://www.loc.gov/teachers/ can be used effectively to inform teachers about the standards. As is always the challenge for busy educators sifting through a wealth of resources, digesting the most important can be time-consuming.

California may wish to consider a one-year promotional campaign for teachers that emphasizes the importance of using the suspension to prepare for the transition (e.g., “What are YOU doing to get ready?”). One could envision a Top Ten List of activities for teachers during the 2013-2014 school year, totaling no more than 10 hours. Some schools and districts are obviously already incorporating such activities in their professional development; however, these simple but effective activities would ensure that as many California teachers as possible were prepared for the transition to the CCSS. This list could be delineated by grade and content area as well, so that the information is focused on teachers’ needs. It would be appropriate to tailor these activities specifically to Smarter Balanced activities at the outset at first, using whatever supports the Consortium makes available and adapting those as needed for use in California districts and schools.




1.2 Limited Form Release of Suspended Tests


Since the suspended assessments are no longer expected to be used in their current structure, teachers, schools, and districts may find it advantageous to have these assessments available for use at a local level. In addition, some schools and districts may desire to continue administration of the exam for their own progress-monitoring using metrics established at the local level. California may wish to release a single form of the assessment for local use. Releasing a single form would allow the district to continue using the metrics during the interim year while allowing the state to evaluate the ability of these items to be repurposed for the next assessment system as appropriate. There are several configurations that the state might consider:

  1. Full District Responsibility: The form and its answer key could be provided to the districts to print, administer, and score locally. The CDE or its contractor would have no interaction with the district in producing results. The assessments would be scored using whatever technology was available at a local district (e.g., local scanning documents and scanners).

  2. Full Contractor Responsibility: At district expense, the CDE may wish to provide districts the opportunity to continue the suspended exams via the contractor as currently conducted. While this would require additional logistics because of its “opt in” feature, it would allow the districts to continue administering the exam using the same services of printing, shipping, scoring, and reporting.

  3. A la carte Hybrid: At district expense, the CDE may desire the contractor to establish a menu of fees related to services provided. For example, the district may choose to print the form locally or have it produced by the contractor for a district fee. The scoring and reporting activities might be provided in the same a la carte offerings.

In considering this option, it will be important for school districts to consider two fundamental characteristics that would be associated with these released forms that are unlike a typical state-delivered assessment. First, these assessments are aligned to the previous ELA and mathematics content standards. Therefore, these assessments will have limited potential to give an accurate evaluation of student academic performance: the value of these assessments would be inversely proportional to the level of implementation in which the district has engaged with the CCSS. Second, districts must recognize that these released forms obviously have a reduced security since they will be used in different ways by different districts across the state. Thus, it will be important to interact with districts to determine the anticipated use of the results if such a form is released for local purposes.

Recommendation 2 – Beginning in the 2014-15 School Year, Fully Implement the SBAC ELA and Mathematics Assessments

Use the multistate consortium, SBAC, for ELA and mathematics summative assessments to assess all students in grades three through eight and grade eleven.

In this implementation recommendation, we give more attention to the communication and logistical issues. We discuss the professional development needed to prepare for the content of the assessments in other sections within this document.





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