Reclaiming Assessment: A Better Alternative to the Accountability Agenda

Reclaiming Assessment:  A Better Alternatie to the Accountability Agenda
By Chris W. Gallagher

Nebraska Dept. of Education
School-based, Teacher-led Assessment and Reporting System (STARS) – a statewide system of local assessments
•    It is a system of local assessments, not a state test.
•    It requires multiple measures of student performance.
•    It requires documentation of assessment quality.
•    It uses classroom-based assessments for state reporting.
•    It includes no high-stakes tests
“the focus of the system is the classroom, where the most important decisions about teaching and learning take place”
Costs of Accountability:
    “There’s a perverse irony in the accountability agenda.  While it extols the virtues of economy and efficiency and posits all alternatives as pie-in-the-sky dreaming, it is itself unreasonable, enormously costly, and incredibly wasteful.
•    Teachers & students interrupt teaching and learning to devote hours and hours to testing and test preparation…test prep industries take in billions of dollars annually and rob teachers and student of valuable classroom experiences.
•    Studies suggest that teachers; sense of their won professionalism suffers in tightly controlled environments and that this has a negative effect on students’ learning environment.
After Accountability:  What’s Next?
•    Meaningful, sustainable school improvement requires strong relationships.  These relationships are forged through conversation.  They are nurtured within a community of learning marked by shared commitment among educational partners.  They foster teacher leadership because teachers are the leaders of learning.  They are reciprocal because real teaching and learning require mutual responsibility.  They are premised, in a word, on engagement.
•    The verb engage has three relevant meanings:  (1) to attract, (2) to involve, and (3) to take on or confront.  Engaging schools attract the interests of students, teachers and other educational partners; they are places where we want to spend time.  They also involve deliberation by citizens on matters of public importance.  And they help us confront the complexities of democratic living; they are places where we work on and work out the most challenging questions and problems that we face as democratic citizens.  To be engaged is to be richly involved in an activity, to have taken it on.  It is not doing the minimum required of you by a transaction; it is doing what you ought to do by virtue of your understanding of an interaction.  This is the spirit, the disposition, the commitment that must drive schooling.
Engaging Students:  Making Assessment Meaningful in the Classroom
    Nebraska has refused to join the Holy Grail quest for the Perfect Test because it views the teacher as the primary assessment instrument.  The thinking goes like this:  If assessments are to promote learning, not just report on it, then the people involved in the learning---teachers and students---must determine how to gather, interpret, and act on good information about their work together.  They are the primary stakeholders of that activity, not remote technicians, policy makers, or investors. 
High-impact assessment is conducted on site, in real time, and is driven by instruction.  It doesn’t ignore the stakes of assessment, but it recognizes that the most important incentives are embedded in the work that teachers and students do together. 

Two Views of Assessment
Accountability                Engagement
Threat                        Opportunity
Top-down                    Bottom-up/inside out
Policy tool                    Instructional tool
High stakes                    High impact
Standardized tests            Teacher designed assessments
Assessment OF Learning            Assessment FOR Learning
Assessment-driven instruction        Instruction-driven assessment
Event-based            Ongoing, embedded
Students subjected            Students involved

Engaging Colleagues:  Creating New Models of Professional Development
Two Views of Professional Development
Accountability                        Engagement
Individual                            Collaborative
Content based                        Comprehensive
Event oriented                        On-going
Compliance focus                        Commitment focus
Data driven                            Data informed
One size fits all                        Context sensitive
“Best Practices” focus                    Embedded in schools
Sit ‘n git                            Interactive, participatory
Outside experts                        Teachers teaching teachers

 Engaging Community Members:  Extending the Conversation
Two Views of School-Community Relationships
Accountability                        Engagement
Unearned distrust                        Earned trust
Investment audit                        Conversation
Transaction                            Interaction
Public Relations                        Public Involvement
Placelessness                            Place conciousness
Completion                            Continuous improvement
Infrequent                            Ongoing