Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More tests on the way for D.C. students

What!? This sounds so oppressive! There is no support that this approach will benefit students and lead to learning. Where are the outraged parents and community groups calling out all of this experimentation?


Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is seeking an outside contractor to help dramatically expand DCPS' use of standardized tests, so that every grade from K through 12 will have some form of assessment to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness.

The plan would add to an already busy testing calendar. No Child Left Behind requires that all public school students in grades three through eight be tested annually in reading and math proficiency. The District does that with the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS, administered every April in those grades as well as to high school sophomores. The CAS also tests science in grades 5 and 8, biology in high school, and composition in grades 4, 7, and 10. Many students also take quarterly DC Benchmark Assessment System (DC BAS) tests so that teachers can flag learning issues. Every two weeks, children in grades K through three receive DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy). Every two years, fourth- and eighth-graders receive the federal NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) in math and reading.

But DCPS is expected to release a request for proposals this week to push what many teachers and parents already regard as a test-happy culture to a new level. An e-mail to principals last week from the office of interim chief academic officer Michael Moody said the expanded testing coverage would include English language arts and math in kindergarten through second grade, math "pretesting" in third grade, social studies and science in grades 6 through 8, and core subjects in high school.

"The selected contractor(s) would develop tests based on DCPS learning standards, administer them in selected grades beginning in spring 2011, score the tests and report results so that teachers, students and parents have an accurate assessment of students' academic knowledge at the beginning of each school year," the e-mail said.

Rhee has often said that test data is not the only measure of teacher effectiveness. But she wants the additional data to expand the reach of its new IMPACT teacher evaluation system. This year only reading and math teachers in grades 4 through 8 -- fewer than 20 percent of the District's 3,800 classroom instructors -- will be evaluated on the basis of growth on the DC CAS. Student value-added will account for half of their evaluation.

"Data driven" is a mantra among Rhee and her top staff--data to drive decisions. In a brief interview Friday, she said: "It's been a priority for a long time. We want to have a much more robust set of assessments not just in math and reading but different subjects. As a parent I want to know on a regular basis how my kids are progressing or not and have my teachers take a pulse not once a year or four times a year."

As to charges that relentless testing--and test preparation--are sucking the oxygen from other forms of classroom instruction, Rhee said: "I think testing gets a bad rap sometimes. Consistently assessing our kids is going to lead to more information about what they're learning and mastering and mastering and what they are not."

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