The Intersection of Standards and their Assessments: From an AZ Teacher

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In January, I wrote a post about “An AZ Teacher’s Perspective on Her “Value-Added.” Valerie Strauss covered the same story in her The Answer Sheet blog for The Washington Post, validating for me that readers appreciate stories from the field that explain in better terms than I can what is actually happening as these VAM-based teacher accountability and evaluation systems are being “lived out” in practice.

Well, the same AZ teacher wrote to me another story that I encourage you all to read, about the intersection and alignment of standards and their assessments, or more specifically the lack thereof.

She writes:

A fundamental principal in education is the precise alignment of the teaching of learning objectives (standards) with the assessment of learning objectives (tests). Research has demonstrated that when an educator plans lessons that begin with an analysis of what students need to learn, coupled with how a student will demonstrate the learning, achievement tends to happen. This is a “best practice” in education.

Enter: standards’ reform. My school district saw the writing on the wall: Common Core implementation was going to be massive. Beyond a shift in the philosophical underpinnings of standards (college and career readiness vs. every state for themselves), Common Core implementation meant, in some cases, a shift in instructional approaches (inquiry vs. modeling). And frequently, Common Core implementation meant changes in what got taught and in which grade levels.

Like any well-meaning, responsible school district, my district realized these changes were going to take time.  And so they began Common Core implementation earlier than others in the 2012-2013 school year. And based on what we know about best practices, when the standards change, the assessments should change as well. But they didn’t—yet. For the past two years, I (and many, many others) have been teaching standards that are NOT fully aligned to the state assessment system. Instead, we’ve been frantically (and some may say schizophrenically!) trying to teach two sets of standards—the old (aligned with Arizona’s current state assessment) and the new Common Core.

Enter: value-added measures. Value added measures are statistical tools aimed at capturing a teacher’s impact on student achievement through student performance on standardized tests. A few years ago, Arizona passed a law that mandates up to 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be comprised of student test scores. And again, my school district did what any responsible, law-abiding district would do: implement a teacher evaluation system that complies with state law: 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is composed of student test scores and 50% is composed of classroom observations.

The intersection of these two policies is a problem for teachers (and students!). If the state assessment is not designed to precisely test the standards that are being taught, it cannot be legitimately claimed that value-added measures (or any other measure using student test scores!) are capturing a teacher’s impact on student achievement? One problem for teachers is that their employment status may hinge on the outcome. One problem for students is that what they are learning may not be what they are ultimately held accountable for on the state assessment.

In this case, compliance with law has superseded the use of best practices. Let us hope this doesn’t happen in another field–say, healthcare?


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