San Diego Union-Tribune
Right now, some California students are sitting for hours pouring over testing booklets and filling in scantron bubbles. The results of that will shape the fate of their teachers, principals, district officials and become the conversation fodder for the education politics of the year to come.
Yet those students’ parents, the real education deciders, and the students themselves receive almost no feedback from their hard work. Why?
Because the California Department of Education delivers the results of the March, April and May test to principals and local school officials in mid-August and last year (after a security breach) officials didn’t get results until mid-September. Parents did not see the schoolwide results until mid-October, well after school started and 6 months after most enrollment deadlines passed. That is unacceptable.
Gov. Jerry Brown urged action in his January 2012 State of the State address, “I believe it is time to … get the [state test] results to teachers, principals and superintendents in weeks, not months.” Gov. Brown left out the most important data consumer — parents. Parents deserve accurate, timely and actionable data to make informed decisions on behalf of their children. California’s current testing regime is failing miserably to empower parents.
The California Standards Test is the basic component that informs the school-based achievement and growth scores under the Academic Performance Index (API) — the only real accountability parents currently have. Students take the test March to May but those all-important API scores aren’t released for over six months, well after parents had to choose where to enroll their children. Without timely access to school quality metrics, parents are being denied a crucial tool in improving their child’s access to high-quality education and to choose the right school.
The fatal flaw in the CST is the months-long delay in delivering the results. Parents need to be empowered to make the right educational decisions to do right by their child — including seeking outside help and school changes where necessary.
If students know the results of their assessments will actually shape their learning, they have an incentive to do their best.
The late arrival of this data undermines the purpose of data-collection. Standardized testing regimes like the CST are premised on holding adults accountable and improving academic achievement. California’s API scores help determine where money flows and, sometimes, who gets fired. Using data to hold adults accountable is important but education officials have failed to use that data to effectively improve outcomes for students and give parents information in a timely fashion.
With the advent of rigid controls and computer adaptive testing that can make assessment results available almost instantly, there is no excuse for not making that data available immediately so they can work with schools, teachers, and officials to deliver the necessary enrichment and remediation to their children.
The testing regime is rendered worthless if instructors, parents, principals and the students themselves are powerless to adjust to the results, identify student weaknesses and address them. High performing public and charter schools in California and around the country recognize the value of frequent testing if the data is accessible, accurate and actionable.
The five Rocketship Education schools in San Jose, which serve largely low-income Latino English Language Learners, have a better way. Rocketship uses frequent assessments to track student progress and set academic goals for the coming term. Within days of students taking an assessment, Rocketship’s school leaders and data analysts have real data on each student, whole classes and grade levels.
As trends emerge, the school can address shortcomings in student progress. As a result, Rocketship is one of the highest performing schools in the state — scoring an impressive 855 on the API.
Dozens of other public and charter schools across California are delivering similar results, especially for historically underperforming populations. KIPP Empower, a K-3 charter school in South Los Angeles, and Oakland Unified’s Madison Middle School have adopted a blended learning model like Rocketship. Early results from frequent nationally-normed and internal benchmarks are promising.
The delay in delivering CST scores to schools means that no matter how accurate it may be, the data is neither accessible nor actionable. California’s parents, teachers and school leaders should have the tools to improve student performance in an accessible and timely format. Sacramento must deliver the student data quickly and provide teachers and parents the tools to act on the results.
Assessments can go from testing to action in four days. It should not take California four months to do the same.
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