Expert Educators Use Test Results to Make Improvements

If parents and educators can see the test results as demonstrating the work that needs to be done -- rather than as a pronouncement of doom -- we would be much better off.<
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Warnings are going out to parents all over the country: You're going to be shocked by the results of the new assessments most states are giving. Even if you thought your kids were doing well before, you're going to see the truth now -- and it won't be pretty.

My favorite headline for an editorial along these lines comes from the Chicago Tribune, playing on the name of one of the tests, PARCC: "A-PARCC-alypse Now".

Essentially the message is: You thought your kids were smart? Not so much.

Unfortunately, far too many educators, stung by their schools' low results, will probably share the knee-jerk reaction that the tests are too hard.

But if parents and educators can see the test results as demonstrating the work that needs to be done -- rather than as a pronouncement of doom -- we would be much better off.

In talking with expert educators in the past few months, I've been struck by how focused they are on using the information from the tests to help them improve instruction. Even before getting results, they listened to what their students had to say about the tests. If students said the reading passages on the new tests were really hard, they started planning to help students build their vocabulary and background knowledge and give them more practice and help in comparing and analyzing different texts. If their students found the math difficult, they have thought about whether teachers might need to deepen their math knowledge in order to teach to the higher standards.

That's the power that good standards and assessments can have.

But they can only have that power if parents, educators, and policymakers see test results as information to guide improvement, rather than as judgment about whether kids are smart or not.

Kids are smart -- they just need to be taught.

In the coming weeks, I will be talking with expert educators about their perspective on scores from the new assessments.

All of them run or have run high-performing schools where many of the students are children of color or children from low-income families. By high-performing I mean that their schools looked very good on their old state assessments and were recognized by The Education Trust as "Dispelling the Myth schools."

When I have talked with Dispelling the Myth principals over the past few years about the new tests that were coming, many of them told me they were expecting to "take a hit."

They have long known that even if 90 to 100 percent of their students met or exceeded standards on the old tests that were in place, this would not be the case once the standards were set higher.

And yet, even knowing that they wouldn't appear as good, they welcomed the new tests, based on new college- and career-ready standards. This is because they thought the old tests hid their schools' shortcomings, and they want to have the clearest picture of where their students are so they can move them to higher levels.

That doesn't mean they like everything about these new tests -- the big ones are PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT's Aspire. They have been frustrated by technical issues and by the start-up missteps that go along with any new enterprise.

But on balance they have been looking forward to having a better measure of whether their students are becoming ready to take on the responsibilities of adulthood -- further education, jobs, and active citizenship.

Join me in the coming weeks in this space as I travel to different schools and talk with principals and teachers about how they are using the new tests to improve what they are doing in the classroom.

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