State Policies to Maximize the Utility of Testing Data

Education reform advocates nationwide are putting together their wish lists for the state legislative sessions that generally start in January. Here’s one for the top of those lists: tackling how state assessments are administered and how kids’ results on those assessments are reported.

@svidal via Twenty20

Getting this right is good policy, good politics, and a hedge against another anti-testing backlash.

For inspiration note the changes enacted in Florida last year via HB 7069. Its controversial provisions have drawn most of the attention, especially its requirement that local districts give charter schools access to local property taxes. But it also made some worthy tacks on testing. These include:

• Moving state tests to the last four weeks of the school year to give teachers more time to teach—and reducing dead time at year’s end. (The previous state testing window started in March.)

• Requiring that teachers receive the scores of their incoming students before the next year starts.

• Including in the score reports that are sent home to parents:

• Information about students’ strengths and areas for improvement

• Specific suggestions for actions parents can take on their child’s behalf

• Data on proficiency and growth over time, over multiple years

• When available, projections of how students with scores like theirs are expected to score on the ACT or SAT

• Returning the results from any formative assessments, like the MAP or iReady, to classroom teachers within one week and to parents within thirty days.

• Publishing the statewide testing schedule two years in advance to give districts maximum flexibility to plan their calendars.

All of this feels like common sense, but it’s also popular. Patricia Levesque of the Foundation for Florida’s Future and Foundation for Excellence in Education says these ideas came from focus groups with parents about their biggest testing bugaboos. Among them, according to Levesque: “The tests are not aligned to what teachers are teaching, nor used to help my child; too much cramming before the test, and too much dead time after the test; teachers who haven’t seen the information from the tests; and a lack of transparency in what is tested and why.”

Representative Michael Bileca, who sponsored the omnibus education measure in the Florida House, and who is a member of Conservative Leaders for Education, said that “getting better reporting on student growth and proficiency and getting it into the hands of parents: That’s useful.”

To Florida’s list of reforms, more about which here, I’d add one more: States should ensure that test score reports actually reach parents. It’s crazy that we spend so much time and money assessing kids and then ignore the “last mile” issue: getting the scores into the hands of families.

The best outcome would be for states to mail or email test results directly to parents. If that’s not feasible, they might require districts to do so. Or, if districts insist on sending these documents home to parents in kids’ backpacks—as happened with my son—they should develop a system like emailing parents that they’re coming on Tuesday and/or asking for a parent’s signature to make sure that caregivers actually see them.

None of this will mollify hardcore haters of standardized testing. But these commonsense improvements will ensure that parents and educators get the full value out of assessments, and might keep bigger, more damaging changes at bay. Certainly they’re worth a hearing.

— Mike Petrilli

Mike Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and executive editor of Education Next.

This post originally appeared in Flypaper.

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