A Balanced Approach to Assessment

Throughout Virginia, the month of May has become synonymous with the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments. These “high stakes” tests begin in third grade and continue through high school. For our students this means question after question, test after test.

These SOL tests are a cornerstone of Virginia’s response to the accountability movement in education, one that was bolstered two decades ago. Strong, talented professionals welcome accountability – no matter the field. The associated challenge facing the education profession is striking a balance between the state’s current vehicle for accountability (SOL tests) and the kind of measures we know are best for our students.

Anyone who’s discussed the topic of assessment with me has heard me talk and talk about the importance of measuring individual student growth. I believe it’s critical for our students to meet the state’s minimum proficiency standards by way of the SOL assessments. And SOL tests measure achievement.

I believe it’s far more important for every one of our students to make the most progress s/he can during each of the thirteen years they’re with us. Only authentic growth assessments can measure this personalized progress.

This past winter we gathered a group of our teachers and administrators to begin exploring growth measures and to engage in a conversation about bringing some balance to what has become an assessment profile dominated by a fairly singular focus: the SOL tests and preparation for the same.

The committee’s work is the basis for a draft document we are building that will capture the division’s efforts to build a balanced plan for student assessment, while reducing the overall amount of tests our teachers and students face each year. Readers will notice an emphasis on growth measures, the introduction of performance assessments, the continued presence of traditional achievement tests (though greatly reduced), and a net loss in the overall amount of testing that takes place each school year. This last feature will result in an increase in instructional time. (That’s reason enough for celebration.)

You can see our draft document by clicking the image below:

Finally, we’d like to give our professionals the opportunity to discuss this project and ask questions before we close out the 2012-13 school year and turn our focus to 2013-14.