I’m a firm believer in accountability. I don’t believe Arizona’s K-12 education accountability plan is tough enough.
Yes, we require all our public-school students to take the statewide assessment. Students must pass AIMS to get into 4th grade and graduate from high school. However, students and schools are only accountable for math and reading. Furthermore, once-a-year “bubble-in” exams are incapable of measuring whether students can apply skills in “real world” situations. We do give 3-10th graders writing exams but experts don’t evaluate them. Pearson, the London-based testing company Arizona contracted with to administer AIMS, advertises in Craig’s List for $12 an-hour temporary workers to score tests (bachelor’s required). Results take several months. By then students aren’t even in the same classroom.
I’ve been assured Arizona is planning a new “super-test” (PARCC or whatever assessment AZ selects), proportedly capable of measuring higher-level thinking skills and providing immediate results. However, ADE estimates this new-generation test will cost $13.5 million to develop. Actual budget? $8 million. Implementation will cost $22.5 million – every year.
I’ve reviewed research, studied top-performing countries, and talked with countless educators…and, I’ve developed a radical idea. My plan ensures we have a world-class education system AND it stimulates Arizona’s economy by keeping millions of dollars in state rather than enriching foreign testing companies.
The Radical Idea: Instead of giving students a test in reading and math 1-2 times a year, I propose we assess all public-school students in every subject, multiple times, using a variety of methods. Assessments should be as close to real-world application as possible, measuring students’ ability to apply learning (orally, in writing, and in practical demonstrations).
To implement this system, we will need to invest in training a cadre of experts capable of assessing student learning. There should be a rigorous certification process to confirm we can actually trust these experts to with the important task of assessment. The process should include an apprenticeship with a master-assessor and perhaps exams to verify assessors possess the professional knowledge required to evaluate student mastery. I recommend ongoing training to keep these valuable specialists abreast of the latest assessment research. Our experts will be in high demand, so we should commit to ensuring competitive pay and working environments (lest they be lured into the private sector or to other states).
To summarize: my vision is for this cadre of experts to assess every child, in every subject, multiple times over the course of the school year – utilizing a variety of assessment methods. My plan calls for imbedding one of these experts in every classroom so they can timely communicate student growth directly to students and parents. We should enforce a statewide policy that no student moves to the next grade or subject until our trusted, embedded, highly-qualified assessment expert is satisfied the student has the prerequisite knowledge and skills for success. Between assessments, these skilled practitioners could even use their expertise to help students master core concepts. At each school, a qualified leader should be given the authority to supervise our assessment experts. I also like the idea of grouping schools geographically and providing a chief executive responsible for ensuring school leaders have the skills and resources to hire, develop, and supervise our embedded assessment professionals. For another layer of accountability, we could even elect a statewide Superintendent of Public Assessment for oversight.
I believe this radical plan is a practical, sustainable, effective method to ensure every child in Arizona receives a world-class education.