Assessment Insights

Who Has Time to Innovate? Part 1 of 5

[fa icon="calendar"] October, 2016 / by Dr. Stuart Kahl

Dr. Stuart Kahl

10 sources of concern about time . . . and recommendations to address them

There’s a lot of discussion about innovative assessment practices today, for a variety of reasons, including the flexibility offered by the Every Student Succeeds Act and general dissatisfaction with traditional tests that focus on lower level cognitive skills. States and districts are deeply engaged in finding new assessment options, with growing interest in using performance assessment to gauge students’ higher order thinking skills and create engaging assessment activities with high instructional value.

One thing we hear from state and local assessment staff is that time is short at every level—from state and district staff who are responsible for testing programs, to teachers and students. How can we devote time to developing new possibilities, much less find time to try these new things in schools?

We’ve identified 10 sources of time pressure that might create roadblocks to innovation.

Top 10 Time Issues

>>Over Testing: Too Many Tests

Time to Innovate in the Classroom

>>Over Testing: Tests Too Long

Data Overload—Time to Process Information

Turnaround Time for Test Results

Time for Teachers to Collaborate in School

Time to Personalize Instruction

Time to Collaborate beyond School

Time for Students to Reflect

Initiative Fatigue—Time to Prepare to Innovate

We’ll cover these topics in a series of 5 blogs over the next few months, explaining the issues and offering suggestions to mitigate the time crunch and information to inform the discussion. In this post, we’ll cover the first two. 

Too many tests!

What’s the problem?

Research shows that during the pre-college years, students can be expected to take well over 100 standardized tests.

  • The research suggests that the use of interim tests from “external” sources has increased significantly.
  • These interim tests can be 1) general achievement measures used for growth monitoring or early warning to identify students or curricular topics requiring additional attention or 2) benchmark tests covering recently taught material.
  • Teachers’ end-of-unit or end-of-marking period tests are benchmark tests, too.
  • A lot of local testing is done in the name of “formative assessment” but is treated the same as summative testing, thereby failing to reap formative benefits.
What can we do?
  • Stop using tests that don’t provide useful information, or with results that aren’t being used.
  • Look for duplication in coverage and purpose/use of external interim assessments and teachers’ benchmark tests. Evaluate match to the curriculum. Cut out duplication or poorly matched tests.
  • Consider how many general achievement measures you implement. They have little use more than two or three times during the year—beginning and end of year for “growth” and perhaps mid-year for early warning. 
  • Effective evidence-gathering for formative assessment purposes is not the same as frequent testing; often student work should not be graded. Be sure to distinguish formative assessment activities from scheduled tests.
  • Remember that prep for end-of-year summative testing is not necessarily a bad thing— revisiting content/skills is good for learning.

Tests too long

What’s the problem?
  • In discussions of state accountability tests, those with concerns cite both actual testing time and test prep time that cuts into instructional time. Non-selected-response components (e.g., constructed-response questions and performance tasks) lengthen testing times.
What can we do?
  • Consider this: Research has shown that over-reliance of state tests on multiple-choice items, while resulting in shorter tests, has negative impacts on instruction and local assessment practices, and ultimately on deeper learning.
  • Statewide interim measures allowable under ESSA may not reduce testing or testing time, but could play meaningful and useful roles in a district’s balanced assessment system.
  •  Innovative curriculum-embedded performance assessments could allow end-of-year state tests to be shorter, address higher skills, and be a part of regular classroom testing.
  • Prepping for state tests, like reviewing for local final exams, is not necessarily bad. Both should be addressing and reinforcing the same content standards.

On the other hand . . .

Some have suggested that no corporation would invest as little time and expense in checking to see if the products of programs in which it has invested are any good as education policy makers spend to evaluate the effectiveness of their schools.

What do you think?

As an education professional, what do you think is the best use of testing time and test prep time? Share your thoughts with us.

In Blog #2 of the series, we’ll cover:

  • Turnaround Time for Test Results
  • Time to Personalize Instruction

Topics: Assessment Literacy, Accountability, Connecting Teaching and Learning

Dr. Stuart Kahl

Written by Dr. Stuart Kahl

As founder of Measured Progress, Dr. Stuart Kahl contributes regularly to the thought leadership of the assessment community. In recent years, his particular interests have included formative assessment, curriculum-embedded performance assessment, and new models for accountability assessment programs. The Association of Test Publishers (ATP) awarded Dr.Kahl the 2010 ATP Award for Professional Contributions and Service to Testing. He regularly publishes research papers and commentaries introducing and analyzing current issues and trends in education, and as a frequent speaker at industry conferences, Dr. Kahl also serves as a technical consultant to various education agencies.