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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Deeper Learning Blog Carnival: Rethinking Assessment

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

We continue our week long Virtual Deeper Learning Community of Practice where we hope to engage the Edutopia and larger education community in an online dialogue about teacher practice for deeper learning. We are exploring the following question from multiple perspectives -- exemplary practices, policy, professional development and coaching teachers towards deeper learning.

What do teachers that produce high quality student work that exemplifies deeper learning -- i.e., the mastery of core academic content AND critical thinking, collaboration, communication and self-directed learning skills -- know and do?

Ben Daly from High Tech High and Lydia Dobyns from the New Tech Network explore the implications of policy for promoting teaching practices that lead to high quality deep student work.

Ben asks us to consider questions the changing landscape of assessment, and Lydia challenges us to consider new measures for teacher quality and measuring student learning.

This online event will only be successful with active participation from you! Please react, question, oppose, comment, tweet, and share on our posts.

Statewide School Assessment Schemes: A Surprising Opportunity


Ben Daley is the chief operating officer for High Tech High. He acts as an advisor to 15 high school students and teaches and advises students in the HTH Graduate School of Education, where he is the Chief Academic Officer.

If someone had asked me six months ago to suggest the most radical shift in California education policy that was politically possible, I would never have dared to suggest that the Academic Performance Index (API), California's measuring stick of alleged school quality, be limited to be only 40 percent based on multiple choice test scores in high schools. This is because for at least the past ten years, it has seemed like the only acceptable thing to say publicly about education is that all that matters is "student achievement," which is secret code for raising scores on multiple choice tests. Apparently Darrell Steinberg, president of the California Senate is braver than me, because not only did he propose such a policy shift, he actually got Senate Bill 547 through both houses of California legislature and onto Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

While Governor Brown decided what to do, newspapers throughout the state wrote editorials in favor of the bill. For example, the Mercury News published a piece noting that:

Senate Bill 547 would replace the Academic Performance Index, which judges a school's performance solely using test scores with a new, more comprehensive performance measure.

The Los Angeles Times argued that:

Public school instruction has become narrower and flatter as a result of the largely multiple-choice tests at the core of school accountability. Less emphasis is given to projects that teach students to research, analyze and write.

[And yes, this is the same Los Angeles Times that: as recently as May of this year was publishing information about teachers exclusively based on their students' scores on these multiple choice tests].

And the San Diego Union Tribune opined that:

test scores would still be part of the equation but they wouldn't be the only measure and this is a welcome change.

Suggesting that there is more to education than multiple choice test scores? It seemed that we had entered a parallel universe.

Then things got weirder. Governor Brown vetoed the bill, but not because it wasn't rigidly "holding people accountable" enough, but because:

A sign hung in Albert Einstein's office read "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts." SB 547 nowhere mentions good character or love of learning. It does allude to student excitement and creativity but does not take these qualities seriously because they can't be placed in a data stream.

In fact, Governor Brown not only criticized the limited ways that we have been measuring schools but questioned the underlying premise of "the same quantitative and standardized paradigm at the heart of the current system."

Of course, by declining to sign the bill, we are left with an even worse system, and one does fear that he let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Still, Governor Brown ended his veto statement with "I look forward to working with the author to craft more inspiring ways to encourage our students to do their best."

This is the exciting part. It seems we have an opportunity to craft potential state-wide policy (with possible national implications) that is "less bad," and maybe even "good." Everyone interested in deeper learning ought to engage in this conversation about more thoughtful state level approaches to improving our schools.

As Marc Tucker observed recently in Edweek, the "top performing" countries in the world are not attempting to improve their schools using the U.S. "ed reformers" strategies. So what lessons can we learn from other countries?

For my part, I think it would be interesting to consider student perspectives, using tools such as Youthtruth. We might measure college and career readiness skills. We could look at UC A-G course completion (the courses required in California to apply to the state university system). We could look at the percentage of low income students entering a school in the ninth grade who end up graduating from a four-year college. Perhaps we could consider a series of "locally convened panels to visit schools, observe teachers, interview students, and examine student work" as proposed by Governor Brown.

A few questions:

  • Is measuring schools using (exclusively/some) quantitative data the right approach?
  • If many parents and students wish to attend a school, is it the proper role of the state to decide whether to close such a school?
  • Do educators inherently want to do a good job, or are they only going to do so if motivated by a state accountability system?
  • If the state is to measure schools, students, teachers, administrators, and/or parents what might be the right measures?
  • What do you think? What should California do?

New Policies Key to Education Innovation: Effective Teaching and Quality Student Work Are What Matter


As President of New Tech Network, Lydia Dobyns oversees the organization's strategic direction, school development and operations.

Thoughtful, passionate educators everywhere express a common desire to better serve students. There is genuine energy calling for meaningful change in public education. We need to enact policies that pave the way for innovation and establish fair and consistent accountability measures. Examples abound on what to do and what not to do in public school districts -- systemic change is needed to transform teaching and learning. Coalescing these into meaningful reform will require adopting policies aligned with education budgets guided by three principles:

  • Equity: zip code shouldn't determine quality of an education
  • Resources: adequate and meaningful -- for teachers and administrators
  • Accountability: for deeper student learning than is currently measured -- content mastery AND skills AND the effective teaching that resulted in student success

Quality student work cannot be measured by today's multiple-choice testing. Far more meaningful to the student is using performance-based assessments. Here, meaningful "learning" can be demonstrated over time and evaluated on the basis of real work such as reports and projects. This is not to say there is no role for testing; on the contrary, test results as one indication of content mastery can inform students, teachers and parents.

Echo, New Tech Network's learning management system measures content mastery and skills:

These three core policy principles need to be accompanied by meaningful rewards for success, and material consequences for failure. At the heart is a simple concept: adults are accountable for student outcomes. Additionally, parents and students need clear expectations to encourage individual responsibility.

Much attention is on hiring, retention, and compensation practices tied to student achievement, and we think LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy's proposals provide a strong framework to support excellent principals and teachers. Deasy's Los Angeles Times op-ed last July called for:

  • "Mutual consent in hiring": Schools should do their own staff hiring, and not be obligated to hire displaced teachers.
  • "A robust and meaningful evaluation system": Teachers should undergo a standardized evaluation system across the district that factors in student achievement.
  • "A better process for granting tenure": The district should set the bar for tenure higher than the current two-year standard, which is mandated by state law. After tenure is granted, there should be a "significant salary increase."
  • "Compensation reform": High-performing teachers and administrators should be rewarded with annual raises, and additional bonuses should be given to educators who achieve in under-performing schools. There should be no more raises for additional degrees earned or length of career.
  • "No cap or limits on teacher-led reforms and innovations": All schools and teachers should have the right to design and implement their own curriculum on their own campuses.

This focus on effective teaching and student work will help our country move from an antiquated education system (built during the industrial age) to one that recognizes skills needed for success in college and career. The sooner we come together with a willingness to embrace systemic change rather than layering new programs on top of dysfunctional infrastructures, the sooner we will see the good intentions of improving education lead to meaningful action that better serves students everywhere.

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