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Linda Darling-Hammond on International Assessment

Linda Darling-Hammond on International Assessment

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On November 17, Edutopia will be hosting a pair of powerful webinars focused on issues of standards an assessment, featuring Linda Darling-Hammond. Go here to learn more and sign up: Edutopia has asked me to facilitate the discussion over here, so please allow me to introduce myself. I first became acquainted with Linda Darling-Hammond's work when I read her book back in about 1998, "The Right to Learn, a Blueprint for Creating Schools that Work." In it, she wrote about the National Board certification process, which was then still new. I decided to pursue certification, and drove monthly to the National Board support group she had organized at Stanford. I was teaching middle school science in Oakland at the time. I left my school after 18 years, to become a classroom coach, which is my current post. I also have a blog called Living in Dialogue, on Teacher Magazine: I have worked with Linda on numerous projects over the past ten years, and have found her to be a wellspring on knowledge and inspiration. I am looking forward to this conversation very much.

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Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Thanks for facilitating this conversation Anthony. We recently wrote a blog post on our upcoming webinars with Linda, that raised some interesting points.

Here are some interesting stats to get you thinking:

  • Among the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States is the only country where people 25-34 years old are not better educated than those ages 55-64.
  • On the OECD's international exam, we're 22nd in science, right behind Iceland.
  • "Whereas U.S. tests rely primarily on multiple-choice items that evaluate recall and recognition of discrete facts," she writes, "most high-achieving countries rely largely on open-ended items that require students to analyze, apply knowledge, and write extensively," an excerpt from Linda Darling-Hammond's research.


PS: Darling-Hammond will also be providing the most up-to-date information about the DOE's $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund and the $350 million set aside for states that develop new standards and assessments to boost learning for students and teachers.

Tristan de Frondeville's picture
Tristan de Frondeville
Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates

Having just spent a great few days at a professional retreat on Project Based Learning with Anthony, I look forward to his facilitation of assessment, and I definitely look forward to hearing from Linda Darling-Hammond. She has been pushing education forward for many years, in particular asking that we teach and assess high level thinking and critical thinking. Her latest summary of international assessment looks like it will continue this trend.

Alan Young's picture
Alan Young
Middle school SS teacher/president-Des Moines Educ. Assn.-Des Moines, IA

Alan Young - teacher/Des Moines Education Association President - The importance of student interest, need, voice and choice as well as teacher voice and choice is a critical part of student learning and authentic assessment. In this nation, standardization has meant that assessment is often done TO students and teachers who implement, but not CREATE the assessments.

How can we assure that these wonderful authentic assessment processes and systems truly include student interest and need to promote genuine learning and not done to them in in top down, crude ranking way between students, schools, districts, states, etc.?

Teachers and students must be involved continually and deeply in the creation, development, and revising, of these assessment systems. And it is critical that we start having some real structural/systems dialogue about improving the teaching/learning/working environments for students and teachers so that there is more time for quality interaction, dialogue, collaboration, engagement and less "student load" for teachers.

How do we break the government/media imposed sorting, competition, and ranking proclivity of those who impose and mandate assessments and truly create a culture that uses assessments to promote student learning and capacity development. I believe the language of "demonstration" is critical vs. the language of "measurement." How we "talk" about education and assessment often affects our paradigmatic way of framing what we do in this area. Can we use "transformative" talk in this area to change the debate and the paradigm and get to a better place?

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

Thanks for posting these questions, Alan. Prof Darling-Hammond is doing another webinar with us this afternoon at 3:30 Pacific/6:30 Eastern. I will send your questions to her, and post her response here.

If anyone else has any questions of LDH, please don't hesitate to post them here!

linda hahner's picture

I noticed that Finland is on the top of the list for math and science scores but there was no mention about their approach. I was a Fulbright scholar to Finland and also taught at the University of Helsinki. It seems that more research on their system would be helpful.

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

As mentioned above, we will be sending the unanswered questions to Prof Darling-Hammond at this afternoon's webinar (6:30 Eastern/3:30 Pacific) . Here are a number of questions that came in.

Anthony Cody, middle school science teacher, Oakland, California (and former blogger):
Is there any chance that the National standards process under way could produce anything that would resemble what you have outlined?

Michelle Tenam:
Doesn't high-stakes testing actually contradict the 21st-century skills cited by Wardlaw, and, if so, how are Duncan and the Obama administration addressing this issue, since they use PISA and other international tests to justify Race to the Top fund distribution?

What do you think professors of education will need to do to teach new teachers in order to be aligned with this new assessment system approach?

Renny Fong:
In the international model, are these assessments supposed to drive instruction, or is instruction driven by these assessments?

How are these assessments used internationally?

Do you feel that the assessment system in America is hurting our education?

Are the assessments made by the private sector, or the public sector?

Should the U.S. assessment system be nationalized?

Yes, wouldn't it be funny to have a multiple-choice test for "Race to the Top"?

Kaitlin Seaver:
What body of research is most useful in promoting assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning? Specifically interested in research that encourages principals and districts to use formative assessments in a nonevaluative/no-stakes way that allows teachers to really use formative assessments as a tool to inform their instruction. I worry that in this climate of high-stakes testing, teachers may not feel safe using formative assessment as principals or districts may use them for evaluation/accountability.

Julie Binko, executive director:
How does workload differ for teachers using the forward-thinking assessments?

NCLB is punitive. What would you suggest to turn this accountability system into an effective continuous improvement mechanism?

Lewis Cohen:
What is the current likelihood that the DOE will encourage the use of school-based assessments?

Gary Lee Frye, executive director, development and grants, Llano Estacado Rural Communities Foundation, Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District, Lubbock, Texas:
Do you have lesson plans that the staff in these school use? Our high school is a State of Texas mentoring site and we are doing similar items in the senior project. We would like to see how the day-to-day teaching operations work at these schools.

Do you have any information on how these other counties are integrating special population into their systems? This is in terms of RTI (Response to Interventions) in providing remediation/acceleration to students who do not learn in a standard manner.

Sandy Kreisman, manager of education initiatives, University Circle Inc., Cleveland:
Can you explain how you see learning progressions as different as learning outcomes?

Catherine Westerberg:
Are you presently involved with the national standards development and the development of new assessments backed by the DOE? What is your opinion on both of these initiatives as it is being presently handled?

How extensive do you think student tracking by teachers should be? What kind of information should teachers be tracking other than test scores? When does this data-management task become too Big Brother-ish for students, and/or too unrealistic for teachers' time, becoming an administrative nightmare?

Do you think our new national K-12 standards in math can be reduced to 10 pages, as you mentioned another country had done?

Angela Glascock, Kansas:Do you see and/or predict any positive or negative effects when student coursework is online/Web based (students do all work online mostly asynchronously) or Web enhanced (students have some synchronous time and meet with other students and instructor face-to-face)?

Pam Clinkenbeard, interim associate dean of education, University of Wisconsin at Whitewater:
Are other countries using essentially what some U.S. writers are calling balanced assessment systems? Also, won't development of these expensive-to-score authentic assessments depend on receipt of federal funds in the current school-funding climate?

Betsy Brown Ruzzi:
Do you have examples of how the international systems provide support to teachers if their students are not doing well on assessments.

Mimi Gilman (former blogger): Everything you have referred to in this webinar sounds exciting, but the large number of students in a classroom makes it impossible to guide students' learning

Bianca McRae:
What organization is responsible for releasing the core-content standards?

Su Verma:
Great. Is this session going to be archived?

Answer: Yes! You will find Prof. Darling-Hammond's slides on the webinar page here: and an audio archive of the presentation will be made available early next week. We'll email all attendees when it's up. (It'll also be linked from the homepage, as well as available in iTunes)

Patricia Blochowiak:
I am a school board member who is frustrated that my district seems most interested in improving test scores, rather than in learning. How would you approach this situation?

Helen Slaughter, professor, College of Education, University of Hawaii:
I think that the current U.S. Department of Education goal of increasing classroom management as an element by itself of teacher education looks backward to the industrial model of education rather than moving forward to an inquiry curriculum and reform of teaching combined with reform of curriculum and ways of conducting classroom instruction.

Patricia McDonald:
Could you please elaborate on the idea of learning progressions?

David Hochschartner:
What is the first change a school leader might make to move an institution away from short-answer, recall-type exams?

Ann Jarrett, Teaching and Learning Director, Missouri NEA:
Is there an estimate of the comparative costs of extented answer tests compared to the multiple choice tests now used?

Tamara Misseijer:
How long will an overhaul of our education system take in order for our students to compete in a global market with 21st-century skills?

Sarah Zykanov:
How can we use these higher-level thinking strategies with the high number of English-language learners arriving in our schools, especially those with little schooling in their native language?

Gail Kilkelly, coordinator for arts education, Vermont Department of Education:
The arts figured prominently in the summative tests you used as examples in the GCE sytems. Could you comment on the role you see arts education could play in a new U.S. educational map?

Mark Majeski:
What are the demographic data on each of the countries in the area of cultures or race and assessment outcomes? Are there more homogeneous populations represented in the higher-achieving countries?

John Grinder:
It is great that there so many examples of these advancements in how to help students use their minds well in a coordinated fashion to enable us to focus our efforts, energies, and resources.

Hollys Hall:
How does the International Baccalaureate Programme fit into the Common Core?

Marcia Mayper:
The young woman in "The Reader" couldn't read a menu. As noted by Ted Sizer, we need to give our students the tools to live happy, productive, fulfilled lives.

Caitlin Casement:
I agree with you about the type and quality of assessments, but the realities of education include large, diverse classrooms. can education funding be enhanced to make the circumstances of learning better to make these changes possible?

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

Flynn Pritchard Ross:
The costs of assessments are significant, and I believe that we often resort to multiple-choice tests because they are cost efficient. How do you propose that finances be restrutured to make these assessments possible that are more costly?

Kareen Kalvin:
Is there acknowledgment that many of the curriculum development and practices you are giving as examples are in fact being taught and used in the United States?

Michelle Robinson:
We often think in terms of content areas in the United States. This international way of thinking truly incorporates all the content areas in a clearly integrated state. How do teachers in these countries approach this challenge? Do they regularly work together to integrate? Is the way they are trained as teachers very different than our system in the United States?

Andrew Thomson, public-sector consul to Cisco Systems:
What strategies are you seeing as effective for moving these innovations in specific test and domains to change at scale across whole systems? Can it be compelled by law, or does it need to be driven by common understanding and policy? Given the fragmentation of the U.S. system, who is best to lead these projects: school districts, states, or the federal government?

Madeleine Gaspard:
In relation to culture why does the US not implement learning multiple languages in schools from elementary levels like other countries, Singapore, Switzerland, Hong Kong?

Kathy Ryan, language arts curriculum coordinator, Rockwood School District, St. Louis:
So many examples are given for science, math, and social studies. What about ideas for a redesign of high school language arts or English instruction?

Catherine Kavanaugh:
Please consider the inclusion of producing art both visual and performance as vital to the arriving at the goal of children being able to demonstrate analytical skills and use their minds well.

Cathy Dickerson:
What might be doable steps to help transition from the current testing environment in California to a more authentic testing environment?

Anthony Cody's picture
Anthony Cody
Science Coach and mentor, Oakland, California

David Hochschartner asks:
What is the first change a school leader might make to move an institution away from short-answer, recall-type exams?

Here is my answer. I encourage others to offer theirs.

I would suggest that you begin by building some consensus among your staff about the new direction. You need to have a clear vision of what will be replacing the short-answer questions. What models will you use? What will student work look like? How will they be assessed?

Once this vision has been developed, then we need to have consensus with students and parents. They need to understand the changes. There will be some resistance from those comfortable with the traditions, so we need to be able to describe the types of skills we are building.

As many people have alluded, there is more work involved in this approach for everyone -- students and teachers. So we need to plan carefully to make this succeed and not feel like a huge burden, especially on the teachers. They are the ones that need to lead this.

So circling around to the beginning, I think the best effort towards consensus building would be led by teachers themselves, since they are going to need to rise to the challenge of designing deeper projects and assessments. They will need time for professional development and planning, as well as developing and scoring assessments. Honor the teacher leaders and present them with this as a challenge.

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