Take care to ensure that subject or content areas not covered on standardized tests are not ignored
Given the high-stakes nature of today's standardized tests, many teachers feel considerable pressure to discontinue some of their most innovative lessons because either the skills or the subjects covered are not measured by the statewide assessment. (See "Poll: Teachers Support Standards-With Hesitation.") Counter this trend by promoting multiple measures, including the use of local assessments that cover these overlooked skills or subjects.
Involve teachers in the development of schoolwide or districtwide assessments
The importance of teacher involvement and "buy-in" with any assessment system is discussed in the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory brief "Rethinking Assessment and Its Role in Supporting Education Reform." This paper, which outlines specific goals and action steps for school districts to consider, also emphasizes the importance of allocating sufficient staff development and common planning time to the discussion, design, and testing of assessments.
Take steps to ensure that standards and assessments are clearly explained to students, parents, and community members
Work with parent, teacher, and community organizations to develop a broader understanding of district standards and the various ways in which student achievement is assessed. Programs for parents that discuss such complicated issues as standards-based report cards or the use of alternative assessments to measure what students know and can do can go a long way toward reducing the public's reliance on standardized test scores as the primary measure of student -- and school -- success.
Support the development of grade-level rubrics (or assessment criteria) for greater consistency among all teachers
In "Assessment Reform: Some Concrete Next Steps," [download PDF (29KB)] assessment guru Grant Wiggins highlights the importance of schools' having a shared vision of what it means to do quality work. He recommends, among other things, having grade-level teachers develop handbooks of exemplary student work for distribution to parents, students, and community members.
Create an environment that places a high priority on -- and allows time for -- ongoing classroom assessment
A school culture that values assessment is one in which teachers are given the time and the tools to develop, utilize, and continually refine their classroom, grade-level, and schoolwide assessments.
Evaluate assessments based on desired outcomes
What skills does your school community value? How can you best measure whether students have mastered these skills? These are two of the first questions a school community must consider in order to begin evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of its assessment program, according to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory brief "Rethinking Assessment and Its Role in Supporting Education Reform."
"Balancing Local Assessment with Statewide Testing: Building a Program That Meets Student Needs." This WestEd report discusses the importance of locally developed assessments and outlines the major steps of this critical process.
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory's Pathways to School Improvement initiative features several articles and issue briefs on assessment, particularly the use of performance assessments in K-12 classrooms.
Relearning By Design. This nonprofit organization headed by assessment expert Grant Wiggins provides consultations, in-service workshops, professional development seminars, and national conferences to improve the ways that educational goals and means are organized and assessed.
Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.