Beloit Uses Principles in District Assessment

K-12 Testing

In 1996, Derick Kiger, the new research and assessment specialist for the School District of Beloit (SDB), Wisconsin, decided to review the district s testing program in light of the Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems of the National Forum on Assessment. Kiger prepared a survey which included just the headline statements for the seven principles. He then asked respondents their opinions as to: 1) whether staff agreed with the Principles, and 2) whether the Principles were guiding district system practices. Respondents also were provided space to comment on the survey questions, and to offer suggestions for other principles and for improving Beloit s student assessment system. All staff were sent the survey; 164 responded, including 141 professional educators and 9 administrators.

Ninety percent or more of respondents agreed with six of the seven principles. The exception was Principle 5, The broad community participates in assessment development, where only half agreed. It is of course possible that if the respondents had either the summary statements or the entire principle and indicators, that the responses would have differed. (For example, Principle 5 does not call for the general public to construct the assessments, which some respondents might have inferred from the caption.)

The comments indicated a great deal of dislike for norm-referenced standardized tests, with many respondents calling for either stopping use of standardized testing in the district or downplaying its importance. Respondents criticized the district s standardized tests for many things, including not matching curriculum, instruction, or learning styles, being culturally biased, and being unhelpful for school improvement. It was often noted that students with special needs were excluded from the testing, perhaps to increase school scores. Educators often perceived that the test was used not for education or improvement, but for public relations.

Respondents called for major changes in assessment, beginning with matching assessment to desired curriculum, instruction and how different students learn. Educators called for use of a variety of assessments, including more portfolios and classroom-based assessments. They also called for professional development to support this goal.

The results of the survey were used by Beloit in rethinking its assessment system. A set of district principles was adopted along with a development plan. Over the next five years, the BSD will be revising its assessment system. The 5-year plan calls for using the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) in grades 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. (In grades 4, 8 and 10, a version of the CTBS is the Wisconsin state test. It is multiple choice with sme constructed-response items, and it provides both norm- and criterion-referenced data).

BSD is considering using the CTBS in both fall and spring, as a pre- and post-test; it will pilot this idea in one grade this year, then consider whether to continue.

Beloit is working with the Mid-Continent Regional Education Lab to define content standards this year and next year will begin to develop performance assessments for classroom use based on the standards. The five-year plan calls for the local assessments in grades 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The Principles in Practice

The Beloit experience demonstrates that the Principles can be used to gather information for evaluating an assessment system. Though it might have been helpful to append some details to give the respondents a somewhat more complete picture of the Principles, the comments are likely to be of the most use.

As for the changes made in Beloit, replacing one off-the-shelf test with another, even a somewhat improved version, seems not likely to meet the objections and desires of Beloit s educators. As the Principles suggests, such needs are most likely to be met by developing strong classroom-based assessment capabilities and minimizing the use of off-the-shelf exams. For example, Beloit could drop all CTBS testing except in the state-mandated years and move toward a mix of assessments that are anchored in classroom work and support the curriculum and instruction Beloit s teachers seem to prefer. Hopefully, the local assessments will do that and over time be expanded to replace off-the-shelf testing. Additionally, testing twice a year to assess progress on the CTBS seems to run counter to local educators desires and will take substantial time away from instruction.

FairTest is interested in hearing about other uses of the Principles.

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