As we mark the start of a new school year, the Jewish new year, and a new year of educational assessment, I ask: Do you love your assessment program?
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from watching too many Hallmark movies this summer, it’s that you need to have that special connection, a spark, magic. Being comfortable with each other is simply not enough. Becoming a couple because it’s convenient or because everyone else expects it – forget it, no way that relationship is going to make it to the first commercial break. So, I ask again: Do you love your assessment program?
If Twitter can be considered an accurate indicator (hey, just go with it), I would say that Alina von Davier definitely appears to love Duolingo. Same is true for several of the academic folks I follow and the assessment and instructional materials their labs are developing. Although not technically assessment, it’s clear that Jared Knowles loves the data analysis work that Civilytics is doing.
And my old friend Laura Slover seems to be all in on the resources and services that CenterPoint is providing to support educators and student learning. I wouldn’t blame Laura if she were a little cautious after PARCC. She gave and gave, but PARCC just wouldn’t, or couldn’t, reciprocate in kind. It was a rocky road, even before PARCC eventually ran off to Texas with someone new (oh well, serves it right).
Smarter Balanced is a different story. I don’t think anybody ever really loved Smarter Balanced – not the states, certainly not Measured Progress. Well, maybe Jon Cohen. I have no doubt that Joe, Tony, and some of the state folks loved the consortium; but from the beginning, to many, the Smarter Balanced summative assessment was just a vehicle that allowed them to meet federal assessment requirements while they focused on the important work they really loved. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
I think that it’s harder to love state assessment programs today than it used to be. It doesn’t help that people are jumping from one state or testing company to another so quickly. And even if the people stay in one place, it seems to be quite rare these days for an assessment director, contractor, and assessment to make it through more than one contract cycle together.
Plus, with state assessment programs so tightly constrained by federal requirements and the feds looking over states’ shoulder every step of the way, let’s face it – that’s not a recipe for sparks and magic. Perhaps that’s why so many of my colleagues have become infatuated with the opportunities that might be offered by the NGSS assessments or IADA.
What would it take to get you to love your assessment program?
Before addressing that question, I should note the critical distinction between loving your job and loving your assessment program. It’s great when you love both; treasure those moments. I could list plenty of times over the course of my career, however, when I loved going to work each day and the people I worked with, but the assessment program was … meh. On the flip side, there have been times when the working conditions were hell for long stretches of time, the people you had to deal with on a daily basis were insufferable, or the person in charge was a complete ass, but the assessment program made it worthwhile (for a while anyway).
So, what are the essential ingredients for loving your assessment program?
These are my top five:
- All of the regular things that apply to any healthy relationship
- Honesty and Trust
- Commitment to making it work
- Effective communication
- Patience and Understanding
- I am engaged in solving an important complex or wicked problem.
- Stakeholders have reasonable expectations about what an assessment program can and cannot do.
- There is a long-term commitment to understanding and addressing the problem. The assessment program is not a quick fix or a short cut.
- The assessment group is part of a larger team devoted to solving the problem.
- Also, I am part of a team within the assessment group.
- There is a partnership between the state, contractor, advisors, etc.
- There are opportunities for Innovation
- There is an openness to trying something new when necessary and the resources to support the effort, but there is not a commitment doing some new just for the sake of being different.
- There is room to fail and try again, or at least the flexibility not to be perfect the first time around.
And if you have found an assessment program that you love, treat it right. It’s had a tough year, too.