I open LinkedIn and read yet another post from a rising star in K-12 testing moving to a new position in certification or some other area of testing. It has become a regular occurrence.
It’s a tough time for K-12 testing – to state the obvious.
Over the past two years, friend and foe alike have been quick to point out the shortcomings of standardized testing – switching sides with their wildfire lies, pointing out our flaws again, as if we didn’t already see them. The truth is, however, that state summative testing and the large-scale portion of the field was under duress even before the events of 2020. Testing had the shiniest wheels in 2010, but by the end of the decade they were just rusting.
Interim assessment, like a mirrorball, will change everything about itself, show you every version of yourself, trying to fit in. Sitting in between classroom and external assessment, it’s never been a natural, but all it does is try, try, try. You have to give it credit for that.
Formative assessment, too, is having a hard time adjusting. Is it assessment or is it instruction? Should it be driven by educational measurement or by learning theory? Do educators need to be more assessment literate or do assessment specialists need to be more education literate?
The field is facing a myriad of technical, social, political, and practical challenges. The task of solving any one of them, might be considered daunting, particularly by those of us who have fought the good fight and are ready for a moment alone in the shade. In a flourishing field, however, it is challenges such as these that attract young professionals and produce a new generation of leaders.
Opportunity Knocks – But Is Anyone There to Answer
Behind every cloud, they tell us, is a silver lining. We should welcome this tumultuous time as a golden opportunity to rethink K-12 testing, to make long overdue changes to a stagnant field. Silver and gold. Silver and Gold. Everyone wishes for silver and gold.
There is, of course, truth to that viewpoint. Disruption to the status quo, whatever the cause, presents a void yearning to be filled. The question is who will step up to fill that void if our best and brightest have left to pursue other interests.
I do not lament those who have shifted their attention and skills from large-scale, standardized testing to more classroom-embedded, student-centered forms of assessment. On the contrary, I embrace their move with open arms and a mind open to possibilities. Their migration is part of the natural, predicted, and long-awaited evolution of the field toward continuous, unobtrusive, and intelligent measurement.
We live in a world of continuous data collection, processing, and reporting, with perhaps even a little measurement thrown into the mix. There is no reason to think that model cannot be applied to K-12 education and K-12 educational assessment. Advances in technology and learning theory narrow the gap between the idea and reality of a fully integrated system of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. But between the motion and the act falls the shadow.
The progress that we imagine can only happen if there are bright young people entering the field to take up that charge and equally bright, if a little less young, people in leadership positions with the vision and entrepreneurial spirit to promote their work. And we are already seeing that if leading thinkers leave K-12 assessment, newly minted professionals will follow.
Not With a Bang, But a Whimper
Historians and poets tell us that the lack of good people and strong organizations willing to take on the challenges facing K-12 assessment poses a much greater threat to the field than the challenges themselves. Indifference is more dangerous than anger, particularly when indifference leads to irrelevance.
Assessment will always be a part of K-12 education, of course, as it always has been. Without people to move it forward, however, assessment is likely to continue as it always has – no better, no worse, the same old thing adapted to fit the latest technological fad.
This can be an exciting and transformational time for K-12 assessment, but only if we find a way to attract and retain the people who will make it so.