“When I’m Sixty-Four”

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?

If turning 64 this week wasn’t enough to make me feel old and ask the questions posed above, the fact that the Wikipedia page for Paul McCartney’s iconic song feels it’s necessary to explain that the Beatles were an “English rock band” was more than enough to do the trick.

It has been 56 years since When I’m Sixty-Four was released on the Beatles innovative Sgt. Pepper’s album, and educational assessment has been a large part of my life for most of those years.

It’s been a good run.

When I was 14 and finishing my second year at Boston Latin School, Organization was the key as nary a day went by that didn’t involve a test of one sort or another.

At 24, I set down my flexible meter stick, turned off the lights in my classroom, and hopped on a plane to Minneapolis to begin a doctoral program in measurement and evaluation at the University of Minnesota.

I might just make it after all.

At 34, I was up to my neck in innovative assessment: working seven days a week for six month stretches at a time on KIRIS, with its mix of open-ended questions, portfolios, writing prompts, and performance events; the Vermont Portfolio Assessment; and the 100% open-ended MEA. We created new procedures to make it all work (or at least hold it all together) while setting up an employee daycare center for the little ones crawling around our offices while we worked on Sunday afternoons.

It was a heady time – and we knew we were in over our heads, but that was OK.

If Rich or Ross could dream it, we would do it.

The cynics were outraged screaming, “This is absurd!” ‘Cause for a moment a band of thieves in ripped up jeans got to rule the world. Long live all the magic we made. Oh, the dragons we slayed.

At 44, the lows of KIRIS and the highs of MCAS and a few too many pounds were under my belt. I bought stock in McDonalds and Medtronic to cover my bases and re-Centered my career closer to home and family in Maine.

Reunited with Rich Hill, we published our analysis of the reliability and validity challenges presented by the accountability requirements of NCLB. Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire (we knew Maine’d come eventually) decided to join forces to develop a joint state assessment program which I somehow convinced them to dub NECAP .

At 54, NECAP was done, the consortia had begun.

With the constant turnover at the state level, it would have been easy to find a new set of state assessment and accountability staff to advise. It’s a living, sure, and a good one at that.

But the federal constraints on assessment and accountability, all but eliminated the need for innovative thinking and the appeal to innovative thinkers.

Assess, Account, Report, Repeat.

You can only answer the same questions, solve the same problems, address the same challenges so many times. It was time to start looking for something more.

They say, hey, it’s only human
To never be satisfied
Well I guess that I’m as human as the next one

 Oh, I keep looking
I keep looking for
I keep looking for something more
I always wonder what’s on the other side
Of the number two door

Now I’m 64

And I’m giddy like a kid sitting here at Psychometric Confections, LLC, my proverbial candy store.

What an exciting time it is in educational assessment.

Portfolios and pathways, progressions and progress monitoring, performance events and personalization.

All that we imagined, but which eluded us in the past, now is either already firmly in our grasp or seems close enough to reach out and touch.

To list just a few of the advances that are already in place:

  • The ability to track students and their performance across time,
  • Computer-based testing,
  • Adaptive testing,
  • Valid and reliable automated scoring engines for a variety of item types,
  • The tools to create dynamic data visualizations,
  • The ability to incorporate multimedia presentations and simulations into test instruments, and
  • Computer-delivered accommodations and universal tools that personalize and increase access to assessment for all students.

We may not yet be using any of these tools as effectively or efficiently as we could be, but all are necessary to move the field forward and all are now very real.

Promises and potential are now possibilities.

Large-scale testing seems poised to collapse under all of the extraneous weight that has been piled upon it for the past two decades. That inevitable and long overdue collapse may be a scary prospect to some, but ultimately will be beneficial to the future of both the traditional, on-demand, external testing with which we are so familiar and to the emergence of the types of curriculum-embedded, instructionally- and learning-focused, continuous assessment that so many of us have dreamed of for so long.

Classroom assessment, or educational measurement within the classroom, is emerging as its own field and not as a subset or red-headed stepchild of large-scale psychometrics.

Research on student learning and learning progressions seems ready to break through the self-imposed walls that have boxed it in and limited its progress, ultimately, as hoped, leading us to better ways to conceive of and monitor learning and growth.

A few years back I made the following observation:

For the last 20 years we have marshaled all of the resources of our field for the purpose of measuring the hell out of arguably the two least interesting outcomes of K-12 education.

But we seem ready and have the tools in place to finally move beyond simply measuring student achievement, ability, proficiency (take your pick) to begin measuring and modeling education with all of its complex, interconnected ecosystems.

Perhaps it took a global pandemic and social upheaval to shake things up, but I do believe that our field is now ready to turn our attention to tackling more interesting and important questions.

The Future is Whatever You Make It

At sixty-four, my days of 7-day/80-hour work weeks immersed in data are well behind me. And the number of new tricks that this old dog can still learn is much more limited than it used to be.

I spend more time these days reading Thich Nhat Hanh than Messick and Mislevy, although I am catching up on the writings of Paul Meehl that I never seemed to have enough time for before.

The future is yours, not mine, and that is as it should be.

But I will keep writing, sharing my thoughts on where we are going and where we have been, what went right and what went wrong, what is, what was, what might have been, and what can be.

And if you think that there is some little way that I can help you work through how to move things forward, as the song says …

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say

Image by Facundo Cabrera from Pixabay

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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