Thursday, January 18, 2007

Education Reform in Colorado

Based on the audience response to the comments of Marc Tucker and William Brock at Wednesday's forum in downtown Denver at least some people believe they are onto something. One remark that seemed to garner particularly impassioned response from the people around me was made by Marc Tucker. He said, "we need fewer and more meaningful assessments." He went on to suggest that multiple choice assessments were not authentic measures of student learning and we should depend on assessments that require constructed response and challenge students to access higher order thinking skills.

No doubt this would be a popular statement from anyone that has thought about the authenticity of our assessments. In fact, challenging students to apply their knowledge, perform thought experiments, or synthesize is what we expect in the 21st Century and cannot be measured by instruments like CSAP.

However, I take issue with the assertion that we need fewer assessments. In fact, i would submit that we may not assess students enough. If we are to adopt a more efficient management model for our public schools, then we must agree to measure continuously our success. That means that while the more authentic assessments that Ticker described are desirable, they are lag indicators. The results of those tests are after the fact. The equivalent would be a CEO arguing that the real problem is that the measure for actual profit at the end of the year is flawed and needs to be fixed and the weekly, monthly, or quarterly measures really need to be retired.

Businesses depend on "lead" indicators. Lead indicators are those measures that point to the health of the company or the likely success of the financial objectives. Lead indicators are necessary to determine when to change course, re-double efforts, or to eliminate unprofitable ventures. Education needs lead indicators too (in the form of assessments) to make decisions regarding student interventions and organizational management. Education would be remiss to replace high quality lead indicators in favor of a more authentic summative assessment.

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