Chief Accountability and Performance Officer Penny Schwinn, at the Delaware Department of Education, gave a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment to the State Board of Education today. Schwinn indicated the Smarter Balanced Assessment may potentially be considered to replace the SAT in 11th grade for Delaware students. She claimed that other states are doing this already.
The main part of the presentation was the five-year Smarter Balanced Assessment plan. Schwinn and Dr. Carolyn Lazar, another associate at the Delaware DOE, talked about the recent “assessment reduction” initiative that had some rather revealing and shocking acknowledgments. The DOE has spent the past six months reviewing state assessments and found there is a lot of replication across the state. Their goals in this review have been to make sure assessments align to the state standards, yield valuable reports on student progress, adhere to best practices statewide, and align with the system in place. Schwinn said “We all want as much instruction time as possible,” and in speaking about the community’s role in this initiative, “We want to be respectful of community input.”
Schwinn’s office feels end of year assessments (finals) are repetitive and they are starting to see a reduction on these tests in districts. The five-year assessment plan will cover Smarter Balanced Assessments, DCAS for Social Studies and Science, Alternate Assessments, and the following tests: PSAT, SAT, ACCESS and NAEP.
Schwinn explained the grant funds involved with this assessment review available to the “largest districts” as she put it, and it would amount to $5.00 a student for a total of $80-90,000. Lazar explained, contradicting Schwinn’s earlier statement, that the grant is available to all the districts in Delaware and that the DOE initiated this process two years ago but became a focus six months ago. The grant funds became available for the districts in early April, and the districts have until the end of the April to deliver a list of their assessments to the DOE.
A company called Achieve is the DOE contractor involved in this, and their role is to provide a user-friendly model and to develop an action plan to execute on the findings of the review. The DOE is planning to develop a communications and community engagement process, and they are pleased at the level of educator involvement already taking place with this review.
The DOE has already provided the districts with a template of the grant form to ease the burden on the districts. They suggested the districts use an outside consultancy firm, like Achieve (which they specifically mentioned for a 2nd time). The review plan has three steps: Phase 1: review, Phase 2: develop action plan, and Phase 3: implement action plan. The goal, according to Lazar is “teaching more, testing less.” The plan will ask “Why assess?” which they feel is necessary and State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray agreed. “We are all consumers of data,” Lazar said.
The DOE will be more than happy to provide technical assistance to the districts that they may consider part of their budget, with the help of Achieve (3rd mention of this company), who may want other contractors to come in and assist. But the districts can be creative with the funds (based on a DOE designed grant template and the able-bodied assistance of Achieve).
Gray restated the earlier statement that the grant is optional to the districts, but Schwinn stated they are committed to doing this for all of the districts. Board member Pat Heffernan asked if there is a rubric for this initiative, to which Lazar said that is something they are looking to implement but nothing exact like a specific rubric (after they already designed the grant template).
They expect the district assessment tally in mid-May and an action plan by December. During the gap in time, they plan to utilize focus groups (with no definition of who would be on these focus groups).
Schwinn indicated teacher created assessments used in the classroom are not a part of this review, but some of the Measure B and RTI interventions used by the districts, according to Gray, are repetitive. Schwinn stated these are the universal assessments that all students must take and determining the validity of them. Schwinn stated Common Core alignment with the SAT would be ready by next year with a transition in the next two years and full implementation in the next 3-5 years.
The next part of their presentation concerned the current implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in districts and charters in Delaware. Schwinn said she is “very excited” about the results they have seen so far. As of April 10th, 15,000 students have taken part in the summative ELA Smarter Balanced Assessment, and 9,000 for the math. When asked about the different in numbers, Schwinn indicated it was because of how the districts and schools implement the testing scheduled during their testing windows. There was a long discussion about “chunking”. Heffernan asked if there have been situations like the schools thought a section would take four days but it took six to which Schwinn answered they haven’t received that feedback at this point.
In terms of problems, the biggest problem which was on the screen, but not even discussed during the meeting was the issue of accommodations. The screen indicated “ACCOMMODATIONS DATA TRANSFER EXPERIMENTING ISSUES-unresolved, students incorrectly appearing as “custom” for accommodations in the test administration interface. Work-around requires test administrator to employ additional efforts to validate accommodations for every student.” American Institutes for Research (AIR), the testing vendor is “working on the issue.” Nothing was discusses about any financial impact to the state or the districts to resolve these issues. The DOE has an internal system they use to monitor the Smarter Balanced called PBMS. Schwinn indicated the first year of DCAS had similar issues (another state assessment designed by AIR).
Executive Director of the State Board Donna Johnson asked how many districts were doing the interim assessments and Schwinn answered this is decided by the actual schools, and in some schools, only certain grades. For the hand-scoring they are using a new technical system for curricular assessments and collaborating with the State of Washington and Air for training. This is posted on a portal called the Teacher Hand-Scoring System.
There has been an inconsistent display of resources but conference calls with other states in the SBAC, the staff at Smarter Balanced and AIR is allowing for collaboration and sharing of resources like sources, prompts and materials deployed.
Schwinn indicated students like “Smarter” (a recent Facebook commenter said all the DOE hipsters like to call it “Smarter”) better than DCAS and are showing more interest because it has listening and is more realistic (with not even 1/5th of the students in the state taking the test, they are already making this assumption without all the end-of-assessment surveys).
Here is my take on all this, and the whole “reduction of assessments” initiative is not to actually reduce testing, but because the DOE wants more Smarter Balanced interim assessments. The DOE and Governor Markell want everything tied to the Smarter Balanced Assessment: college course placement, standards-based IEPs, SATs, and even those pesky little “other” assessments that provide real and valuable data in many cases. My big question is this: how much did the legislators know of these plans with this test when the majority voted to approve it last year with House Bill 334?
While this question is being pondered, who is Achieve? According to their website, their agendas (not making this up, they actually have a tab called “Our Agenda”) include standards, graduation requirements, data & accountability and assessments, with sub-groups in this category called sample student assessment reports, ADP assessments, measures that matter, and what a coincidence, one called Student Assessment Directory for School Districts. And look at that, they just completed a huge guide for districts on 3/20/15!
And from their website, which can be found at just another corporate education reform link:
Below is a brief history of Achieve:
1996: Achieve is founded at the National Education Summit by leading governors and business leaders.
1998: Achieve begins its Academic Standards and Assessments Benchmarking Pilot Project.
1999: Achieve sponsors a National Education Summit.
2001: Achieve sponsors a National Education Summit; Achieve joins the Education Trust, Thomas B. Fordham Institute and National Alliance of Business to launch the American Diploma Project (ADP) to identify the “must-have” knowledge and skills most demanded by higher education and employers.
2004: The American Diploma Project releases “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts.” This groundbreaking report – the result of over two years of research – identifies a common core of English and mathematics academic knowledge and skills, or “benchmarks,” that American high school graduates need for success in college and the workforce. Education Week later named “Ready or Not” one of the most 12 influential research studies.
2006: Achieve releases its first annual report on the ADP college- and career-ready policy agenda: “Closing the Expectations Gap: An Annual 50-State Progress Report on the Alignment of High School Policies with the Demands of College and Work.”
2007: The ADP Assessment Consortium launches to develop common Algebra II end-of-course assessment, which was, at that time, the largest multi-state effort to develop assessments to date.
2008: Achieve releases “Out of Many, One: Toward Rigorous Common Core Standards from the Ground Up,” a report that found that individual state efforts to set college- and career-ready standards for high school graduates actually led to a remarkable degree of consistency in English and mathematics requirements.
2009: Work begins on the development of the Common Core State Standards; Achieve partners with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers on the Initiative and a number of Achieve staff and consultants serve on the writing and review teams.
2011: Achieve begins managing the state-led development of the K-12 Next Generation Science Standards.
2013: The final Next Generation Science Standards are released.
So now that we know the who, what, where, when and how, my big question is WHY? This is just another waste of money so the DOE can pay another corporate education reform company. Is there just this huge and massive network of these companies that comes into states and “transforms” everything education related?
Well, at least now we know Penny Schwinn does more than worry about priority schools. Wait a minute… I take that back. I found this on the Delaware Contract Bid website, just placed two days ago in fact…
But let’s all hope Delaware Secretary of Education Mary Murphy’s sniffles get better. The poor guy either has a bad cold, or allergies, or something. Hope you feel better Mark!