Balanced assessment gives teachers, students and parents a more accurate picture of student growth
CASTLE ROCK – When most people think of testing, the first thought probably has something to do with #2 pencils and standardized tests. It is important to know, however, that these more traditional assessments are only one part of the Balanced Assessment System (BAS) being built by schools in the Douglas County School District (DCSD) and required by Senate Bill 212. As DCSD System Performance Officer Dr. Syna Morgan explains, the goal of the BAS is to give schools and teachers the ability to choose from multiple measures, including more authentic assessments, which truly give teachers a picture of what their students have learned and where they can still grow.
“’Balance’ means you do the best of each part of assessment practices and you use them with the intention that they will add value in providing feedback to students about their performance as well as to the teacher in order to adjust instruction,” explained Morgan.
While Colorado law requires that those assessments related to teacher evaluations include the state performance assessment, TCAP, it also says teacher evaluation should be composed of multiple measures, not just one test.
In Douglas County, individual schools have the ability to integrate assessments that fit their instructional models and their educational programs.
“We have freedom to make some choices as a school and even as individual teachers to be able to use those assessments that truly make sense,” said Stephanie Crowe, the professional learning specialist at Sage Canyon Elementary. “I've had administrators that have told me, 'Stephanie, you know your students the best. You know them inside and out as their teacher.’ How cool is that? We can have some freedom to show my best practices through assessments that I want to choose that really do showcase what my students can do and what I've taught them.”
While it will look different from school to school, the expectation is that in addition to the state assessment, teachers are integrating other measures that are not necessarily just more standardized tests. For instance, a BAS can include daily observation practices or authentic assessments tied to projects in which students are utilizing high levels of thinking.
“The best assessment practices are those that are embedded into the teaching and learning and are part of the process,” explained Morgan. “They don't disrupt the learning to test the students.”
For instance, at many schools teachers regularly sit down with their students to check on their understanding of material and to provide one-on-one attention to their needs.
“It gives you a much better picture. It keeps you in touch with their learning, their thinking and what they know and what they're able to do,” said Crowe. “I think it would be a scary thing if I just had to rely on standardized tests like TCAP or MAP or Douglas County Interim Assessment,” she added.
While the District provides schools and teachers a lot of latitude, Morgan says DCSD expects that all assessments are high quality and meet certain standard assessment practices, as described in research. Finally, she says that it is important to use a variety of assessments to capture a picture of student progress over time.
“We want schools to really think about a whole system approach, assuring that they are frequently tracking the progress of students and then taking those periods of benchmark interim checks to determine if students are making sufficient progress towards the learning outcomes. Then at the end of the learning, doing an assessment of mastery of the learning outcomes,” Morgan said.
“There must also be frequency [in assessment practices] to ensure that students aren't falling behind, or if they've already learned the learning targets that they are moved forward and not having to wait until the rest the class or the group catches up,” she added.
Many teachers are actually realizing that they have elements of a BAS in place already, because it is what they naturally do in their classroom.
“There are many teachers out there that are doing all kinds of these practices and might not be giving themselves credit for it,” Crowe said.
“Teachers in the classroom do this intuitively because of the design of how the teaching and the learning works,” Morgan added. “The more authentic assessment practices teachers use, the more balanced the approach.”
As schools work to create their Balanced Assessment Systems, as well as implement new state requirements like the Read Act, concerns have risen regarding the number of tests required of our students.
“Right now over-testing is a reality,” Morgan acknowledged.
She is quick to say however, that a BAS does not equate to over-testing students. In fact, it should mean the opposite.
“Assessments become 'bad' assessments if there is a poor use of the assessment,” Morgan said. “We want to make sure that we are not overburdening our balanced assessment system with a certain type of assessment that focuses on the same learning over and over or assesses only low level skills.”
“Teachers are having to make a decision, 'do I implement one type of testing at the exclusion of the other assessment practices that I know are the best practices for my students, or do I do all of it and create testing madness?’” Morgan said. The District desires flexibility for its schools and families while ensuring accountability through a balanced approach to assessment.
The District is now working to educate parents about the difference between high quality relevant assessment and the overuse of standardized testing that is consuming so much time and resources.
READ MORE: DCSD addresses testing ‘madness’
DCSD hopes that concerned parents will let their voices be heard.