Education leaders urge assessment innovation, not super test

A diverse group of over 60 educational leaders representing a variety of organizations, from academic institutions to state boards of education and from foundations to education providers, released an open letter today calling for the states and the assessment consortia designing the next generation of assessments aligned to the Common Core to move with all haste to deploy an assessment system that not only explicitly accommodates emerging models of innovative schooling, but also supports them.
This is an important time for our country’s education system, as the potential exists to not merely tinker with it, but to transform it. The next-generation assessments currently being designed represent an opportunity to catalyze this innovation, but if implemented incorrectly, also present a significant risk of locking our current education system into today’s factory-model design that while successful for yesterday’s needs, is inappropriate for what we as a nation are asking it to do today.
Innosight Institute published the letter here, and those interested in adding their signature can do so here. The letter is pasted below in its entirety with the original signatories.
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In an era in which information and learning know no geographic bounds, there is an unprecedented opportunity to utilize digital learning to transform our nation’s education system so that each child can be successful, realize his or her fullest potential, and pursue his or her most daring dreams. Indeed, it is the sum of these dreams that represents the future standing and economic competitiveness of this great nation.
As states across the country move forward in implementing the common core state standards, there is a chance to create the infrastructure for innovation, improved learning outcomes, and cost-savings at scale.
Part of this infrastructure will include the adoption of next-generation assessments. If done correctly, the shift from pencil-and-paper to online assessments will build upon this opportunity to transform the nation’s education system and provide a platform for new approaches to learning and schooling, not just to testing.
If done incorrectly, however, the adoption of these assessments also has the potential to lock our education system—for another decade or more—into its current factory-era model that has proved so inadequate to the task of meeting our nation’s education goals in the 21st century.
States and the assessment consortia designing the next generation of assessments are doing nothing less than laying the foundation for the next era of American public education. It is imperative that they architect a model of education that will withstand the test of time.
We, the undersigned, believe that states and the assessment consortia must move with all haste to deploy an assessment system that not only explicitly accommodates emerging models of innovative schooling, but also supports them. Some schools across the country are already moving in this innovative direction, as they shift from focusing on obsolete inputs of the past like seat time to creating new, blended schooling models that combine the best of face-to-face and online learning.* An assessment framework stuck in the factory-era relic of its predecessors would not only be orthogonal to innovative efforts like these, but could also serve to stifle further innovation—literally cutting it off at the knees.
Given the importance of this opportunity, we make three recommendations to the states and the assessment consortia.
1. Create a dynamic testing ecosystem, not another one-size-fits-all assessment. Rather than a single common test, the federal-funded opportunity offers the potential to create a vibrant assessment ecosystem comprised of multiple platforms, open-item banks, and multiple testing options that encourages deeper learning. An assessment ecosystem, rather than a single common test, will give states the flexibility to take advantage of innovations in digital learning over time while maintaining interoperability and comparability. For instance, assessments can be aligned and trusted through the use of a common matrix-based assessment, which can be used to set the curve. NAEP or PISA is an example of a matrix-based assessment; because they are broad and deep, no one student takes the whole test. Instead, several students each take a fraction of it—and a few thousand test-takers can give an accurate picture of the results in a state.

2. Plan for innovation. Interest in assessment systems, not just identical year-end or end-of-course tests, is a productive direction. So-called “interim” and “through-course assessments” can be beneficial in compiling a number of achievement data points. These assessments will be most useful, however, when integrated as part of an aligned learning system. With the shift from print to digital instructional materials, an increasing number of students will benefit from the instant feedback of content-embedded and real-time, adaptive assessment. Over time, a growing number of districts and networks will use instructional systems that produce a substantial body of achievement data tied to instructional experiences. Overlaying common interim or through-course assessments on these systems must not be redundant or, even worse, misaligned.
Next-generation assessment systems should instead be designed to be interoperable and flexible to ensure that states, districts, and schools can implement complementary alternative and aligned in-course assessments and instructional materials.

3. Adopt assessment systems that support transformation. Education is shifting from print to digital curricula and from teaching age-cohorts to personalized learning. New assessment systems should support rather than act as a barrier to competency-based learning—in which time is variable but learning is constant for each student—and systems should shift to focus on measuring and rewarding individual student growth instead of fixed inputs. Consequently, next-generation assessments must be made available on demand when a student completes a unit or course and not at a pre-determined time on the school calendar.
Andres A. Alonso, CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools
Frank E. Baxter, Chairman Emeritus, Jefferies & Company
Marie M. Bjerede, Founder e-Mergents, LLC
Kelly Burnette, NBCT, FL State Teacher of the Year Finalist 2011
Idit Harel Caperton, President & Founder, World Wide Workshop
Samuel Casey Carter, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Jaime Casap, Senior Education Manager, Google
Stacey Childress, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Clayton M. Christensen, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
Susan J. Colby, CEO, Stupski Foundation
Allan Collins, Professor Emeritus of Learning Sciences, Northwestern University
Gunnar Counselman, Founder and CEO, Fidelis
Chris Dede, Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Harvard University
Beth Dozoretz, Unleashing Education Innovation Group
Robert Dunlevy, State Board of Education, West Virginia
Mark Edwards, Superintendent, Mooresville, NC
MaryEllen Elia, Superintendent, Hillsborough County Public Schools, FL
Julie Evans, CEO, Project Tomorrow
Rose Fernandez, Executive Director, National Parent Network for Online Learning
Michael M. Flood, Vice President Education Markets, Kajeet
Luis de la Fuente, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
Stephanie Saroki de Garcia, Seton Education Partners
Roy Gilbert, Chief Executive Officer, Grockit
Jessica Goldfin, Special Assistant to the President, Knight Foundation
Thomas Greaves, Chairman, The Greaves Group, LLC
Michael Green, Member, State Board of Education, West Virginia
Michael E. Hanson, Superintendent of Schools, Fresno Unified School District
Scott Hartl, President and CEO, Expeditionary Learning
Nelson Heller, Founder, The Heller Reports and EdNET Conference
Alex Hernandez, Partner, Charter School Growth Fund
Michael B. Horn, Executive Director, Innosight Institute
Gisele Huff, Executive Director, Jaquelin Hume Foundation
Robert Iskander, Founder & CEO, EduTone Corporation
Todd Kern, Principal, 2Revolutions LLC
Mark Kushner, Senior Vice President of School Development and Partnerships, K12, Inc.
Rob Lippincott, Senior Vice President for Education, PBS
Gayle Manchin, State Board of Education, West Virginia; and former First lady
Margery Mayer, President, Scholastic Education
Kathleen McCartney, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Gerald S. Lesser Professor in
Early Childhood Development, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Terry M. Moe, Professor, Stanford University, and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution
Vasanth Mohan, Vice President, MOBL21
Carrie Morgridge, Co-Founder, Morgridge Family Foundation
Rae Mugnolo, SMART Technologies
Susan Patrick, President and CEO, International Association for K-12 Online Learning
Daniel S. Peters, President, Lovett & Ruth Peters Foundation
Ramona Pierson, Chief Science Officer, Promethean
Fernando M. Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of International Education,
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Victor Reinoso, Georgetown University (former Deputy Mayor for Education, DC)
Seth Reynolds, Partner, The Parthenon Group
Colin Rogister
Joel Rose, School of One
L. Todd Rose, Scientist, CAST, and Lecturer on Education, Harvard University
Aylon Samouha, Chief Schools Officer, Rocketship Education
Michael J. Schmedlen, Director of Worldwide Education, Lenovo
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director of Education Policy, Software & Information
Industry Association
Don Soifer, Executive Vice President, Lexington Institute
Lawrence Stupski, Chairman, Stupski Foundation
Ana Thompson, Executive Director, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation
Tom Vander Ark, CEO, Open Education Solutions
Dr. William M. White, Dean, The Charles H. Polk School of Leadership and
Professional Development, Mountain State University, WV
Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education
Esther Wojcicki, Teacher & Vice Chair, Creative Commons
Julie. E. Young, President & CEO, Florida Virtual School
The above list represents the letter’s original signatories. To add your signature, please click here.


Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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