My children will tell you I believe in accountability and there is no where else that shows more evidence than my comments to my kids at their sporting events. When my son played baseball (years ago…) and it was the first year kids pitched, he got hit at the plate…a lot… He was a left-handed hitter and as such all the right handed pitchers tended to pitch a bit inside for him. Of course, he was averse to being hurt so he had a habit of jumping out of the batters box and thus, striking out. I told him, of course in a loving tone, if he jumped out of the batters box again, I would have to consider gluing his feet there. I would never…not really…but it made a point I guess because two years later when my daughter started to play soccer, my son clued his younger sister in to my standards for accountability. She got kicked in the shins (on the shin pads you know) and sat down on the field crying. The whole game stopped and coaches had to help her off the field. A moment later she was begging to go back in. I told her (again in a loving voice) that she was not to stop a game crying on the field unless she was really hurt again. I continued that she was a part of a team and had to try her best and that means being honest about being hurt or not and if she’s not really hurt but needs a break – she needs to take herself out of the game, but let play go on. My daughter said she understood, but I saw the tear. My son put his arm around his little sister and said, “It’s ok sis, that’s just the way mom rolls…she expects us to try our best and be a good part of the team”. They laughed. So did I.
I admit, I have high expectations when it comes to doing one’s best, and I believe in being accountable for that. However, I also know that doing one’s best and being accountable is not synonymous with perfection. It is a belief that carries over into my role as a school principal, especially relating to accountability testing in school. Progress, not perfection is what I expect and multiple measures of effectiveness is necessary to really gauge progress.
In school we use multiple assessments to determine whether or not a student is making progress toward goals and meeting standards. One measure is the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) in math, science, and reading. This test is given yearly for our middle level students (grades 7 and 8). These measure progress toward grade level standards and are re-normed each year so student percentiles will change as the grade level achievement adjusts year after year. I mention this because it is different than the other tests we give that are normed against a national sample that remains a more constant measure of percentile rank. I also mention it because this year, again, I was even a little taken aback that my own children scored as well or better than they did the year before and their percentile rank dropped. It was a good reminder for me that is likely a good thing as their peers, as grade levels, are scoring higher too. So a dropping percentile rank means others are may be catching up – not necessarily that my child is doing worse. These tests help individuals as well as our school measure progress against the Minnesota State Standards. This is one measurement of progress in school, but not the only.
We also use the NWEA Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test in reading and math once a year in the fall for grades 7 and 8 and in the fall and spring for grade 9. This test measures yearly growth – we measure from fall to fall in grades 7/8 and fall/spring in grade 9. The test gives us yearly growth targets based on their score and we aim to make sure that progress is made toward those goals. Students who receive supplemental support in reading and math will take this computer adapted test more often to measure progress more frequently so we can make adjustments in intervention. This is also not a high stakes test, meaning there is no state accountability action for this test, and because we give it over time, we can tell if a score is an outlier because a student had a tough day etc. This test is normed against a national sample so the percentile remains more of a stable target and actually the students take the same test each time – but it adapts to the level of achievement the student can attain. It continues to adjust difficulty until the student is answering more questions wrong than right – indicating their instructional level of understanding. This way we can consistently measure growth against a constant standard. Again, another measurement of progress, but not the only.
We also use in-class summative and formative assessments. You’ll notice I’ve changed my vocabulary from test to assessment. We, as educators, are much more comfortable with assessments because they aren’t terminal achievement measures, they change as the objective and instruction changes. They truly indicate individual progress because they’re frequent, they are directly tied to what is taught in class, and measure more than content. We can also measure skills and more complex understanding because we aren’t limited by multiple choice, or short answer formats. Some assessments are performance assessments, some require creation, some require content replication, yet others require making connections between content and new problems to solve. We can measure thinking through class assessment and this gives us a really good picture of progress on multiple levels. This is another measurement of progress, but not the only.
Finally, we get to know our kids. We can tell when something is hard because a student is getting up to sharpen her pencil more than normal. We can tell when something is not challenging enough because a student can’t wait to pick up his book instead of listen to the discussion. We can tell when a connection happens between new and old learning when a student’s raised hand can’t go far enough up in the air begging for her to be called on first. We also know that there is no test to measure our kids’ capacity for learning, their curiosity, ability to create, and depth of character. We measure these through the little things, like observations as well as class assessments, and these assessments make a tremendous impact on our ability to meet our “why” – we help our students realize their awesome possibilities.
Here’s my bottom line about testing, and test results. No test can measure awesome possibilities, nor should there be one that defines one’s potential. Likewise, no test measures the true progress or potential of a program, or school. However, we are incredibly accountable for meeting our objective of helping students discover possibilities and that is a tremendous responsibility. We really do believe in what’s possible at NJH and each measurement of accountability – including tests, assessments, and daily interactions with students- help us measure our progress toward the possible.