29 May 2013

CTO for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

I’m way overdue writing this message. About a month ago I started my new job as Chief Technology Officer for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. I expected to write about it that very week. After all, I had been composing this announcement in my head for a while by then.

That it’s taken so long is an indicator of what a whirlwind this has been. After all, the consortium has been operating for a couple of years now, contracts have been awarded and the work is underway. It’s like boarding a moving train. My new co-workers, partners and vendors have been incredibly gracious as I’m learning this new job.

Smarter Balanced is one of the Common Core Assessment Consortia. It’s a partnership of 25 states and 1 territory most of which have also adopted the Common Core State Standards. The concept is that with common standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics we can collaborate to develop better quality assessments of student skills than individual states could do working independently. Funding is through grants from the federal government and multiple foundations.

Those of you who know my passion for non-summative assessment may wonder whether I’ve gone over to the summative dark side. Summative assessments include the end-of-year assessments given to K-12 students. They may also be final exams or any other tests that come at the end of a course of study.

Non-summative assessments include formative assessments that occur at the beginning of a topic to help students and teachers understand how much they already know, they include daily exercises and assignments, and they include interim assessments. In short, they include any assessment that occurs before the unit or course of study is complete. My previous post on feedback loops and my VSS talk from last fall explain why I believe non-summative assessment has such potential to improve student learning.

As I looked into the Smarter Balanced opportunity I was delighted to find similar passion for non-summative assessment. To be sure, summative assessments are a huge part of our work. But even these exams will use Computer Adaptive Testing technology to accurately place students in a development sequence rather than just determine whether they’ve met some proficiency threshold. And we’re working hard to ensure these assessments are more authentic – that is, activities being measured are closer to the way skills are expressed in the real world.

Moving one step earlier in the learning cycle, Smarter Balanced will also offer voluntary interim assessments that can be used earlier in the year to find strengths and weaknesses in student skills and inform subsequent teaching. They will use the same kinds of questions and skills alignment as the summative exams. I’m exploring how we can offer these interim assessment items in a way that allows other organizations to integrate them into their adaptive learning systems.

And moving to the beginning of the learning process, we are developing a digital library of formative learning materials. These will be teacher-facing content that helps teachers plan and implement formative activities in their classrooms.

For more than two years at the Gates Foundation I studied the state of online assessment and how it fits into the Personalized Learning Model. I’m excited to apply those ideas at that this scale.  At Smarter Balanced we're addressing assessment needs in three ways: with year-end Summative Assessments, Interim Assessments to inform students and teachers as they learn, and with Formative Activities to introduce topics and get a sense of existing understanding. It goes without saying that I’ll write much about that here.






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