Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

5 Questions Policymakers Need to Ask About Common-Core Test Results

By Elaine Weiss — October 06, 2015 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This fall is the first time many states will receive results from assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards. These assessments—developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC—will enable us to conduct better comparative analytics than ever before.

Conversations about assessment results tend to revolve around how high or low scores are and what districts and schools should do in response. In this first year, however, it is particularly important to view the results within an appropriate context, linked to other metrics. Indeed, for assessments to fulfill their purpose of informing educators, schools, districts, and states about what students know, and how to improve their progress, decisionmakers must ask some key questions. These five questions frame the assessments in terms of both critical inputs and other, relevant outcomes that reflect how well schools are meeting all students’ needs.

BRIC ARCHIVE

1. How well are teachers prepared to teach common-core content? The common standards were designed to shift instruction, and learning, away from passive intake and rote repetition and toward deep content knowledge and critical thinking. Teachers thus need not only solid training, content expertise, and classroom-management experience, but also the ability to nurture and assess so-called noncognitive skills. They also need time for collaboration, which improves both instruction and school culture. Districts can gauge their readiness through metrics including how much professional development teachers received, the year that the district transitioned to CCSS-aligned curriculum, and surveys of teacher perspectives on curriculum, professional development, and scheduling.

2. How well do school leadership and other facets of the school support strong, deep instruction? Teachers operate within a complex ecosystem of factors that contribute to (or impede) teaching and learning. These include special education and English-language-learner support, reading and math specialists, counselors, and librarians. Teachers’ skills are bolstered by strong leaders with a clear vision for the school and rapport with its staff. Yet schools’ and districts’ ability to attract and retain such leaders varies greatly. Districts might begin by collecting and comparing data on leadership longevity, teacher turnover, and staff engagement. And because growth on assessments rests on the strength of each of these factors, districts should determine their availability and sufficiency in each school and compare accordingly.

Teachers operate within a complex ecosystem of factors that contribute to (or impede) teaching and learning.

3. To what extent does the school comprehensively address student needs? Extensive research documents the impact of poverty-related family and community factors, such as lack of school readiness, disproportionate physical and mental health needs, and summer learning loss, on academic achievement. Assessing test scores’ meaning thus requires understanding how these factors affect them. Districts should, for example, determine how many students, in which schools, receive subsidized meals; are immigrants; live with one parent and/or in foster care; are homeless; have diagnosed mental/emotional health problems; or have interacted with the criminal-justice system. Districts can engage community leaders to connect schools to key resources—from health clinics and social workers to enriching after-school and summer opportunities—to ensure that every student’s strengths are capitalized on and needs met.

4. How well are parents engaged as education partners? Evidence affirms the critical role parents play in school success. Yet parent engagement often gets more lip service than policy support. Partnering with parents—by hosting coffee hours, inviting them into classrooms, and encouraging attendance at parent-teacher conferences and PTA events—can significantly boost both test scores and teacher practice.

5. How do district and state policies support or limit common-core success? Leadership from the top is essential for complex initiatives to succeed. A change in superintendents and/or central-office leadership could affect common-core rollout. The board of education plays a pivotal role, and sufficient and equitable funding for schools is a foundational requirement. Unfortunately, budget cuts to education over the past decade have exacerbated what was already, in most states, a highly inequitable system for funding schools. Any examination of test scores must take into account the state’s role in ensuring that schools have sufficient funds to support new, higher standards. It must also ask whether the board has allocated sufficient resources to support implementation, whether union contracts build in time for collaboration, and whether the evaluation process supports (or punishes) teachers based on whom they teach, rather than how.

Student test scores are products of all of these factors, and should be treated accordingly. By using these five questions to guide their assessment of test scores, policymakers can help states and districts ensure an enriching, equitable, and effective education for each and every U.S. student.

A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2015 edition of Education Week as Common-Core Test Results: What Policymakers Need to Ask

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How Principals Can Resolve Heated Conflicts With Parents and Teachers
Three tips for school leaders to manage complicated and emotional disagreements.
4 min read
Illustration of a large hand holding a puzzle piece that shows a handshake and that connects two other pieces -- one with a man and the other with a woman.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Where Is K-12 Enrollment Headed? Population Trends, by the Numbers
America's public schools will have fewer students in the coming years, but population changes vary widely by state.
1 min read
Illustration of people icon.
E+
School & District Management How to Have a Hard Conversations With Your Teachers: 3 Tips for Principals
Here are three small steps that can ease the pain of a difficult conversation between a principal and teacher.
3 min read
Photo of two women having discussion.
E+
School & District Management How Have School Leaders Responded to the Trump Shooting?
When a tragic national incident happens in the middle of the summer, do school officials feel compelled to respond?
4 min read
A crowd waits for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump to speak at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024.
A crowd waits for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump to speak at the campaign event in Butler, Pa., on July 13, 2024, before a shooting took place.
Gene J. Puskar/AP