Testing Action Plan: State and District Profiles

Two students sit at a desk, working on notebooks with textbooks placed in front of them. The student on the right looks on as the student on the left is writing.

Photo Credit: US Department of Education.

One essential part of educating students successfully is assessing their progress in learning to high standards. Done well and thoughtfully, assessments are tools for learning and promoting equity. They provide necessary information for educators, families, the public, and students themselves to measure progress and improve outcomes for all learners. Done poorly, in excess, or without clear purpose, they take valuable time away from teaching and learning, draining creativity from our classrooms.  In the vital effort to ensure that all students in America are achieving at high levels, it is essential to ensure that tests are fair, are of high quality, take up the minimum necessary time, and reflect the expectation that students will be prepared for success in college and careers.

In too many schools today, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students. In October, 2015, the Department released a set of principles to help correct the balance, protecting the vital role that good assessment plays in informing progress for students and evaluating schools and educators, while providing help in unwinding practices that have burdened classroom time or not served students or educators well (read more about the Testing Action Plan). Following up on its commitment to be a part of the solution, the Department recently released guidance to States on how they can use federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to reduce the testing burden and improve the use of high-quality assessments so that educators and families can better understand student learning needs and help them make progress (read the letter to States).

States and districts across the country are taking steps to reduce unnecessary testing and to ensure tests that are administered are high quality and worth taking. PROGRESS has highlighted work in Tennessee and Tulsa, OKIllinois, and Delaware.

Louisiana Department of Education – Supporting districts to use high-quality benchmark assessments.

In Louisiana, 90 percent of its 79 districts completed an audit of their local assessments in 2014 and identified the need to reduce unnecessary testing. For example, the audit found that, on average, third grade students were spending 25 to 34 school days a year taking local assessments. The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) is taking a number of steps to support districts in reducing unnecessary testing and improving the quality of their assessments. LDOE is working with five pilot districts to create model assessment systems, and is providing all districts with guidance on reducing unnecessary assessments, along with direct and individualized coaching. These efforts have reduced unnecessary testing in many districts; the State plans to conduct a second round of audits with districts in the coming months to identify additional areas for future support.

Stephen Zafirau of St. John Public Schools, said, “Our collaboration with the LDOE on our district assessment system has been invaluable. Through this project, we have gained insight by conducting focus groups and surveys with administrators, teachers, and students to learn how we can strengthen assessments and provide effective feedback in St. John the Baptist Parish. Many of our efforts leading into the next school year will focus on revising our assessment framework and effectively communicating to school administrators and classroom teachers the purpose and value of formative and summative assessments. We are currently planning to focus district professional development efforts on how our assessments can be used to set goals, plan instruction, and address student instructional needs.”

LDOE is leading an online review of local assessments to provide districts with information on the extent to which their tests are aligned with state content standards, in order to help districts improve the quality of these locally administered assessments. Each local school system can then use this information to determine if an assessment is appropriate to meet the needs of their students.

Jeannie Cormier, Supervisor of Middle Schools / Accountability Contact  in Vermilion Parish, believes that assessments should be used as tools to track student growth and provide information that can be used to modify instruction and improve student learning. She stated, “The focus on state, district, and school assessments helped clarify the purpose and goals of assessments for our district. I now envision a system in which all stakeholders have their eyes on the same-goals. Teacher evaluation targets for student growth, principal targets for school success, and student goals must be aligned. In addition, the assessment process and products will have more use and be more effective if they are transparent to all stakeholders.”

The process that LDOE uses to review local assessments is the same process that was established in 2012 to support districts in selecting instructional materials (e.g., textbooks, workbooks, curriculum guides) that are best for their local communities.

“We believe that the state can and should play a role in providing unbiased, rigorous reviews that put relationships aside and simply identify quality,” said Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White. “But reviews aren’t enough. Locals need to both be savvy users of these reviews and they need to easily purchase the best tools. Given this, we spend a lot of time helping locals see the connections between our reviews and what is demanded in our standards and assessments. We also provide state contracts for quality tools to support ease of purchasing.” In addition to selecting materials reviewed by the LDOE review process, districts can also use their own local review process or adopt a combination of state-reviewed materials and locally-reviewed materials.

LDOE’s Review Process

The online review process of locally developed assessments and other instructional materials includes the following key components:

A high bar for quality. Rebecca Kockler, Assistant Superintendent of Academic Content in the LDOE said, “It is critical that assessments and instructional materials be of high-quality and be fully aligned to state standards. We set a very high bar for quality in order to help local educators sift through the noise and find the very best materials for their students.” LDOE established criteria that assessments and instructional materials must meet, referred to as “non-negotiables” (e.g., materials present a progression of complex texts), as well as indicators of “superior quality” (e.g., materials provide texts that are appropriately complex for the identified grade level).

An Intensive review by educators and the public. Assessments and instructional materials are evaluated by a committee of educators from across the state. The committee receives intensive training on the rubric used to evaluate materials. Louisiana residents have an opportunity to provide public comments through an online portal for a three-week period. Ratings are given to assessments and instructional materials based on their quality and alignment to state academic standards:

Tier 1 – Exemplifies Quality: Meets all non-negotiable criteria and scores the best possible on all indicators of superior quality

Tier 2 – Approaching Quality: Meets all non-negotiable criteria and some indicators of superior quality

Tier 3 – Not representing Quality: Does not meet non-negotiable criteria.

A high degree of transparency about the review process and outcomes. LDOE calls for publishers to submit assessments and instructional materials each year. Reviews of submitted materials are released on a rolling basis and posted on LDOE’s website to support educators as they make choices about the resources to use in their schools and classrooms. The Department also publishes a weekly report to provide districts with information about what reviews will be posted and by when, and what is scheduled to be reviewed.

For more information about the review process, see: https://www.louisianabelieves.com/academics/ONLINE-INSTRUCTIONAL-MATERIALS-REVIEWS/curricular-resources-annotated-reviews)

Additional State Supports for Districts

Simplifying the procurement process. In addition to leading the review process, LDOE negotiates contract pricing with publishers of materials rated Tier 1 or Tier 2. LDOE also established a state contract under which districts can purchase materials rated Tier 1 or Tier 2, saving districts time and expense that normally would go into the procurement process.

Integrating professional development with high-quality assessments and instructional materials. “The choices districts make about what curriculum to use, what assessments to give, and the professional development opportunities provided to teachers directly affect the day-to-day education of our students. We have found that helping districts integrate professional development with high-quality curricula and assessments is critical to helping students achieve high standards,” said Rebecca Kockler, LDOE’s Assistant Superintendent of Academic Content. Therefore, LDOE works with vendors to put together professional development packages for Tier 1 materials to meet districts’ unique needs. For example, LDOE will work with vendors to put together a professional development package to meet the training needs of a small rural district or for a district that wants to focus on assessing a particular aspect of instruction (e.g., reading fluency).

Promising Results

The number of districts using high-quality assessments and instructional materials significantly increased with the implementation of LDOE’s review process. Three years ago, fewer than 20% of districts were using high-quality assessments and instructional materials for English/language arts (ELA) and math; now 75% of districts are using Tier I materials in ELA and math. “As we focus on conducting more reviews of benchmark assessments this year and next, we will review any changes in district assessment policies and practices, and the effect these changes have on student performance,” said Kockler. “We want our process to continually improve. The goal is to identify materials that best help students meet high standards. We hope to keep learning from what is and is not leading to positive student outcomes, and adapting our processes accordingly.”

Additional Resources
Louisiana’s District Planning Guide available at:  http://www.louisianabelieves.com/docs/teacher-toolbox-resources/district-planning-guide-for-2014.pdf

Louisiana’s Regional Network Structure Map is available at: http://www.louisianabelieves.com/docs/default-source/teacher-toolbox-resources/final-network-structure-map.pdf