Testing Action Plan: State and District Profiles

Syracuse, New York: Streamlining District Assessments

In 2014, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) created the Teaching is the Core grant to help school districts improve the quality of all local assessments, while eliminating or modifying those that do not contribute to teaching and learning. Throughout 2014-15, Education First, a national strategy and policy organization, supported Syracuse City School District (SCSD) to identify goals and priorities for assessment and to meaningfully engage stakeholders, including teachers and their union, principals, families and school board members. Together, they worked to find ways to streamline and minimize the battery of assessments being used, consider which assessments were most useful to educators and most reflective of district learning goals, and boost the capacity of teachers and parents to understand what a “high quality” assessment looks like.

In Syracuse, district leaders first identified every single assessment used by more than one teacher, measuring more than a week’s worth of instruction. Then, Education First and SCSD created a survey to inventory those school-level assessments – which identified 63 additional assessments beyond those required by the state or district for accountability purposes.

Next, the district and Education First assembled educator review teams in four subject areas and for English language learners to evaluate the quality of these assessments. In partnership with Achievement Network, a national nonprofit that supports school improvement and better use of data in Syracuse and around the nation, Education First devised a rubric based on the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO) Criteria for Procuring and Evaluating High-Quality Assessment and aligned the rubric with five NYSED-required criteria: rigor, comparability, informs instruction, supports learning goals, and uses diverse assessment techniques. Using these reviews and ratings, SCSD decided what assessments would be streamlined, replaced or eliminated, what would be modified and what would be maintained.

After the reviews, teachers recommended that the majority of unit assessments be modified or eliminated, and that a series of math computation and early literacy assessments and two engineering assessments be eliminated. Also as a result of the process, the district created a new assessment framework and decided to only require two non-state summative assessments to be administered district-wide, which teachers recommended keeping. Schools were given discretion over all other assessment administration and the district issued messaging around strong assessment practice to support schools in making good decisions about what assessments to administer, when and why.

This image is a text box that reads: Header - a Focus on Streamlining, Syracuse City School District Assessment Framework and Belief Statements. Syracuse City School District (SCSD) built an assessment framework that outlined the goals of each type of assessment and how assessment fits into the district's overall instructional improvement strategy. SCSD also created a believe statement about the role of assessment in their overall district goals. Belief Statements: Assessments should be high-quality. We must make the most of the time students and teachers have together. Assessments must be aligned with rigorous standards and measure students' abilities to think critically, synthesize material from multiple sources, analyze probelms and justify responses. Assessments should be part of a coherent system. Assessments hsould complement each other in a way that defines a coherent system of measures. This requires balance of different assessment types staggered across a school year to holistically capture student performance and growth. Assessments that provide similar information on teaching and learning should be eliminated. Assessments should be meaningful. Assessments are critical to improving instructional practice int he classroom by arming stakeholders with the most important information. A robust assessment system is also empowering to students. Students should have access to assessment data so that they understand where they are in relationship to the goals they are setting for themselves. To best accomplish this, the results of assesssments should be timely, transparent, disaggregated, and easily accessible to all stakeholders so they can interpret and analyze results.

Source: Education First, Fewer and Better Local Assessments: A Toolkit for Educators.

Supporting Districts to Streamline Assessments

As a result of the work with teachers in Syracuse and informed by lessons learned from other school systems, Education First created a free/open source Toolkit to help schools, school districts and charter management organizations both streamline and improve the quality of testing. Fewer and Better Local Assessments: A Toolkit for Educators includes (1) a step-by-step Playbook for district leaders, which builds on extends the Student Assessment Inventory Process built by Achieve; (2) Local Assessment Screener for Educator Reviewers (LASER), which are teacher-friendly rubrics to evaluate low-stakes assessments, as well as teacher training materials; and (3) plug-and-play materials for school leaders that are available for download and are fully adaptable. By providing these tools, lessons and advice, Education First intends to give school systems a “leg up” on leading their own assessment review processes with significant stakeholder engagement.

To read more about the work in Syracuse and the resources provided by Education First, visit: http://education-first.com/library/publication/fewer-and-better-local-assessments/