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Beyond Standardized Testing:
District Focuses on
Assessing the Whole Child

Concerned that high-stakes testing was narrowing student assessment down to a few scores, teachers and administrators in one Illinois district developed a system to assess a range of skills -- including critical thinking and social-emotional skills -- they wanted students to master by the time they left school. Included: A description of a whole-child assessment program.

Educators in Illinois Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 could have been content with their strong high-stakes test scores and not looked beyond what those tests measured.

Instead, a few years ago, administrators became concerned that the standardized-testing frenzy was preventing educators from assessing other important aspects of a childs education and development.

Standardized tests dont tell the whole story," superintendent of schools Dr. Sally Pryor told educators at the annual convention of the Association for School Curriculum Development (ASCD). Our district is committed to educating the whole child. This demonstrates that other skills are important."

ASSESS WHAT WE VALUE AND VALUE WHAT WE ASSESS"

District officials began looking at a more comprehensive assessment system about seven years ago, Pryor said.

How do you get people to value this?" she asked. You have to persuade the staff, community, and school board that these [areas] are valuable."

The goal was that teachers and administrators would collaborate to craft a system designed to evaluate areas not covered by standardized tests without making much work for district teachers.

Under the system that is being adopted, students are assessed in the areas of academics, social/emotional development, critical thinking/problem solving, physical education, and fine and applied arts. The mantra for the program is Assess what we value and value what we assess."

Besides giving teachers and parents a more balanced picture of student achievement, the assessments provide a way for teachers to differentiate instruction and to engage students in their own assessments, according to district information.

Dr. Pryor admitted that district staff members were able to implement a more extensive assessment program because of the districts strong test scores. You do need solid academic performance before you look at this type of assessment," she said. You need to do well on tests so you can expand on that [type of evaluation]."

STARTING WITH EDUCATIONAL ENDS

Key to District 64s assessments are Educational Ends Statements. These statements represent what educators want students to know and do by the time they leave their school. The Educational Ends are designed to measure students knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behavior.

The Educational Ends serve as a public statement about educating the whole child," Dr. Pryor said at the ASCD conference. The results are used to tell the whole story of student learning -- to identify strengths and areas of improvement and where to focus resources."

Educational Ends assess language arts, mathematics, science and health, social studies, foreign language, critical thinking, social/emotional development, instrumental and vocal music, and the visual arts. The assessments are done through observations, written evaluations, and demonstrations.

Teachers explain to students the assessment for the course or area of study, and then ask students to set goals.

Students also are assessed on their progress meeting the districts Civil Behavior program, which grew out of a desire to curb bullying. The lessons for the Civil Behavior program also are embedded in the curriculum, but developing the assessments for that has been more difficult [than in some other areas]," Dr. Pryor told Education World.

IN FOR THE LONG HAUL

By 2007-2008, the district expects to have all its assessments in place, Pryor added. Right now, teachers are teaching to Educational Ends and already tracking assessments," she said. The assessments are reflected on student report cards, and principals discuss with teachers whether or not they are teaching to the ends."

Teachers were involved in developing all the assessments, Dr. Pryor told Education World, and some still are in the process of being finalized.

At the same time, administrators have to reassure teachers that determining whether students meet Educational Ends is separate from staff assessments. You have to make it clear this is not being used as part of teacher evaluations," Dr. Pryor said. You have to be careful not to do that so you build trust."

Some of the challenges of the system that teachers have encountered are the amount of time needed for assessments, managing the data, returning and using the data in a timely manner, and providing time for teachers to analyze and discuss the data.

To keep the Educational Ends manageable, staff members use technology whenever they can and the schools try to limit the number of assessments at each grade, according to information from the district.

If other administrators are considering implementing a similar system, they have to understand that this is not a short-term project, Dr. Pryor told Education World. One of the lessons for other districts is that you need to make a long-term commitment," she said. If you are going to look at sustained change, you need a long-term commitment, not just annual goals."

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • Assessment
  • Student Achievement

    Article by Ellen R. Delisio
    Copyright © 2009 Education World®

    Originally published 05/18/2007
    Last updated 05/25/2009

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