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OECD Test for Schools Poised to Improve the Way U.S. Students Learn After Partnering with NWEA for Online Launch

For those concerned about the lackluster performance of U.S. students on the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), there is comfort to be found in the launch of a school-based assessment that presents school leaders with a unique opportunity to receive systematic insight on specifically how their high school compares.

While the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has been administering the PISA to compare one country's students to another’s since 2000, the organization is now allowing countries to compare how students are meeting international standards on a school-by-school basis through the assessment tool OECD Test for Schools.

For U.S. schools, this provides an in-demand opportunity to determine how school leaders can begin making the changes needed to keep U.S. student performance competitive in an increasingly competitive world.

Test for Schools, which was developed in partnership with America Achieves, was piloted as a paper-based assessment in 2012. The test, which presents students with real-world problems and asks for them to provide real-world solutions, offers school leaders a detailed 162-page report that allows them to best help their students achieve.

Now, thanks to a partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a leading global not-for-profit of educational services and creator of Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), OECD has released an online version that, after meticulous development, was successfully launched this fall.

According to NWEA's Vice President, Policy & Advocacy, Kelly Goodrich, this "huge professional learning opportunity" is now accessible to all high schools in the U.S.

The online version of the assessment, Goodrich said in a phone interview, "has a number of benefits" for school leaders, who are able to make the decision to take the test anytime during the school year.

In just 6-8 weeks after assessing a random sample of 85 fifteen-year-olds, the high school's school leaders will then have access to a 162-page report which provides "information around how students apply what they know in reading, math and science" as well as information from a "separate student engagement survey which ... reports on student and teacher relationships, school climate" and more, Goodrich said.

This systematic insight affords U.S. high schools the valuable chance to compare, not only to high schools from within the same district or in similar socio-economic areas in the U.S., but also to high schools from around the world.

This comparison provides an exciting opportunity for U.S. schools to improve.

"Until there was a PISA test, every education system in the world thought they were the best. They thought they were doing the very best for their students, for all of their students. Once the PISA test came … they were given data and evidence about how well or not so well those countries' systems were working," Goodrich said.

This same concept can now be applied to U.S. schools, who use the data received from OECD Test for Schools to see where improvements need to be made.

Goodrich gives the example of one district in Georgia that used the data from OECD Test for Schools as a call-to-action for an area they had speculated needed improvement.

"We always thought our student and teacher relationships needed improvement, but we never had evidence or data before. Now we have data that [indicates] we have an issue and we’re going to create a program, a process to improve this," Goodrich remembers hearing from the district's leaders.

Similarly, Goodrich reminisces about a high-performing high school that participated in the assessment and came to a shocking realization after data indicated their students weren't the strong readers they had come to believe from their own assessment measures.

The school's leaders realized that their readers were only used to prescribed reading, causing them to be shallow readers uncomfortable with navigating texts with unfamiliar depth.

"They completely changed their reading program," Goodrich said, to include curriculum that will get "their kids reading more broadly, more deeply."

Of course, Goodrich notes that it takes a "brave leader" to "to accept the things you do really well and address the things you need to work on," but at the end of the day improvements made are "all for the benefit of the kids."

The 162-page report coupled with a bundle of support services helps lay the foundation for these improvements to be made.

"No school improves everything in one year, but we offer the services that help them get started and get into their data. There are several districts and schools in the country who have taken this on paper and now online ... and they use this review to see how they're making progress in the identified areas."

For leaders that are interested in bringing OECD Test for Schools to their school, Goodrich says "we'd be happy to have a conversation and give them an overview of the assessment and provide in-depth examples of how the tool works, like sharing a sample report."

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

12/20/2016

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