Do you remember your first attempts to ride a bicycle, roller blade, or drive a car? Odds are you needed the help of someone who was watching you and who gave specific advice. Formatively speaking, your skills were formed based on trial and error coupled with feedback. Learning occurred based on someone observing your effort and advising you shortly thereafter.
In the classroom, this type of support is replicated when a teacher adjusts instruction based on what he/she observes from a student. Formative assessment aims towards mastery of a skill, concept, or behaviors. In contrast, grades are used to evaluate student learning in a summative manner as if the time for teaching and learning has been completed. While there is a place for summative feedback, the impact of formative assessments guides the students to new levels of learning.
Knowing how the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing has grabbed the news, I am interested in hearing how you may be using formative assessments to guide students to reach the common core standards' results.
A recent article on the impact of the common core standards on the California High School Exam (CAHSEE) grabbed my attention. First, I support, not surprisingly, the use of an assessment tool to show levels of achievement. Yet even under the old standards, CAHSEE measured skills well below 12th grade. It focused on standards found in the 7th through 9th grades. Even the feds' NCLB expectation for passing the CAHSEE, referred to euphemistically as 'proficient', is higher than what California requires to pass this test. Due to its political consequences, the CAHSEE benchmark level was lowered thereby reducing its impact. So is this test truly a high school exit exam?
The more rigorous expectations of the common core standards make the current CAHSEE expectations even weaker. Indeed, raising the bar would lower the passing rate and create a political furor. As mentioned in the article, there are those who believe that vulnerable student groups would be more unlikely to not pass and not receive a high school diploma.
So what is the solution? Let's rename the test for what it actually measures, basic skills. And then let's raise the expectations to better align with common core. Students who pass the high school basic skills test would then have a stamp placed on their diploma showing this level of achievement. Let's make this level of ability something we point out rather than punish and then let the colleges and job market decide how to handle the results.
I can tell you from firsthand experience, the current CAHSEE can be passed by nearly all regular education students prior to completing 12thgrade except those whose English literacy is below Intermediate on the CELDT. But if the student completes the required course of study for graduation, a diploma should be awarded. Then the newly minted California test of high school basic skills test (CBaST) seal would demonstrate a higher level of minimum performance but not be tied down by the political fuss of lower graduation rates.