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Connecticut Moves To Downplay Tests in Accountability

Remember when we reported to you recently that California is working on a new accountability system that will downplay the use of achievement categories? Now Connecticut is hammering out a system that would judge schools by far more than just their test scores.

According to a recent report in the Hartford Courant, Connecticut wants to add other indicators to the math and English/language arts scores that have become the dominant way to size up school effectiveness. Among the factors it's considering are measures of civics, arts, physical fitness, college readiness, attendance, and perhaps even student persistence and personal development.

Connecticut plans to propose its new system to the U.S. Department of Education as it renews its waiver from No Child Left Behind, and hopes to begin using the approach in June.

Briefing the state board on the plan earlier this month, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said he wants to "aim for less testing and more instruction in our schools."

"A well-rounded education involves not just literacy and numeracy," he said, according to the Courant. "As we look to hold schools accountable, we really ought to think about what schools should be designed to do."

One school board member said the plan was "music to my ears." And she's hardly alone; across the country, this year has seen a marked rise in opposition to standardized testing, and demands that schools, teachers, and students be judged in a more nuanced way than by test scores. Just last week, the Florida School Boards Association adopted a resolution that called for using test scores for one purpose only: to see how students are doing in school.

Frustrated with the limits of test-dominant accountability, many states and districts are trying to build new approaches to judging school success. Through the Innovation Lab Network at the Council of Chief State School Officers, about a dozen states are working on new accountability systems. Danville, Ky., and the CORE districts in California are examples of local systems trying to expand their set of indicators they'll be judged on. At the state level, the "work is just emerging," Jennifer Davis Poon, who oversees the Innovation Lab Network, told me recently.

"The premise [of the ILN] is that states want not just academic knowledge, but also the skills and dispositions that are important for college and career readiness," she said, "They understand there are multiple dimensions that matter. They also want a balanced system of assessments that are able to measure that full range."

Getting to that point, though, is a heavy lift, and states aren't there yet, she said. They're wrestling with hard questions, such as what are the right metrics to use to measure "fuzzier" pieces such as student "dispositions" for success. One of the states that's getting the closest to a better-rounded accountability system, she said, is Kentucky, which incorporates surveys about school climate, and teachers' working conditions in its system.

New Hampshire, as my colleague Alyson Klein has reported, is seeking permission to move forward with pilot initiatives that would allow a handful of districts to use performance-based assessment to measure student competencies in a range of areas that go beyond academic disciplines to such factors as work-study habits. Maine requires students to demonstrate proficiency in specific skills and dispositions in order to graduate, but hasn't tied those factors to its accountability system, Davis told me.

Figuring out what to measure and finding valid ways to measure it is daunting, clearly, or every state that had the chance for flexibility in those areas with an NCLB waiver would have taken it. And that's not what happened.

Clearly, many states want to expand their measurements of school success. How they sort out the challenges to that vision will be worth watching in the coming year.

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