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Scaling Up the Discourse on Assessment Alternatives

Paul Barnwell

If you're a member of a professional learning community, do you follow a protocol dominated by standardized test data? In your meetings, is defining student "success" seemingly limited to percentages on multiple-choice exams? Does the seemingly enforced definition of academic success drive you nuts?

Here's one place to begin pushing back in order to speak about other successes we have in the classroom and on assessments: My follow panelist Darnell Fine led me to the National School Reform Faculty protocol to help expand discourse beyond test speak. Check it out. It pains me to admit that such a protocol might be perceived as radical in many schools, but in the high-stakes environments many of us work in, the tunnel-vision definition of academic success pervades buildings like ants drawn to watermelon rings on July summer days.

It's only by discussing and designing Common Core-aligned assessments that will we be able to shift the focus away from current testing models towards assessments that are more meaningful for public accountability measures.

In his latestpost, Justin Minkel writes: "Can we measure these things that matter? I think we can. It's harder to measure critical thinking and innovation than it is to measure basic skills. Harder but not impossible." Justin, I agree.

Although it's easier to teach kids multiple-choice test-taking strategies and fill in bubbles versus developing skills to create an inquiry-based digital media project, that doesn't mean we shouldn't embrace project-based learning or other dynamic summative assessments as part of revised accountability systems. They might be tougher to create, but they would also make cheating near-impossible.

Imagine a room full of answer-changers in Atlanta attempting to forge blog posts or short documentaries. Not going to happen.

Paul Barnwell teaches English and digital media at Fern Creek Traditional High School in Louisville, Ky.

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