Magazine article Technology & Learning

Accountability: Meeting the Challenge with Technology)

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Accountability: Meeting the Challenge with Technology)

Article excerpt

During the 1990s, much national attention was focused on improving K-12 education by setting goals for a new millennium. National, state, and local standards committees were convened to discuss what students should know, at what ages, and to what levels of mastery. Although the details will undoubtedly evolve--in fact, must evolve--in response to changing times, many important decisions have been made in recent years about standards to be taught and measured.

Now we have moved on to the hard part--ensuring that all students meet these rigorous new standards. Teachers continue to immerse themselves in the process of locating instructional materials and approaches that address the standards and meet the learning needs of all their students. Administrators are grappling with the challenges of tracking and managing student and teacher data in a way that monitors progress and informs decision making. Politicians, parents, and other stakeholders are demanding helpful and precise information about the progress of individuals, schools, and districts. And we are all continuing to debate the value of different assessment tools to measure not only some but all of the standards we have set out for ourselves.

The age of accountability is definitely here. And technology is playing a central role in helping with the challenges it presents.

Testing Fever

Although most educators would agree that a rich array of assessment tools and data sources are needed to measure a school's progress, standardized testing has taken center stage. Ironically, while colleges debate the idea of abandoning SAT scores as a way of screening incoming students, K-12 decision makers are moving rather rapidly in the opposite direction. As of 2001, 49 states required public schools to administer standardized tests, and 39 had plans to use these tests for high-stakes decisions such as student promotion, high school graduation, or educator salaries.

Even those with serious misgivings about the value of standardized tests to measure important elements of student achievement seem resigned to the need to help students respond to the challenge the tests offer. Just as teenagers still being judged by their scores on college entrance exams feel compelled to practice, and re-practice, before taking the tests, schools with much to lose from low standardized test scores are realizing that test preparation can be helpful.

Anthony Amato, superintendent of schools in Hartford, Conn., talks about the fact that very few of the parents in his district--where 90 percent of students going to college are the first in their family to do so--can afford special coaches or SAT prep classes. In order to offer his students a fair chance, he feels it is essential to build SAT study into the regular curriculum. And he doesn't limit this approach to high school.

"All students need to be encouraged to set high goals for themselves" says Amato. "My experience as a superintendent in New York City for 12 years showed me that healthy competition helped students achieve. Kids should ... set achievement goals and see progress reports that allow them to know how they are doing at reaching those goals. When you take this approach, schools invariably have tremendous outcomes and kids go on to do great things."

In order to learn from test practice, then, it is important to test more frequently, in lower-stakes ways, with feedback that comes quickly enough to be useful to students and educators. A number of the resources in the directory accompanying this article (see "Accountability Resources," page 32) offer schools the opportunity to assess students through tests administered online--with instant scoring and feedback. Others offer options for relatively quick reporting of results on print tests.

Not surprisingly, there are many other technology tools on the market today that promise improved student achievement, as measured through test scores. …

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