Nebraska STARS: Achieving Results: Despite Being Pressured to Adopt a Statewide Test-And Raising Eyebrows for Not Doing So-Nebraska Continues to Believe in the Superiority of Local Assessments. and, as the Authors Report, That Belief Has Been Vindicated by Several Years' Worth of Data Showing Improved Student Performance

By Roschewski, Pat; Isernhagen, Jody et al. | Phi Delta Kappan, February 2006 | Go to article overview

Nebraska STARS: Achieving Results: Despite Being Pressured to Adopt a Statewide Test-And Raising Eyebrows for Not Doing So-Nebraska Continues to Believe in the Superiority of Local Assessments. and, as the Authors Report, That Belief Has Been Vindicated by Several Years' Worth of Data Showing Improved Student Performance


Roschewski, Pat, Isernhagen, Jody, Dappen, Leon, Phi Delta Kappan


IN 2000, the state of Nebraska passed legislation requiring the assessment of student performance on content standards, but its requirements were very different from those of any other state. Nebraska created what has come to be known as STARS (School-based Teacher-led Assessment and Reporting System). Under STARS, each of Nebraska's nearly 500 school districts is required to develop a local assessment system to measure student performance on standards. Since this process began more than five years ago, we have learned much, and we can say with confidence that Nebraska STARS has produced positive results.

Nebraska stands alone. In the 2003 edition of Education Week's "Quality Counts," the state earned a grade of F--largely because it did not measure school performance by means of a mandatory statewide test, complete with rewards and sanctions. According to the report, Nebraska was "lagging behind" in accountability. Yet in most academic categories Nebraska's children rank among the top 10 in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Nebraska is not "lagging behind" at all. Instead, the state has made a conscious decision to lead the way in developing a new system of accountability that focuses on building assessment literacy among educators and enhancing student performance through the use of a high-quality, locally developed assessment system.

Nebraska's assessment system includes both summative and formative assessment--what Rick Stiggins has called "assessment of learning" and "assessment FOR learning." (1) The STARS system, by calling on local districts to develop classroom-based assessment, has created unique challenges as well as opportunities to provide leadership for learning. According to Doug Christensen, Nebraska's commissioner of education, STARS ensures that decisions about student learning are made in the classroom, "where learning occurs." This process honors teachers and relies on their professional judgment, but it also demands hard work and a great deal of leadership from all of the state's educators. Thus Nebraska educators face very specific challenges: to develop high-quality local assessment systems, to ensure that the data collected in those local assessment systems are analyzed, and to use the data for improving instructional practice in classrooms. We've been engaged in this process for some years and are ready to share our results.

WHAT DOES A HIGH-QUALITY LOCAL ASSESSMENT SYSTEM LOOK LIKE?

Nebraska educators believe a high-quality local assessment system includes curriculum aligned with standards, the opportunity to learn, and fair and accurate measurement. In the STARS process, districts first adopt local or state standards for reading, mathematics, science, and social studies in grades 4, 8, and 11. Districts then submit an assessment plan that includes norm referenced measures and locally developed criterion referenced measures to assess the district's standards at the identified grade levels. Finally, each district in Nebraska compiles a portfolio of its assessment procedures along with sample assessments and submits them to the state department for review and public rating. Nebraska STARS is unique in several ways. As described by Chris Gallagher in these pages two years ago, STARS:

* is a system of local assessments, not a state test;

* promotes a balanced approach to assessment using multiple measures;

* involves evaluation of achievement and of assessment quality;

* uses classroom-based assessments for reporting; and

* includes no high-stakes testing. (2)

The review of local assessment systems is handled by means of District Assessment Portfolios, which each district submits for each of the content areas. In partnership with the Buros Center for Testing, housed at the University of Nebraska, the state department contracts with assessment experts from across the nation to review and rate the portfolios on a scale ranging from unacceptable to exemplary. …

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Nebraska STARS: Achieving Results: Despite Being Pressured to Adopt a Statewide Test-And Raising Eyebrows for Not Doing So-Nebraska Continues to Believe in the Superiority of Local Assessments. and, as the Authors Report, That Belief Has Been Vindicated by Several Years' Worth of Data Showing Improved Student Performance
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