Can ‘buying local’ for K-12 testing improve assessment standards?
Wednesday, April 04, 2018
The Iowa House of Representatives recently voted, 94-3, to bring their K-12 testing services in-house or, rather, in-state. Last year, the contract was awarded to Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes of Research (AIR) instead of the University of Iowa testing services, but the bill seeks to bypass this process by using only state-run programs.
Choosing "local" has its advantages. A state-based service would understand the immediate academic needs and idiosyncrasies of each district or region. It also saves the state and schools, which pay for the testing, a lot of money.
In Iowa's case, opting for an Iowa product would cost local schools $11 million less than the AIR proposal — $7 per test instead of $15.
In the ever-continuing battle for funds and resources, this could mean a considerable saving for every school district. They can redirect the funds to benefit students better. Under House File 2235, schools that want to use the much less expensive Iowa testing services would be free to do so.
It is clear that the state wishes to avoid a long legal battle over the contract that was awarded to AIR. But lawmakers and administrators who support the "buy local" policy also believe the University of Iowa testing service offers a higher-quality product. Unlike AIR, it also has a science test, which means a more comprehensive assessment of student capabilities. The Iowa testing services product will be aligned to the Iowa Core and be ready by spring 2019.
Others, however, think an unbiased third party will do a better job than a state university or a major state employer like Pearson. A healthy competition will result in better testing products, which will benefit students more.
Whichever side one is on, this could have major implications in the light of recent changes in the K-12 world.
The K-12 testing landscape is now more fragmented than it was before. After an effort of convergence, we are looking at big changes. Earlier, 46 states belonged to one or both federally funded consortia. The latter designed the shared tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
Per the report by Education First, that number is now down to almost 15, and 23 states are seeking new vendors as their testing contracts are about to expire. Will they opt to "buy local" as well? It will be interesting to this see new trend unfold.
There has been a lot of debate on state tests and assessments. A look at the dropout and graduation rates show us that we have a long way to go before we can claim a healthy literacy percentage. Whether one opts for an independent national agency or an in-state university, the goals for the test must be clear.
The next generation needs a different set of skills. The state tests should focus on knowledge and skills that are most important.
In the past, it was more about employability and preparing students for the evolving needs of the workforce. Today, we need more in-depth content, stronger writing, and more problem-solving skills. There is a rising need for a more intuitive workforce who can navigate the shifting sands of emerging technologies.
The new state tests need to measure these skills, identifying strengths and deficits. These assessments will show how schools and students are progressing. In the end, it is simple. We must do what we can to offer our students all the support they need and identify areas where resources should be directed.
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