VIRGINIA ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS

VASS Testifies on Amended Bill for State Performance Assessment in History
VASS Testifies on Amended Bill for State Performance Assessment in History

Below are the introductory remarks which Jennfier Parish shared with the committee members along with the remarks which the other four superintendents were prepared to give: 

Introduction

I am here to speak in support of SB 969 as presented with the amendments today. The superintendents with me today are also in support of it.

It supports the work done by the State Board of Education and the SOL Innovation Committee because it supports the goals of reducing standardized SOL tests while still maintaining rigorous testing as part of the state assessment program. Many of your constituents will breathe a sigh of relief that another standardized test has not been added.

It is important to note that the academic rigor for the Standards of Learning in social studies is not diminished as a result of the testing change. The standards were just reviewed and revised to increase application of knowledge for students, something colleges and businesses expect of us.

We are not ignoring social studies but rather testing students in a more rigorous and relevant way by using a performance based assessment. Performance assessments prepare students for critical and creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and self-directedness all of which are desired by employers and are critical to success in college and career. These skills are included in the Virginia Profile of a graduate which is supported by business and industry across the Commonwealth. Finally, I thank you for your support of these important changes to our state assessment system.

Governance and Assessment

Virginia has a strong K-12 education system and we have a history of working together to make it ever better.  Improvement requires change; however, we cannot be content to keep doing what we have always done. We must continue to modernize Virginia’s assessment system in an intentional and research-based manner.

We have a long and proven track record of success in Virginia when the General Assembly establishes a vision, sets high expectations, and then empowers agencies and fellow public servants to implement the Commonwealth’s collective vision.  

Whether being a pioneer in the Accountability movement in the 1990’s or, more recently, resolving to fully fund and secure the Virginia Retirement System, the General Assembly establishes high expectations at the macro-level.

As introduced, SB 969 was micro-level, so we appreciate the substitute bill that represents a compromise, one that permits continued innovation. The SOL Innovation Committee established by the General Assembly four years ago, the State Board of Education, and local School Boards should continue to be empowered to determine how to best achieve the goals established by the General Assembly in the best and most current manner possible. As your school division leaders in the Commonwealth, we have profound respect for your roles and responsibilities and truly appreciate when there is trust and an effort to avoid micromanagement.  

Equity and Performance Based Assessments

Performance assessments are better than standardized tests at assessing student knowledge and skills in that they measure if students can actually apply content rather than just memorize information. Performance assessments are a better way to assess ALL students. It is inaccurate to say that performance assessments would not challenge or work for economically disadvantaged and minority students. The opposite has been proven. Research from the New York Performance Assessment Consortium indicates that New York City students who graduate from these schools, which have a much higher graduation rate than the city as a whole, and serve more low-income students, students of color, and recent immigrants, are more successful in college than most students nationally.  Students point to the research papers and exhibitions they complete as well as the feedback and revision process as key elements in their success.

Performance assessments amplify the importance of the content and the need to be able to apply the content, think critically, and use research to support their arguments and points of view. These are knowledge and skills that are required for work, postsecondary education, and good citizenship. Equity becomes an issue if we do not implement performance assessments because this is the work that students at some of Virginia’s best public and private schools have been doing for years. It is time to bring all Virginia students, including minority and economically disadvantaged students, this opportunity and expectation.

With stakeholders resisting the number of high-stakes multiple choice tests that Virginia students take and in an effort to do what best for children, Virginia has taken a step forward in a more balanced approach to assessment.

Performance Based Assessment and Work Force Development

I am here this afternoon to speak to the widely understood need for Workforce Development in Virginia and to ask that research on best practices in assessment by many drive our decision making.   I recently presented the Profile of the Virginia HS Graduate to the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Chamber of Commerce policy committee and the Harrisonburg City Public School’s Parent Advisory Committee.  Both groups were very  supportive of students demonstrating proficiency by applying their knowledge in a manner that showed critical thinking, problem solving and  incorporating historical  facts and data to today’s and future challenges. There was also great support for the reduction of standardized multiple choice tests.

By no means are we suggesting that social studies and history are not important but, in fact, we are saying the opposite and that is why a more authentic and applied way of measuring knowledge is a better solution than a multiple choice test.   As superintendent I am periodically criticized or reminded that our students are not problem solvers or critical thinkers when they graduate and we rely too much on gauging knowledge by multiple choice tests that focus too much on memorization.  As members of the Virginia House of Delegates you should be proud that your public school system has heard the comments of parents and the businesses community and  are making changes by reducing standardized multiple choice tests and substituting a multiple choice test with a performance based assessment that assesses  knowledge by blending content and context.

We are taking a giant step forward in Virginia by preparing our students for the ever changing 21st century economy and also aligning the needs of the business community with the best researched practices to gauge knowledge and application of that knowledge. I hope you will support the  desire of students, parents, educators, and Virginia business leaders who are more interested in what student can do with what they know, than continuing to be satisfied with decades-old measures of what students may know at a single point in time.

Conclusion

I want to take a moment to highlight some important work that’s occurring across the state to assure performance based assessments appropriately and accurately assess student content knowledge.

Eleven school divisions across the Commonwealth are engaged in collective work to plan, develop, and implement performance based assessments across all content areas.   This group is known as the Virginia Network Improvement Community.  The work of the divisions involved in the development of performance assessments has been supported by staff from the VDOE and business/industry leaders statewide, The group was recognized by national organizations such as EdLeader21 and EdWeek as being a leader in the transition to creating more authentic learning assessments for students and, as a result, better preparing them to be college and career ready. Know that this is just one example of the work being done by school divisions in Virginia.

As you have heard from my colleagues, the use of performance assessments is a means of evaluating student mastery and requiring students to problem-solve, analyze and evaluate real-world problems for the purpose of creating unique solutions.  By nature of the assessments, students interact with the content area as opposed to being receptors of information.  As a result, students build their capacity to transfer their learning to new and unfamiliar settings resulting not only in newly acquired knowledge, but also skills.

I encourage you to support SB 969 with the proposed amendments.  Doing so provides a tool that is necessary to help assess a student’s depth of content knowledge while utilizing skills important for success in Virginia’s new economy.

Virginia Association of School Superintendents
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