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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Educators from coast-to-coast will celebrate the nation's first Digital Learning Day on Wednesday. Amidst the cool technology demonstrations, shiny gadgets, and debates about online learning, it's essential not to overlook the country's most expensive – and perhaps most ambitious – initiative to use digital technology.

Just under 18 months ago, the U.S. Department of Education awarded over $330 million to two state consortia, PARCC and Smarter/Balanced, representing 45 states and the District of Columbia, to design and implement new student assessment systems. Two smaller state consortia, Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) and the National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC), received an additional $67 million to develop new assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities. The new assessments, offered mostly online, will replace the current state tests given to millions of students each year in reading and math. At the time, Secretary of Education Duncan called these initiatives an “absolute game-changer” and pledged tests of “critical thinking skills and complex student learning that are not just fill-in-the-bubble tests of basic skills.” In short, it’s an all-out effort to significantly improve one of the weakest – and most despised – aspects of our nation's current educational system.

But, while it’s easy to think of the consortia as “building tests,” the more apt description is that they are attempting to re-invent, with heavy use of technology, the entire process of assessment. They are developing new types of assessment questions to go beyond multiple choice in conjunction with new methods to deliver, administer, score, and report on these assessments. They will delve deeply into professional development. And, together, they are also adopting common performance standards so that proficiency, which now means different things in different states, is a consistent standard across states.

Officially, the new assessments, including formative and interim tools, will not launch until the 2014–15 school year. In reality, though, most of the work needs to be fully-baked for field-testing in the 2013–14 time frame. That means the real work will take place over the next 18 months. This timeline will increasingly drive both decision-making and expenditures. Even though the consortia have generous grants, doing something quickly, for the first time, and in collaboration across many diverse states costs much more.

Many schools and districts, but not all, will struggle to develop the raw capacity – hardware, software, bandwidth, and tech support – to deliver online testing. Since it takes time for budgeting and procurement, districts want to know right now what the “requirements” are going to be. Yet, there's a chicken/egg situation because the consortia don't yet know the content/item types, so they can't say whether to prepare for bandwidth-hogging simulations, graphics, etc.

At the same time, we have a limited sense of schools' and districts' actual capacity. When pushed, they may find a way: As one official at a recent State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) event noted, in his state districts and schools felt like they were being pushed off the cliff when online testing was implemented, but in reality, the cliff was only a couple of feet high. While the consortia are developing a “readiness tool” to assess the state of technology down to a school level, they’ll soon have to make a guess as to how ambitious the tech specs will be and that will then become a major constraint to development. And, that guess will have to be made in 2012 about 2015 technology. (iPads were not even around when the Department announced the grant competition.) Lower tech requirements will make schools’/districts’ lives easier, but may limit amount of innovation in item types, data collection, etc. Too far towards the other extreme increases the capacity problem.

From an instructional technology and content standpoint, the enormous scope means that the process by which the consortia do their work may have large implications. For example, if the consortia specify that you must have a device with at least a 13" screen size, good luck selling a 10" iPad tablet. More importantly on the back-end, decisions about the underlying technology architecture and standards for data/content transport will also have implications for both the vendor marketplace and integration of all sorts of other data systems (reporting, analytics, student information systems, formative assessments, content repositories, learning management systems, etc.). In other words, the consortia have the potential to exert a fair-amount of market power in a market that is currently dysfunctional. Whether the consortia choose to wield that power, and whether they do it as a force for good, remains to be seen. Ideally, this will all be done with a keen eye towards interoperability, openness, and extensibility, a system design principle where the implementation takes into consideration future growth. But, designing with the future in mind may take more time, could cost more, and often entails risk – presenting a dilemma for high-stakes development on a tight timeline.

The consortia provide a real opportunity to both understand and upgrade schools’/districts’ technology capacity. As a technology director told me, “they'll buy for the testing mandate.” Yet, whether this capacity will have dual-use for instruction remains to be seen. Schools could get just enough bandwidth to support testing, but have to shut down any other uses for multiple weeks throughout the year. They could also decide to acquire "secure" computer labs, but isolate these from day-to-day classroom instruction. On the good side, one of the hopes of the new assessments is that they will point instruction to more cognitively challenging and beneficial methods. To the extent that these are technology-based, students must have access not just for testing, but also for instruction.

This may all seem to be too far in the weeds to pay attention. But like it or not, how we measure matters. The next generation of assessments will go a long way towards determining whether digital learning actually fulfills its immense promise. And this may be the best chance to get it right.

Source: Huffington Post

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Progress has been made one year into a five-year grant awarded in 2010 to the University of Kansas Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation (CETE) by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. The $22 million grant — the largest in KU history — was awarded to fund development and evaluation of a new generation of alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities — the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System (DLM). Thirteen states are participating in the project: Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Set for large-scale use during the 2014–2015 school year, the DLM alternate assessment system will let students with significant cognitive disabilities show what they know in ways that traditional multiple-choice tests cannot and is designed to more validly measure what students with significant cognitive disabilities know and can do. The assessment system is structured around a learning map, which models many potential pathways students may take on their path to gaining academic content. The map is populated by a connected network of thousands of sequenced learning targets, or skills, that students need to learn by the end of high school. It is dynamic because it selects test items and tasks for a student based on that student’s previous responses. It is a connected network because skills build upon other skills, and students need to demonstrate prerequisite knowledge and ability before advancing from one skill to another.

CETE is ahead of schedule, having developed seven grade levels of the learning map in the first year of the grant period. As part of the map’s development, educators from across the country examined the map during a two-day content review in September and gave it overwhelming praise.

“It [the learning map] is so intricate because you can see the pathways and how some individual might go one way, and another individual might go another way,” said Jeff Crawford, an educator from Washington. “The learning map is unbelievable. It’s very complex and very detailed.”

“The learning map itself is very helpful for teachers in learning alternative routes for students to end up at the same destination,” said Terri Portice of Michigan. The map will undergo two more reviews by education experts in the fields of special education and cognitive psychology in 2012 and then be validated through the extensive collection of student data in the 13 participating states.

The next stage of DLM work, development of instructionally relevant item types that go beyond traditional multiple-choice items, has already begun. Historically, tests have been designed to measure skills efficiently, but in the face of high-stakes accountability systems, many teachers have begun teaching to tests. DLM has been working with master teachers to design test items that model good instructional activities so that if teachers do teach to the test, the tests will be worth teaching to. Prototypes of these new item types are under development and will be tried out with students and presented to teachers for feedback over the next few months. 

DLM is a comprehensive assessment system grounded in research evidence and emerging theory about assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities. It breaks new ground in universal design for assessment, learning map development, instructionally embedded assessment, and technology-based, instructionally relevant item types.

For more than 30 years, CETE has partnered with the Kansas State Department of Education to deliver a variety of assessment services under the Kansas State Assessment Program, the comprehensive assessment system Kansas schools use to determine whether a student learns the intended curriculum. CETE also offers online training resources, practice tests, and tutorials to help prepare students and educators for the Kansas assessments.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Four Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation (CETE) staff members are presenting at the 2011 TASH conference in Atlanta this week. TASH is a disability advocacy organization that advocates for human rights and inclusion for people with significant disabilities. CETE staff members Alan Sheinker, Carrie Mark, and Sookyung Shin will present the session “Dynamic Learning Maps™ Alternate Assessment System (DLM-AAS): A new generation assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities.”

CETE leads the DLM-AAS Consortium, a group of 13 states that was awarded a $22 million grant to develop the assessment system from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs in 2010. Hyun-jeong Cho will present “Understanding alternate assessment misassignment and how to prevent it,” which examines when students are not correctly identified for alternative assessments and provides solutions to ensure academically challenging education for students with disabilities. Sookyung Shin is also participating in the panel discussion, “In their own voices: successes, challenges of raising children with severe disabilities,” in which parents from five different countries who have immigrated to the United States share stories of their journeys with their children who have severe and intensive needs.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Researchers at the University of Kansas have received a $22 million grant to develop a new assessment system for special education students in 11 states.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support development of the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System, led by Neal Kingston, a faculty member in the Department of Psychology and Research in Education and director of KU’s Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. It is the largest grant in KU history.

“It’s long been realized that when accountability is based on test scores, teachers will teach to the test,” said Kingston. “The new system will turn around that process and design tests to model good instruction — to be driven by and be part of instruction instead of a standalone activity.”

The new system will rely on assessment that is built into the learning process, rather than on an annual exam. Teachers can determine throughout the year how each student is learning by using a “learning map,” which details relationships among thousands of skills students develop throughout their education.

“When you have really good diagnostic information that supports the educational process, you can address needs and remediate immediately,” Kingston said.

State departments of education in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin plan to use the program beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

“The Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation has been a leader in the development of assessments for K-12 students for nearly 30 years,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of KU’s School of Education. “This new grant is yet another example of CETE’s leadership nationally in developing assessments to assist educators with innovative approaches for supporting teachers in working with all students regardless of their academic abilities.”

Kingston said the new assessment model eventually could be used for all students.

“With this grant, the University of Kansas has an opportunity to improve the quality of education received by countless children,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “By shaping the future of educational accountability, Neal Kingston and his team will help teachers better connect with students.”

In addition to the 11 participating states and the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, the Dynamic Learning Maps consortium includes faculty from several other departments and research centers within KU, including the Beach Center on Disability, Center for Research on Learning, Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis and Department of Special Education. Key external partners include AbleLink Technologies, the Arc, the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Edvantia.

Source: KU News

Monday, October 4, 2010

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded grants to two consortia of states to develop a new generation of alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

The new assessments will be designed for a wide range of students with significant cognitive disabilities and will be aligned to the common set of college- and career-ready standards that were recently developed by governors and chief state school officers and have been adopted by 35 states and the District of Columbia. The tests will assess knowledge of mathematics and English language arts in grades 3-8, and one grade in high school.

Grants have been awarded to:

  • The National Center and State Collaborative Partnership (a consortium of 18 states, the District of Columbia, and several territories led by the University of Minnesota). Awarded $45 million. And,
  • The Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System Consortium (a consortium of 11 states led by the University of Kansas). Awarded $22 million.

“Because of their emphasis on improving curriculum and instruction and the development of both formative and summative assessments, both of these winning applications provide a comprehensive approach to assessment design that will move the field forward and significantly enhance the quality of education for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities,” said Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services at the Department of Education.

The National Center and State Collaborative Partnership will be led by the National Center on Educational Outcomes at the University of Minnesota. Its membership is comprised of Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wyoming and six United States entities in the Pacific Rim.

The Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System Consortium will be led by the University of Kansas Center for Research. Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, and West Virginia are members of the consortium.

The alternate assessments are expected to align with the assessment systems being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), recent awardees of the Race to the Top Assessment program grant. The new alternate assessments will be ready for use by the 2014-15 school year.

Source: www.ed.gov

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