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New assessment proposed in Howard-Suamico schools

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico school board discussed at the Monday, Nov. 5, meeting the possibility of a new assessment that could better gauge students’ skills for the 21st century.

Previously, the district created the HSSD profile of a graduate and what skills or traits graduates from the district will possess.

Those skills include students who are a self-starter, critical thinker, collaborator, communicator, adaptable, responsible and a solutionist.

With the values already discussed and the profile created, the board was in the process of learning about monitoring students with assessments and data to check on the progress.

HSSD, like other districts, traditionally relies on standardized tests to track student performance.

But the skills listed in the graduate profile are harder to track because there is no test that tracks if students are self-starters or communicators, collaborators, etc.

“Finding an assessment that really validly tells us about that information is difficult because they’re soft skills,” said Dr. Becky Walker, assistant superintendent of academics and innovation. “So what we have now is a good attempt at that, but in the end it’s multiple choice and short answers so there’s not a lot of leeway to dig in and see what students really know.”

She went on to say that standardized tests also don’t showcase the individual skills each person may possess.

“When we standardized everything and we don’t personalize it, and everybody has to do everything the same way and get the same results from it, we don’t really capitalize on people’s strengths,” Walker said.

However, students wanting to attend college after graduation still need high marks on standardized tests like the ACT.

Students also need to complete a rigorous class load if they want to take classes in high school for college credit.

Those requirements are based on traditional standardized tests, not measuring 21st century skills.

“At the elementary level we’re doing a lot of what we’re suggesting and then as we continue to move up into the system, the confines of higher education continue to push back down,” said Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of organizational development.

Maria Lara, board member, said she understands how standardized tests can be misleading when evaluating everything a student knows or is capable of.

“The idea of this approach, there’s an innate passion in the person and we’re just not doing a good job in our standardized assessments in drawing that out,” Lara said.

Walker said trying to get results to gauge the graduate profile doesn’t gel when using standardized assessments.

“We have the graduate profile, but we also have an academic component with knowledge and skills as part of the standards, questions we have to ask,” she said. “Digging into standards, is that the information that we are wanting them to learn, really important that we want that deep learning of it? Or are they just memorizing it to be able to regurgitate it on a test, get a grade and then they don’t have it anymore?”

Moving forward this year, Walker proposed an additional assessment that is performance-based, instead of multiple choice and short answer.

Teachers would watch and listen to assess how the students do in the areas highlighted in the profile of a graduate.

Sampling would be random students at different grade levels, and it could start as soon as spring 2019, Walker said.

Vanessa Moran, board member, said the results aren’t the only thing that matters.

“What are we doing to explicitly teach the piece of that profile to our students?” she asked. “Great, we’re measuring it, but I don’t want to take growth for granted. What are we doing to teach it?”

Superintendent Damian LaCroix told the board it will have some time to process the request before it decides on it later this year.

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