Testimony provided by Dave Aderhold to the Joint Committee on the Public School on May 15, 2019
Good Morning. Let me offer my thanks and appreciation to the Members of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools for your invitation today to offer thoughts on the efficacy, validity, and practicality of statewide-standardized assessment, with particular interest in their use as a graduation requirement.My name is David Aderhold, Superintendent of the West Windsor – Plainsboro Regional School District. Former Deputy Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, high school principal, Assistant Principal, and classroom teacher. I currently serve as the President of the New Jersey Network of Superintendents and I am the President-Elect of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. I stand before you as the former principal of New Brunswick High School and the current superintendent of West Windsor – Plainsboro Regional School District. I am an adjunct professor at Rider University in the doctoral program where I teach courses in moral and ethical leadership, equity, and school finance. I sit on NJSBA Mental Health Task Force, SEL4NJ Task Force, NJASA Equity4All Task Force, the NJSIAA Cooperative Sports Task Force, and formerly served on the NJDOE Transgender Task Force. Most importantly, I am a father of five grades PK, 1, 7, 9, and 11.
I say all this to share that I have a sustained and vested interest in the educational experiences for NJ’s students.What I believe becomes lost in conversations of standardized assessments, particularly for high stakes graduation requirements, is that we do not ask why. What is the purpose of assessment? How are we using the assessment results? What do the assessment results tell us?Throughout my 17 years as a school or district administrator, it is the rare student that loses graduation due to a state graduation test. High stake graduation assessments have always had alternate pathways. What has prevented students from graduating is failure to earn established graduation credits and meet attendance requirements. By credits, I am referring to student’s mastery of content, aligned to state standards. The curriculum is written to standards, administered by a teacher that is credentialed in accordance to state code, and hired by a Board of Education, which is sworn to uphold the state laws, guidelines, and guidance.What is the purpose in administering a statewide standardized assessment? Is it the desire to hold individual students accountable to ensure fidelity in implementing the state’s adopted curricular standards?
Let’s be honest, our current assessments are administered in order to review a system vs. an individualized student. If these assessments were meant to provide meaningful and impactful feedback on real time teaching and learning they would have to be designed differently.EfficacyDoes the PARCC/NJSLA produce the desired results?Does the time and cost of administering the NJSLA yield a meaningful impact for districts? Or students?Has the utilization of the assessments influenced instructional practice?Has the utilization of the tests as a component of teacher evaluation driven a desired impact?Has the high stakes nature of testing yielded any meaningful change?How much money have you thrown away chasing an assessment that does not seemingly benefit anyone but testing agencies and remediation providers?
For those in support of the implementation of standardized assessments, I believe we would agree that assessments are supposed to be diagnostic in nature to allow teachers and administrators the ability to determine students’ individual strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and skills. These assessments would allow us to provide for targeted academic remediation or acceleration.However, there is a juxtaposition that exists between the federal and state testing mandate and the desire for diagnostic assessments. The conundrum exists due to the fact that our current tests were not designed as diagnostic assessments, they were designed as a compliance measure.
ValidityWhat is the validity based upon?- State Rankings are meaningless with arbitrary factors being selected out of context that only serves to rank school districts and create unproductive community conversations.- PARCC or NJSLA - It is equivalent to changing the design of a plane while flying and then holding the pilots and passengers accountable. Every year there is a different modification. - Teacher growth scores?o Student Growth Percentages are based upon cohorts groups based upon 100 stack columns.- How about Artificial Intelligence scoring?o Earlier this year I, along with Scott Rocco from Hamilton, raised concerns with validity of our PARCC scores, due to patterns in our Spring 2018 PARCC writing scale scores. We began to ask questions internally and with neighboring school districts. Thanks to the support from the NJDOE, numerous meetings were held and conversations occurred with Pearson. Pearson disclosed that they are scoring our student writing using an internet based tool called the Intelligent Essay Assessor (IEA). Officials from Pearson also acknowledged that 104,722 out of 850,966 students scored a 10 on the writing portion, on a scale score distribution of 10 – 60. It is plausible that the algorithm utilized to score student work impacted the scores at the lowest end of the scoring continuum.o
Has the validity of the AI scoring been verified to ensure that the scoring algorithm doesn’t negatively impact students based upon Special Education, ELL, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, gender, etc.?- The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the scoring of student writing on the PARCC and the lack of transparency of this process casts doubt on the overall assessment.The Legislature must ask itself:What are you paying for?What is your expected outcome for this data? How is the NJDOE ensuring validity of scores?Has any meaningful change occurred as a result of using growth scores to the teacher evaluation model?PracticalityHow much time must we waste on results that take too long to impact instruction? How much time must we waste to administer an assessment that does not produce data that impacts teaching and learning?How much instructional time must we give up? What is the residual impact to the school day? What are the budgetary impacts?
Conclusion:Members of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, our educational system has evolved in the shadows of A Nation At Risk, in an era in which we have defined schools as failing and then administered tests to try to prove it. In my estimation, the only ones that have benefited are testing companies, remediation firms, tutoring companies, and textbook vendors. The promises of implementation, results, and impact have not been realized.The proof…all of our conversations are around accountability systems and not individual student achievement.- QSAC, Performance Reports, and teacher/principal Student Growth PercentilesThe opportunity to reset the purpose and utilization of assessment is upon us.The legislature has the opportunity to provide greater flexibility of design and measure within the assessment model.The federal government does not require that standardized assessments as a mandate for graduation, they simply require that assessments are given.The legislature has the power to develop regulations that provide the NJ Department of Education tools to think differently about standardized assessments.We can develop a system that is diagnostic in nature and that does provide feedback to educators and parents about their students in real-time that impacts learning in the current year.Testing is a tool, not an end in itself. I urge the committee to stop the era of high stakes accountability on students. Move to a more productive conversation about using the assessment to measure the health of school districts. Use the assessment to serve as an annual "physical exam" for checking the relative "health" of the district's success in meeting its mission.