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Right now, Nebraska has a pretty typical assessment system. But Matthew Blomstedt, the state’s education commissioner, is trying to change that.
He already introduced the ACT as the state test for high school students. While meeting federal accountability requirements and offering a means of comparing student achievement across schools and districts, the test, originally a college entrance exam, also helps students understand their readiness for college. That makes the test personally relevant to students and parents, Blomstedt said.
For students in third through eighth grade, however, the end-of-year test is much less meaningful. It checks all the boxes for accountability that school and state leaders need, but it doesn’t have any side benefits for students. That’s something Nebraska’s education commissioner, Matthew Blomstedt, is trying to change.
“We want to ensure we have a truly student-centered education system in Nebraska,” Blomstedt said. “Otherwise assessment seems to be disjointed from what happens in the classroom.”
Blomstedt’s ideal is a state testing system that collects comparable data across schools using a series of assessments throughout the school year that measure student growth. Instead of getting information about schools and students from a single, end-of-year test that many complain is too high-stakes and doesn’t align with what students actually focus on in class, the information would come from assessments along the way that are aligned to what teachers are supposed to be teaching anyway.
Blomstedt expects schools could use the data from these assessments to help students set goals, individually, and track their own progress.
As it turns out, most Nebraska districts already give a series of assessments to track student growth, separate from state testing requirements. About 220 of Nebraska’s 240 school districts contract with NWEA, a nonprofit testing company, to give the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test three times per year. Now the state is working with NWEA to align the MAP test to state standards and find a way to get the accountability data it needs from tests school districts already find value in anyway.
Chris Minnich, CEO of NWEA and the former executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, sees this work in Nebraska as key for the future of assessment. Essentially, Nebraska wants to integrate state assessment needs with district assessment priorities, connecting two systems that have been separate and competing for many years now. Instances of over-testing stem from the multiple assessment systems that schools juggle.
Minnich envisions a testing calendar that takes pressure off the end-of-year test. When assessments are given along the way, gathering data on what concepts students have mastered, then the final test of the school year would simply be a check, covering only material that students haven’t already proven they mastered before.
This system that Nebraska is working toward will only provide useful information to students and teachers, however, if the test results are available quickly. That has not been the case historically. Traditional state tests tend to be administered in the spring and results are shared with teachers in the late summer or fall.
“Nowhere else in life do you wait three months for data,” Minnich said. “In our environment right now, three to four months is just not going to be acceptable.”
The new assessment system in Nebraska is still just a vision, but Blomstedt and Minnich both believe that one day, it could be a model for the nation.