CB: One criticism in many states is that the assessments drive instruction, rather than the other way around.
RT: That may be true. But when the assessments are aligned to the standards, it is a seamless system. In Delaware we have been very deliberate about not being vendor-driven. We invested a lot of time and money up-front to ensure that our testing system worked for us rather than vice versa. It was expensive in the beginning. But you get what you pay for. [...]
CB: What do you think has to be done to improve state accountability and assessment systems in all 50 states?
RT: States need to leverage resources. For example, let’s share test items. We have to find a way to get away from off-the-shelf testing products or custom developed assessments that are cost prohibitive. Test vendors are driving us, and driving up costs as well. States need to take ownership of assessment systems and learn from each other.
CB: An open-source testing system?
RT: Exactly. We also need to do more to compare U.S. students internationally. Right now we are working very hard to have our students participate in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). Andreas Schleicher presented here last year and we were quite impressed with the data. Delaware is interested in making sure that our students have the skills and knowledge that will allow them to be productive citizens in a global economy.
CB: Do you know if Senator Biden is familiar with your success? What would you hope for him to tell his boss, Barack Obama, about education policy, if they are elected in November?
RT: Yes he is, as are all of our Congressional delegation. We have excellent two-way communications with both Senators Biden and Carper, and Congressman Castle. We share what is happening in Delaware schools with them and they seek state and local advice on national education issues. We often have briefings and meetings with them and their staffers.
Hm... if only there was some federally funded entity connected to the Department of Education that could create the infrastructure for such work...
The trick here is being able to simultaneously be critical about various incarnations of the "standards movement" but also recognize that it would be a very good idea to switch to a more open model, to create an accountability system that is itself accountable, less expensive, and more open to bottom-up innovation.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that proponents of national standards are, as Senator Biden might put it, "literally" advocating that Delaware discard the 15 years worth of successful work described above. That may seem like a clever gotcha point to outsiders, but to the people who actually do the work, it is very, very real.
RT: We began planning our assessment and accountability system back in 1997. And, our content standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in 1995. The standards and assessments, including cut scores, were revisited and alignment was checked again in 2005 to allow for adjustments. We believe and value continuous improvement so reviewing policy decisions such as these is part of that process.
It would be interesting to compare what was being said in Rhode Island in 1995 to what was being said in Delaware. I suspect it would be exactly the same strategy. The differences are in the execution. Rhode Island and/or Providence have gone through, I think, two sets of standards and three different assessments since 2000, and I don't get the impression that 1995 - 2000 was a particularly consistent period either. And perversely, from my point of view, NCLB has added to that churn.