Better than tests


Monty Neill 1-24-13

That question was soundly answered last night at the forum, “Assessments that Make Sense” in Bronzeville (photos coming)

A room crowded with parents, teachers, students and community members from all over the city heard Monty Neill  present two successful alternatives to standardized testing accountability:

  • the Performance Assessment student project-based model used in New York in place of state Regents’ exams, and
  • the Learning Record, a teacher- based observation and reporting system that has been used in dozens of Bureau of Indian Affairs schools and in California and New York City.

High school students assessed in the Performance Assessment model, who demographically include far more low-income, English-language learner and special education students than the state overall, have shown better high school graduation rates and college enrollment and graduation rates than stdents across the state.

Why? Dr. Neill suggests it’s due to a curriculum, instruction and assessment system that is student-based, not test-based. Students are all evaluated using the same standards and scales across four major subject areas, but they choose their own topics and methods, which makes them more engaged and serious about their work.

Panelist Ahkeem Wright (pictured left, center), a student at Gage Park High School and a member of Southwest Organizing Project and VOYCE, illustrated this point by saying that he would be more interested in math if the problems were about yardage on the football field than what they usually ask.

Josie Yanguas (pictured left at the podium), Board member of the Illinois Association of Multilingual Multicultural Education, pointed out that students who are bilingual would be considered an asset in any other country, but our English language test centered nation judges them as deficient.

CPS teacher Kimberly Bowsky talked about an assessment she used to evaluate her students’ understanding  of a series of films on civil rights  she had shown. Rather than requiring them to write a report using academic language – which may take up to 7 years for some students to develop – she asked them to create pictures. The samples she showed us did indeed eloquently present important concepts from the films.

CPS parent Linda Hudson (pictured left on the right) shared her story about the CPS promotion policy, which has been told here before. Linda suggested that her son’s creativity was considered out of place and that the ISAT, combined with CPS’s “multiple barriers” retention policy, did a poor job of showing what he was able to do. Despite the set-backs caused by CPS’s policy, her son is doing well, but she has chosen to send him to a private high school.

Questions from the audience were excellent – the biggest applause line was for an 8th grade student who was already opting out of the tests and standing up to administrators who were trying to tell her that she couldn’t.

You can read more here about the alternative assessments Dr Neill talked about, and view the power point presentation he used.


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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.