by Brian Washington
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About two weeks ago, Lisa Orcutt Kane experienced something she can only describe as “heartbreaking.”
An 8-year-old, with significant academic, medical, and behavioral challenges, walked out of his classroom distraught and in tears. The standardized test he was taking proved to be too much for the third grader.
The only way she could console the child and get him to finish the test was to promise him that she would help him craft a computer out of a pizza box, a symbolic representation of the one he was using for the test, and, afterwards, they would throw it out the window. An exercise meant to channel the child’s frustration and let him know that she understood and cared.
“It’s very difficult to watch someone go through that,” said Kane, an instructional coach at a school in Portland, Oregon that has received a federal School Improvement Grant.
“Our current assessment system pretends that there is just one single pathway our students should follow in order to have success. We need to create multiple pathways of success for every student.”
Working for change
For the past year, Kane has been on a statewide task force made up of educators, parents, community leaders, and elected officials. The group’s mission is to change Oregon’s assessment policies and practices in a way that makes sense for all public education stakeholders, especially students.
We are looking at the true purpose of education on behalf of students,” said Kane. “We are determining what assessments should be and look like so our students can reach their full potential–understanding why and how assessments are beneficial to them.
Among the group’s recommendations–a Student Assessment Bill of Rights.
“One of the things it spells out is that students have a right to understand why they are being assessed,” said Kane. “The purpose of assessments is in large part a mystery to students. We tell them it’s to help determine where they are educationally. But they don’t understand that local school districts and the state use this data for a variety of very different reasons, some of these reasons being informative to the system.”
The task force has created a blueprint it believes will lead to more authentic assessments for students. After getting feedback on it at community forums throughout the state, the group is ready to move forward.
And with the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind, the timing is perfect.
“My union (Oregon Education Association) is creating forums all over the state to look at how ESSA will be implemented–trying to create a vision for Oregon education,” said Kane. “And here it is we have this wonderful blueprint that covers the assessment part.”
“We created this together. So now this is in the state’s DNA–coming together and working towards a common goal, that goal being what’s best for kids.”
The hope is all this will one day lead to better assessments and educational experiences for all students, including that third grader Kane tried to provide support to a few weeks ago. It won’t happen over night, but according to her, it is definitely possible.
“Because when we change our perspective on assessments, we are going to begin looking at how we build support for students like that,” said Kane. “We will look at how we set and measure goals and create meaningful pathways to success that he too can participate in. I think we can get there.”