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Saturday, January 11, 2014

We demand a Balanced Assessment system that advocates for activist teaching that transforms learners. Either that or Opt Out

The Role of Advocacy, Activism, and Transformation in a Balanced Assessment Framework
Jesse P. Turner, Ph. D.
Central Connecticut State University

Let’s get the white elephant in the room out front with respect to Smarter Balanced Consortium and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career consortia’s. All across America school districts and Education Departments are facing a growing group of parents who are refusing to let their children take state mastery tests. We have the National United Opt Out organizing occupations of the United State Department of Education in 2012 and 13. In NYC in 2013 over 8000 parents opted their children out of mastery testing. The Connecticut State Department of Education has a protocol for dealing with parents who are opting out their children from state mastery tests. This is an unheard of phenomenon in the history of American Education. The question for me as an educator, academic, and researcher is how this phenomenon with assessment came about?

The metaphor, I use at the Central Connecticut State University Literacy Center with parents and teachers, and in my work when discussing a “Balanced Assessment Framework” is one of a family photo album. A balanced framework views academic achievement as a photo album of performance over time. This framework is rooted in a performance based portfolio assessment. Just like the family photo album, the balanced assessment framework includes many photos of the child’s progress in school.  The voices of children, parents, and teachers are highly valued within this type of album.  Children, parents, and teachers must have a say in what goes into the photo album of performance.  I am not opposed to using standardized tests. They are included, but they weigh equally, no more, no less with other inputs.   Formative assessments are created by teachers not outside entities. Simply stated, a balanced assessment framework is rooted in a genuine performance based portfolio; system that advocates for a celebration of differences, vested in activist instruction that empowers individuals, and transforms all learners via an activism of instruction that fits each and every learner. 
There is no one size fits all, but is rather a celebration of the humane relationship between teacher and student. An assessment system that transforms classrooms using assessments that respect children, parents, teachers, local schools, and diverse communities. 
For the past 20 years parents and teachers “get” and desire this type of assessment framework. The literature at every level supports this type of framework. So what is with the white elephant question? Well many researchers argue the current assessment frameworks of NCLB/RTTT are not balanced. I would argue they are not balanced, because policy makers and United States Department of Education officials have not vetted any of their assessment systems in genuine partnerships with parents, teachers, and their professional organizations.

  1. The current accountability system is problematic in that it is a top down driven assessment model, one that is dominated by standardized summative testing. One can not assume entities who have no roll in actual instruction can and would advocate for differential instruction for ELL learners, special needs learners, the poor, those students fighting terminal illnesses, or those being abuse. High-Stakes testing entities approach the realities these learners face as non-measurable uncontrolled variables. They are data points ignored. A major problem with High-Stakes is they are more punitive in nature than reward based.  One cannot ignore the negative effects of over a decade of a primary punitive system that fails to recognize differential variables.
At the core of the NCLB/RTTT’s, high stakes assessments dominate the measures of children, their teachers, and our local schools.  Dr. Elaine Garan award-winning researcher, educator, grandmother, and author of Resisting Reading Mandates (2002) writes of the problem with NCLB & RTTT assessment framework. There is no court of appeal because the testing culture is cold, remote, and faceless.” ~ Garan, E. (2007)

  1. My concern with the Smarter Balanced Consortium and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career frameworks currently being developed is, we have more of the same; standardized test driven framework.  The Smarter Balanced Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career  consortium have failed to explain where are the voices of the learners, parents, and teachers in their frameworks? Imagine a medical diagnostic model that did not speak to parents, their family, and their caregiverS’? One cannot imagine such a diagnostic model in medicine, because it would violate the main ethical principles of medicine: do no harm, and beneficence. Such a medical model could not meet the rigor of bringing new medicines or interventions to market without extensive feedback from patients and care givers. If someone tried to by pass these two ethical principles, they would be charge with violating the law, and subject to imprisonment.   
  1. Thus any assessment system not observing the above two ethical principles of (1) Do no harm,  (2) A well being component lacks the ability to advocate and act for children, parents and teachers. Where is the humanity in an assessment framework that is unable to advocate personal, social, economic, and emotional concerns of the children it claims to assess?

Four crucial questions that are not being discussed as United States policy makers and political leaders quake in fear of not being able to compete future 21 first century markets are:
  1. Is assessment and evaluation meant to be cold, heartless, and disconnected from primary stakeholders, or should it contain a wellness or instructional component?
  2. Where is the Court of Appeals for children, parents, teachers, and local schools in this new era of accountability?
  3. Can an assessment system claiming balanced be rooted in punitive evaluation tools that are linked exclusively in formal standardized measures be balanced and fair?
  4. Can a balanced and fair assessment framework not take into accounts the voices of children, parents, teachers, local schools, and diverse communities?

I argue any assessment system that that does not include the voices of children, parents, teachers, local schools, and diverse communities can not an honest broker, but becomes a dictator of reductionist thinking. Simply put children are more than test scores, and test scores alone do not measure the value of what a child knows, understands, and is capable of learning. An assessment system based solely on test scores lack the depth required to captured the whole child.
Assessment product providers are not dictators of what should be measured. If they want to be viewed as honest brokers than they to become helpful service providers in a balanced assessment system.

Important References

For International comparisons:
Brown Center on Educational Policy at Brookings (2010). The 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? Available at

For a decade review of NCLB:
Important Additional Resource/link that provides a decade review of NCLB by Fairtest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law “failed badly both in terms of its own goals and more broadly,” leading to a decade of educational stagnation. That is the central conclusion of a major new report marking NCLB’s tenth anniversary. President George W. Bush signed the program into law on January 8, 2002. >

For a deeper understanding of the role politics plays in school reform.
When Politics, Profit, and Education Collide Elaine M. Garan, (2004).
 ISBN 978-0-325-00647-5 / 0-325-00647-4

See for a better understanding of a Balanced Assessment:
Turner, J. P., Foshay J. d., Pansofar, E., (2013)Toward a More Balanced Assessment Framework: Transforming School IAP Charlotte North Carolina.

If you want to know what the Walking Man listened to on his walk under a Jamaican was 

I Dreamed A Dream (Anne Hathaway) from Les Misérables

Still marching,
Jesse The Walking Man Turner 


  1. Now we know why they call you Doctor Turner

  2. It is scary Anonymous, I think it is important to understand assessment without student and teacher voices is not assessment. The problem they are having with the CCSS assessments is they want to call them formative, but you can't have formative assessment without teachers. Teacher created assessments allow teachers to differentiate instruction. The Common Core Standards and their assessments disempower learners, and take instructional decisions out of the person best equipped to differentiate instruction. I see a night coming for ELLs and Special needs students whose classroom advocates their teachers are second guess, and force to follow one size fits all curricular scripts that prevent differentiation.