April 3rd, 2013

READ: Danville, KY - The Backstory

Girls at Computer

When Danville decided it was ready for change, school board members, principals and teachers visited innovative classrooms in KY, NY, and CA. Impressed by schools like High Tech High in San Diego, CA, that are using project based learning and by books like The Global Achievement Gap that looks at the skills students need in today’s economy, the community outlined a new vision for their district.

Danville wants its students to become more active participants in their education and to have greater control in defining the challenges and opportunities they pursue. Teachers are now expected to teach “deeper learning” skills like communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

Danville seems to be on its way to making lasting change, but Superintendent Carmen Coleman says the state test is holding them back. Can schools change what and how they teach if the state doesn’t change what it tests?


“When you choose the assessment, that dictates what you do in class, right?”

Michael Lauer, High School Biology teacher, Danville, KY.

Danville not only wants to change teaching and learning; it also wants to create new ways of assessing students and then be held accountable by scores on these new assessments, rather than the state test. Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday has plans to ask Washington for a waiver so Danville does not have to take the state test. Whether this happens will be determined in the months to come.

If Danville students do not take the state test, how will they be assessed?

Groups of teachers and principals in Danville have made several trips to NYC to learn about Performance-Based Assessments Tasks (or PBATs) from a network of schools called the NY Performance Standards Consortium. These types of assessments may be new for Danville, but 28 schools in the Consortium have been using PBATs (instead of state tests) for at least 6 years. We reported on alternative assessments called “Exhibitions” and “Portfolios” back in 1997 in a documentary called Testing…Testing…Testing.

As the country moves forward implementing the Common Core State Standards and districts like Danville continue to seek out alternative forms of assessments like PBATS, Exhibitions or Portfolios, Testing…Testing…Testing is worth another look to see what, if anything, has changed in the past 16 years.

The film offers viewers a helpful introduction into the complex world of testing. If you want to watch an example of a student Exhibition, jump ahead about 28 minutes into the film.

January 15th, 1997


“How’d you do on the test?” American students ask that question more often than students anywhere else in the world….because we give our students more tests than anyone else.

Teacher-made tests, district tests, state tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the PSAT, the SAT, the ACT… the list of tests our children take in public schools goes on and on and on.

Some students are tested more than others. Kids in the inner city generally take more standardized, multiple-choice tests than their peers in the suburbs. Since they frequently score lower on these exams, more testing doesn’t necessarily produce more learning. We test to measure intelligence and achievement. We also test students to make judgments about their schools and their teachers.

The most appropriate use of testing is for diagnosis: to understand weaknesses and correct them. However, we also use test results in many other ways: to select or eliminate students from programs and schools; to label (”she’s gifted, and he’s not”); to distribute rewards (college admission, for example), and to hold schools accountable.

Two conflicting trends are apparent today. On the one hand, many forces are urging more tests, specifically national exams in reading and math. Leading the call is the President of the United States.

Others, however, are trying to develop alternatives to standardized, multiple-choice tests. They favor “Exhibitions,”which are public presentations by students,and “Portfolios,” which are collections of a student’s best work. When done correctly, these approaches teach even as they evaluate.

Do we need more tests? With all the testing schools already do, perhaps if they did a better job with the information that’s already available, we wouldn’t need to spend more time (and money) on more tests.


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