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CalculatorBy Dan Snowberger, Superintendent of the Durango School District

Anyone watching the debate on both the state and national level knows there are a lot of discussions happening around the issue of assessment in public education.

There is no doubt we are entering a new phase of accountability in public education. We must ensure all students, regardless of background, achieve and learn within our schools.

This spring, we’ve gone through a transition period where our schools have completed their last year of the old assessment (CSAP/TCAP) and piloted new assessments. These assessments are based on new, higher academic standards, known as the Colorado Academic Standards, that have raised the bar for all of Colorado’s schools, so we can make sure our students are better prepared for college and the workforce. These standards emphasize real learning over basic memorization and test-taking skills and give students, parents and teachers clear and consistent benchmarks for every grade level.

Next year, our district is building a system of embedded assessment tasks that are aligned to the new standards. While standards are pretty broad, they are broken down into simple chunks called evidence outcomes. Our system will work to track competence on these “building blocks” and mastery of the overall standards.

Our district, in conjunction with neighboring districts, has embarked on building a tool called School Vault. This platform will help us track common performance tasks that can be completed by students, regardless of their classroom or school, to ensure they master what they need to learn at each grade level.

This will be less about a “testing event” and more about students demonstrating their knowledge and skills throughout the year. There is a lot of misinformation out there, which is normal with anything new. We always look at new things through the old set of lenses. I welcome questions about it, and I am happy to have my staff members share more about this useful tool.

We also will begin new assessments next year called PARCC – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PARCC is not a company but a consortium of states using educators to unpack the standards and identify performance and application tasks that will allow a true determination of mastery in reading, writing and mathematics.

Students will engage in two parts of this test – a performance portion administered in March and an end-of-the-year assessment. Together, these assessments will provide a clearer picture of student achievement and what teachers need to do to keep each child on the path to future success in college and career.

The reality is assessment is a part of our professional world – the world we are preparing students to engage in after they leave K-12. Adults are assessed before being licensed to drive a vehicle, work as a mechanic, doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher and even join the military. We will need to monitor all assessments and potential impact on learning time.

We can’t forget that each and every day, students are assessed in formal and informal ways. Ultimately, by improving our standards and the tests we use to assess their impact, we can ensure Durango’s students have the knowledge and real-world skills they need to succeed in life, whether they choose to go to college or directly into a career.

Dan Snowberger is the superintendent of the Durango School District.DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.

This originally appeared in The Durango Herald. Click here to read the full article.