In a five to one vote with Director Stephan Blanford giving the lone “No” vote, the Seattle School Board passed a resolution ,sponsored by Directors Sue Peters and Rick Burke, in favor of requesting the state to provide an alternative summative test to the SBAC based on the newly authorized ESSA. The request is to use a locally selected alternative summative assessment framework to measure achievement and student growth.

See Seattle Public School Board votes to pursue alternative to SBAC under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for additional information on the resolution.

We asked each of the candidates running for the position of State Superintendent to provide their thoughts on the resolution.

To follow is the response by Chris Reykdal.

The Seattle School Board appropriately interprets intent language in the new Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) regarding alternative summative assessment options.  Sadly, the U.S. Dept. of Education is still tinkering with punitive rules.  I support the Seattle School District Resolution and their interest in local-option summative assessments.

Local districts should have greater flexibility in adopting summative assessments.  However, even with local options we are still left with a powerful policy question; what is the real purpose of a summative assessment?  Is it to measure state, district, or school progress?  If this is the purpose, then sampling, as is used in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test is an appropriate technique that would provide us with statistically significant results about system performance without the massive sacrifice of resources and instructional time currently dedicated to standardized testing.

However, if you believe the purpose of summative assessments is to make a determination of grade promotion, graduation, or other student-specific purposes, then the Smarter Balanced Assessment and most locally determined alternatives summative assessments will come up very short.  That’s not what they were designed to do!  So we can save time and money with better summative assessments, but nothing replaces the critical diagnostic role of teachers and formative assessments along the teaching and learning process.

If Seattle School District believes the purpose of a new locally determined alternative summative assessment is to decide whether students graduate, then they run the risk of simply replacing one instrument for another but missing a larger opportunity.  I believe standardized assessments should only be used to measure system progress – not individual student determination.  If Seattle School District or others want to use a summative assessment for individual student determination, I believe two critical options should be embedded in their policy:

1) That any parent has a legal opt out right without sanction to the student; and

2) Whether a student takes the summative assessment and scores below proficient or chooses not to take the assessment, that the alternative is not another standardized test, but rather a course or set of courses aligned to standards.  Pass the course(s), meet the standard, graduate on-time!  This empowers educators, allows for multiple measures throughout the course, and undoubtedly allows for work ethic and determination to influence the result.  The latter is not to be discounted in what employers really want.  Few employers ask applicants about their test scores, but they all want to know about persistence, work ethic, and determination.

I hope the Seattle School District will adopt a second resolution making it clear that every student has a pathway to on-time graduation via a series of standards-aligned courses (not simply state tests or locally determined tests).  This policy expression will honor the alignment work of K-12 and higher education to mutually agree on standards-based courses, that when passed, will ensure that students do not take expensive remedial courses once in college.  It’s time to trust teachers and quality courses over standardized tests!

-Chris Reykdal, Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Chris Reykdal for Superintendent of Public Instruction