When COVID-19 caused the cancellation of state assessments in 2020, it created a rare opportunity to re-evaluate what parts of our public education system were working and which needed changes.
Without state test results, school districts didn’t know what knowledge students had acquired and where educators would need to support students in the next academic year. Further, they couldn’t gauge whether their instructional strategies were working toward Florida’s long-standing goal of closing achievement gaps.
However, the pandemic also created an opportunity to ask if gathering summative data at the end of the year is adequate for monitoring students’ academic progress. Now, state lawmakers are considering overhauling the way we assess students by using a progress monitoring system three times a year in the fall, winter, and spring. The goal is to provide timely, actionable data on student learning to teachers and parents.
This represents a promising, and potentially monumental, shift in education policy. But its success will all come down to implementation. Even if welcomed, the new system represents a significant lift for an already pandemic-weary teaching force.
At Impact Florida, we believe the thoughtful analysis of data, derived from interim assessments aligned to standards, can be used to improve instruction. Teachers need to know how well their students are learning at regular intervals, so they can build on students’ strengths and accelerate progress where they find gaps.
The effective use of data is one of Impact Florida’s “Five Conditions that Support Great Teaching,” which we developed in partnership with teachers, education researchers, and district leaders. As the Legislature convenes for regular session, we encourage lawmakers to use the lens of the Five Conditions as they consider the move to a system of progress monitoring. Having an eye toward implementation can help ensure schools and teachers are supported effectively.
Teachers need to understand why their state is adopting a new progress monitoring system. We believe professional learning on data literacy and how to use the results to inform decision-making will be key for teachers, instructional coaches, and principals.
These same groups will also need to understand how to implement the new system with fidelity. Assessment data should help inform a shared vision for great teaching, and help schools reflect on whether their instructional materials are meeting their students’ needs.
Policy matters, no doubt. Implementation matters, as well. Bridging the two is essential to ensure this shift has the best possible impact on students.
Mandy Clark is the President of Impact Florida, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that believes excellent classroom instruction can move the needle for all students.