One of the biggest complaints that educators and other Americans have about the federal No Child Left Behind mandates is that the program only measures educational success with one-size-fits-all tests.
The result is that schools and teachers have to spend most of their time teaching the specific skills measured on the standardized tests that are the only yardstick used to judge students’ progress.
It’s great news that the largest single grant ever received by Kansas University will be used by researchers to pioneer better ways of measuring student progress. Although the $22 million grant will focus on teaching special education students, researchers say their work eventually could revolutionize teaching methods in schools across the U.S.
The key is to develop assessment tools that do a better job of measuring student progress than the current standardized testing system. KU researchers say those new tools will allow students, parents and teachers to focus on the special needs of individual youngsters.
It’s no surprise that when teachers’ only measure of success is how their students score on annual standardized tests, those teachers will “teach to the test.” On test day, an entire school year worth of instruction in on the line.
Neal Kingston, director of KU’s Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, which will lead the grant research project, says researchers plan to turn that process around by integrating learning assessments into the teaching process.
Rather than trying to prepare an entire group of students for one big test, the researchers are looking at ways to measure individual student progress on an ongoing basis. Such a system would give teachers additional feedback and allow them to make important adjustments in their instruction techniques.
The research project will include faculty members from several KU departments and research groups involved in special education and educational testing, areas in which KU already has a strong reputation for excellence. Departments of education in 11 states have committed to using the program these researchers develop in the 2014-15 schools year.
This project not only is a nice recognition of work being done at KU, it also presents exciting possibilities for revamping instruction in a way that will have a tangible, positive impact on millions of American students. It’s a great example of the valuable role of higher education plays in Kansas and across the nation.