Wednesday our ninth grade students will take the CWRA, in our school’s first administration of this innovative and contemporary test.  St. Gregory, I have been told, is the first high school in Arizona to join the CWRA testing, and, hence, our ninth graders will be Wednesday the first ever Arizona students to participate!

I have blogged about the CWRA about four or five times previously; I am a great enthusiast for it.   One post here shared the news that Atlantic magazine named the CLA/CWRA as one among “15 ideas to Save the World.” I want to use this post to give more background information about it.    The CWRA is an offshoot of, and very closely related to, the College Learning Assessment.  The CLA was created by the then-President of Hobart and William Smith College, Dick Hersh.  According to the story, Hersh tells, he was asked one day “Dr. Hersh, just what exactly is the value of a liberal arts education, and how do you know your college is delivering it?”  These tests are his answer to that question, generated after years of analysis and work by the RAND corporation.

Hersh has two articles available on-line (the third and fifth ones here) which provide more background.  One is entitled “Teaching to a Test worth teaching to in College and High School.”

We have asked too little of our students and ourselves and we have reaped what we have sown. The increasing public lament about high school and college graduates is that they cannot write or speak well (thinking made public), cannot think critically, and that they graduate with a sense of entitlement with little self-discipline or the humility of knowing that there is so much one does not know. We are not doing justice to the enabling of our human capital, the most precious civic and economic resource in meeting the challenges of the 21st century….

The CLA and CWRA are intended to be powerful signaling devices—they make  clear that specific higher order learning is valued because that is what the measures require; they allow an institution to gather formative data that informs institutional improvement; they allow for institutional comparisons and thus the ability to benchmark quality; they signal that such outcomes can only be collectively accomplished across the entire curriculum; and by measuring value added they permit both the individual student and institution to measure progress or the lack thereof in a way that allows for correction.

The other document from Hersh is more technical, and lays out the rubric by which CWRA evaluate students’ skills: “The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) [and CWRA] is a national effort that provides information about students’ performance on tasks that require them to think critically, reason analytically, solve realistic problems, and write clearly.”

Each of these four areas is further specified:

Evaluation of evidence:
How well does the student assess the quality and relevance of evidence?

Analysis and Synthesis of evidence:
How well does the student analyze and synthesize data and information?

Drawing conclusions:
How well does the student form a conclusion from their analysis?

Acknowledging alternative explanations/viewpoints:
How well does the student consider other options and acknowledge that
their answer is not the only perspective?

Presentation: How clear and concise is the argument?

Development: How effective is the structure?

Persuasiveness: How well does the student defend the argument?

Mechanics: What is the quality of the student’s writing?

Interest: How well does the student maintain the reader’s interest?

Each CWRA test is unique.  It is not multiple choice; it is usually a single, broad question.  One example from a past test asks students to prepare a memo to the mayor, running for re-election, of a small city where crime has risen; the memo must advise the mayor on a crime reduction strategy.   Provided are nearly a dozen documents: graphs showing trends in crime and, separately, on economic development; newspaper editorials; anecdotal reports of neighborhood crime; excerpts of a think-tank report on drug use and crime.  Students must read the many documents, and then create an innovative argument that cites some reports and rebuts others.

It is my fervent hope students will see this test differently; that they will view it as a puzzle and challenge and that they will find it draws upon their creativity and their intellect in ways unlike most other tests.   Let’s go St. Gregory students: Rock the CWRA!