This was a great session, and my kudos and appreciation to the presenters:  CWRA (College and Work Readiness Assessment) is a powerful tool for educational reform, and an important vehicle for bringin problem-based learning into our classrooms.  It isn’t just a measurement device, I increasingly realize, but a tool that stirs the entire pot of a school culture toward more authentic assessment throughout a school. Below is my narrative of the session:

Today’s presentation, entitled Collaboration for 21st century Success, features a panel of representatives from schools actually using the CWRA.

Chris Jackson, the program coordinator– opens with a message to us: connection is what matters, “connecting teaching, learning, and assessment, through authentic, performance based practices. ”

I love this message and particularly the focus on authentic performance tasks.   Learning is about doing, and assessing should be focused upon students doing intelligent work, not choosing answers among a set of multiple choices.   Our students will not graduate into a set of multiple choice test scenarios; their success will be based upon their ability to manage effectively through challenging, problematic scenarios.

The testing report offers both a percentile rank on how schools compare to other schools taking the test, but also offered is a deviation analysis from “expected performance,” which is based on how students do, as a group, in relationship to the SAT/ACT scores.

Chris offers some reassurance to this audience: this test, the CWRA, is the same test as college students take in the CLA, and it is hard for some ninth graders, but that is OK– it is just a matter of creating a baseline.   And the truth is, Chris tells us, that NAIS school 12th graders do just as well, and actually often a whole lot better, than the much broader sampling of college freshman do across the 300+ colleges of the CLA.

2010-11 enhancements are coming: there will be new subscore reporting, so there will be more parsing out of how students do on the subcategories of analytic reasoning, writing mechanics, writing persuasiveness, and problem solving.

CAE is now touting its performance task academies: one of its key sites for connecting the assessments they offer to better teaching: and it is to their credit that they are not willing to leave it at assessment, but they are committed to the teaching component and making the link.

CLA in the classroom is a site for hosting a series of performance tasks: it is a place where faculty members can submit tasks and see those of others, and can be a great tool for strengthening problem-based learning.   There are also very helpful rubrics provided, so you can see really clearly what the standards are and really inform your teaching.

It is funny– I have enthused about problem-based learning, like the excellent problems on which New Technology High School centers their learning, and I have enthused about CWRA, but it has eluded me how tightly connected they are: we can take CWRA as a lead, and use their resources, to better bring problem based learning into the breadth of our program, not just as an end-destination assessment.

A nice shout-out for Kalamazoo College, and the very fine work it is doing in the disaggregation and close scrutiny it is placing on the data it collects from the CLA.

Chris shares with us a preview of a tool coming from CLA/CWRA of a US map that displays the schools that are using the test, and allows participants to see what other schools are in the group, and to benefit from greater collaboration from this information.

John Austin speaks next, from St. Andrew’s school in Delaware,  a school which deserves a great deal of credit for its pioneering the CWRA.    John speaks of the influence of Ted Sizer on his work in education, and cites Sizer’s call for a reinvention of the American high school, and the need to shape school around meaningful and authentic performances or exhibitions.    John cites too the influence of Grant Wiggins, and his call for authentic assessment as a tool for the backward design for guiding learning and teaching.

At St. Andrews, they have really tried to rethink the work they do.   Three years ago the school went through a re-accreditation, with the Middle States process: which lead them to choose to commit to schools acting as scientists, artists, and scholars, to have students think as professional practitioners.     But as they committed to an improvement plan, they found they had no good way to measure or assess the progress of their school on this very commitment: “we were kind of at sea!”   Until they saw news of the Collegiate Learning Assessment, and Richard Hersh’s fine work on this, and the result was the development of the CWRA for high school use.      ” This test uses the very principles of assessment that Sizer and Wiggins have been talking about for years, but that had just not migrated into schools.   We like the CWRA because it reflects the kind of assessment we ought to be using; it is the only assessment tool out there that does this.  This is actually a good test, a test worth teaching to in Hersh’s terms. ”  It may be misnamed; it is also a great civics assessment, it is a great tool for promoting education for good citizenship.

We were curious: could our kids do well on this test?   This is really the kind of work, the kind of thinking, the kind of assessing we want to do throughout our high school.   We want kids to be excited about learning, and the key to that is the assessment.

Next up, John Turner from Severn School:  Great news from John that he had great trepidation about how his seniors would respond when asked, in April of senior year, to take a new test, but that the kids really, and surprisingly, shocked him about how enthusiastically they engaged with and positively responded to this test, this performance assessment.

Don’t use CWRA all by itself: use it as a tool to stir conversations throughout the school about greater authentic assessment.    John says teachers are really, certainly, thinking about teaching and assessing in a different way since bringing CWRA to the school, and it has been very valuable way.   They also use it powerfully with parents to convey value, and use it in admissions to attract families to the school.

And now from Kimball Union, and their story: they also came upon this during a curricular review and re-accreditation, and they also built upon an onoing study of Grant Wiggins and his Understanding by Design philosophy.  Great endorsement of using the Marc Chun CLA in the classroom training that CLA/CWRA provides, as a faculty in-service; this is something I am very much looking forward to doing in the next couple years at St. Gregory.

A great Q&A discussion follows, and what I am impressed with is the focus and attention upon how does this testing change and influence the teaching and curriculum design at schools, and the panel from the three schools all testify, brilliantly, that their schools really are changing, really growing, really expanding into a new era of authentic tasks and performance assessments.

One school talks about “dirtying up” the tasks of their kids, making them less clean and sharply defined, but letting a messier, or dirtier, approach that is more about risk-taking and experimentation in the curriculum.   Really nice.

Two of the schools using the test talked about the expanded consideration about authentic assessment, and that they are using a new approach of asking their teachers to prepare and submit assessment portfolios, a narrative review and reflection by each teacher upon how they assess their students over the course of the year.   This sounds powerful and valuable.