Standardized and authentic assessment are now forging ahead on parallel fronts. Sam Meisels, a University of Michigan education professor with a concentration in assessment, observes that even as many states and districts have adopted standardized tests for accountability programs, others have expanded the use of authentic methods for their instructional worth. “We’re moving in both directions now,” he says.
At 160 facilities and some 100,000 students, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is roughly one-fourth the size of the Chicago system, yet it bears many of the same features, notably a largely minority and low-income student population. For the last few years, Milwaukee—now fabled for its experiment with school choice—has also been trying out a varied method of assessment, called “learning proficiencies,” that combines tests, performance tasks, projects, papers and oral presentations.
On this warm Thursday in May, she lets the children pick their topics. “Put down anything you want, but please don’t tell me about how you watched TV yesterday, because I already know you did that. Be creative.”
Standardized test An examination given to a large group of students to gauge performance against either a national average (called norm-referenced) or a breadth of subject material (called criterion-referenced).
The policy has borne fruit in rising test scores, greater success in summer school and glowing public notice, notably a mention by President Clinton in his 1999 State of the Union message. “The Iowa scores are a good predictor, and parents and people in general are comfortable with them,” insists Philip Hansen, the schools’ chief accountability officer.
Teacher shortages have forced districts to change, and lots have done so sooner than Chicago. “While many districts are still doing the same-old same-old, others are bringing coherence and comprehensiveness to human resources,” says David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, a Boston-based consultancy. Haselkorn points to efforts that use technology to interview and screen candidates, that reach out winningly to the hottest prospects and that develop their skills once they’re on board.
By early June, Goldner, disappointed at not having heard from Chicago, submitted applications to city and suburban preschools and to the Glenview and Evanston public schools. She had what she terms “a great interview” with a committee at Burke School on the South Side, but never heard back. “As a kid out of college, I can’t wait to get placed,” she said in late July, her frustration mounting.
With college loans to pay off, Park was looking mainly at salaries. She also was determined to apply only to a district within an hour of her family home in Homewood. By June, she had applications lodged with Naperville, Wheaton, Orland Park, Barrington, Glen Ellyn, Evanston and Chicago. In all, she made submissions to 39 districts. Her goal was to teach 4th- or 5th-graders: “Before they face the peer pressure of junior high, you can set good morals and give them confidence.”
Diaz studied secondary education at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, with a major in English literature. “Michael is one of those extraordinary students,” says Robert Jimenez, a professor of bilingual education and literacy development who became Diaz’s mentor. “He has a hard time keeping his hand down in class, and when he speaks he has interesting things to say.”
Yet DeVries, 22, hesitated about Chicago. The Rockford-area native was worried that Chicago’s starting salary, $33,810, wouldn’t cover the cost of living downtown—”you know, the rent, parking and transportation”—and about being located far from the school that hired her. “And there are rumors you hear about,” she said, which she defined as “safety issues.”