North Dakota: Understanding Student Achievement Within State Assessment (page 3)
Within education, a direct relationship exists among standards, instruction, and assessment. Standards drive instruction, instruction fosters learning, and assessment measures understanding.
Standards identify what students should know and be able to do. Teachers craft instruction to facilitate student learning. Teachers assess students to determine what level of learning has occurred. Assessment results inform teachers where further instruction is required. Assessment results report student achievement in terms of expected learning goals, which in turn guide future curriculum and instruction improvement.
The practice of assessing or testing students is well established within classrooms. Teachers routinely teach and assess their students in terms of instructional goals. Assessment results become the basis for grading, promotion, and ultimately graduation.
Similarly, assessments are well established for use by the state. The North Dakota State Assessment measures all students’ achievement with a common tool using a standardized scoring scale. The State Assessment ensures that all students are included into a common accountability system and that all students have access to a comparable educational opportunity.
I. Legal Foundations for the North Dakota State Assessment
A. State Assurances for Comparable Education
The North Dakota constitution mandates that the Legislative Assembly ensure that all North Dakota citizens are literate and afforded an opportunity to receive a high-quality education. The Legislative Assembly has empowered local school boards with the duty to provide such educational opportunities to their residents. The Legislative Assembly provides foundational funding that forms the base for local and other supplemental funding sources to accomplish this educational mandate. Although school districts determine local instructional goals and implement their respective programming, the State retains an inherent constitutional responsibility to ensure comparable and equitable educational opportunities statewide.
It has been the long-standing practice of the State to administer annual assessments at specific grade levels as a means of monitoring overall student achievement levels. These student achievement results have been used to assure a school’s improvement activities required under State accreditation rules, to evidence fundamental civil rights compliance, and to identify schools for program improvement under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The North Dakota State Assessment assesses all students in designated grades within a single, unified, statewide assessment that measures students’ performance in terms of the state’s challenging content and achievement standards. Such an assessment strategy offers a means to measure student achievement and to assure that all students receive a comparable educational opportunity.
B. State Standards Assure Comparability
State academic standards provide school districts with a means to ensure that all students receive a comparable quality education. Common state standards offer greater assurances of comparable opportunities. To hold schools accountable for the educational services they offer, the state has developed, with the assistance of educators statewide, an assessment system that is designed to measure student performance in terms of these state standards. To ensure that the state’s accountability system engenders confidence among all constituents, the Department has established a system of prescribed activities, or protocols, that are designed to assure procedural validity and reliability, product quality, and systemic integrity. These protocols articulate the governing rules for the development of state academic standards and assessments. A state-level advisory committee consisting of local and state representatives, titled the Standards, Assessment, Learning and Teaching (SALT) Team, assists the Department regarding all state standards and assessment development.
North Dakota state law (NDCC 15.1-02-04.3) places responsibility for the development of state academic content standards with the State Superintendent. Content standards define what a student should know or be able to do at a given grade level. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction has developed and adopted academic content standards in mathematics (reference these standards at http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/standard/content/math/math.pdf) and English language arts see at http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/standard/content/ELA/ELA.pdf).
State achievement standards complement the state content standards. Achievement standards identify what a proficient student should be able to demonstrate in knowledge and skills at a given grade level. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction has developed and adopted academic achievement standards in mathematics and English language arts. These achievement standards are contained within the same document as the context standards at the same address.
The state content and achievement standards have been developed for grade Kindergarten through grade 12 in accordance with the North Dakota Standards and Assessment Development Protocols (see http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/standard/protocols.pdf.)These state content and achievement standards form the foundation for the State Assessment.
C. State Law Authorizes State Assessments Aligned to Standards
North Dakota state law (NDCC 15.1-21-08) places responsibility with the State Superintendent for the administration of state assessments that are aligned to the state’s content standards in reading and mathematics. Beginning in 2001-02, state law required that the assessments be administered to at least one grade level selected within each of the following grade spans: grades three through five; grades six through nine; and grades ten through twelve. In 2001-02, 2002-03, and 2003-04, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction developed and administered assessments at grades four, eight, and twelve to correspond with the state’s content standards.
North Dakota state law further requires that beginning no later than the 2005-06 school year and annually thereafter, the state assessments will be administered in reading and mathematics to all public school students in grades three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and eleven. The Department initiated administration to those grades in 2004-05.
State law requires that the state assessments compile both aggregated and disaggregated results. The state assessments must compile student achievement data that allow for a comparison of individual students, classrooms within a given school and school district, schools within the district, and school districts within the state. The test scores must also allow for comparisons based on students’ gender, ethnicity, economic status, service status, and assessment status, unless doing so enables the identification of any individual student.
State law requires the State Superintendent to present to the Legislative Council the test scores publicly for the first time at a meeting of a legislative committee designated by the Legislative Council. At the meeting, the State Superintendent and representatives of the testing service that created the tests are required to provide detailed testimony regarding the testing instrument, the methodology used to test and assess the students, and the significance of the test scores.
State law requires the State Superintendent to ensure that the State Assessment not include questions that might be deemed personal to a student or to the student’s family and that the assessment not include questions requiring responses that might be deemed personal to a student or to a student’s family. Before a test is finalized for use in North Dakota, the State Superintendent must require that the test be reviewed by a standards-alignment committee appointed by the State Superintendent to ensure that the test meets the requirement of privacy.
State law (15.1-21-14) requires school districts to allow any individual over the age of twenty to view any test administered under sections 15.1-21-08 as soon as the test is in the possession of the school district.
D. State Assessments Fulfill Federal Accountability Requirements
North Dakota, through an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, has established an assessment plan to bring the state into full compliance with Section 1111(b)(1) requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In accordance with North Dakota’s approved assessment agreement and the North Dakota Standards and Assessment Development Protocols (reference protocols at http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/standard/protocols.pdf), state assessments were developed and adopted in mathematics and reading/language arts as indicated in Table 1 below on or in advance of the schedule. In 2006-07, one year prior to that required, North Dakota will develop state assessments in science at grades 4, 8, and 11 in accordance with state protocols and ESEA, section 1111(b)(1) requirements.
North Dakota has submitted its plan to expand the development of grade specific assessments to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA). This plan supported the state’s Consolidated Application for ESEA funding, dated June 2002, and can be accessed at http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/grants/DOEapp.pdf. The state Consolidated Application has since been approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
The North Dakota State Assessment provides for a single, unified, statewide tool that measures the performance of all students in terms of the state’s challenging content and achievement standards. As required by state law, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction has contracted with a single assessment vendor to develop and administer the state’s assessment tool, within the general guidance of state protocols and under the supervision of the Department of Public Instruction. The State neither provides for nor permits any assessment alternatives administered by any other local school district, school, or outside entity, aside from the statewide assessment prescribed by the State Superintendent. The state has contracted with CTB/McGraw-Hill to coordinate the development and scoring of the State Assessment. Students with significant disabilities are assessed with the North Dakota Alternate Assessment, and their scores are integrated into the schools’, districts’, and state’s overall student achievement database.
II. Technical Design and Quality Assurance Provisions for the North Dakota State Assessment
The design, administration, and reporting of the 2001-02 State Assessment marked a significant change from the past. The State moved from the former, off the-shelf, norm-referenced assessment to a criterion-referenced assessment aligned to the state’s content standards. Additionally, the State moved from referencing student achievement in terms of national norms to reporting student achievement in terms of the state’s challenging achievement standards.
A. Assessment Design
The North Dakota Assessment System uses an assessment tool that is aligned to North Dakota’s content standards. For school years 2001-02 through 2003-04, the Department of Public Instruction contracted with CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop and administer CTB/McGraw-Hill’s Terra Nova, Second Edition, Basic Multiple Assessment with a dedicated State Supplement of uniquely aligned test items. The combination of the Terra Nova and the State Supplement constituted the North Dakota State Assessment in those school years.
The assessment design for the 2004-05 instrument demonstrated marked changes. Rather than using a separate additional instrument, the North Dakota State Supplement, to ensure reliable measurement of all standards, one integrated criterion-referenced instrument was developed. The State utilized the CTB/McGraw-Hill test item bank to select items that addressed state content standards and benchmarks. This new design coincided with the revision of the content standards for English language arts and mathematics, as well as the expansion of the North Dakota State Assessment from three grades (4, 8, and 12) to seven (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11). Further, 2004-05 was the first year of a new contract with the testing vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill.
Since 2001-02, the North Dakota State Assessment has been aligned to State standards. The alignment process, anchored in North Dakota teacher participation, began with the development of the English language arts and mathematics state content standards. The second step was to write the State achievement standards. These achievement standards provided the basis for establishing cut-scores for the State Assessment. The State Superintendent has published the results of the alignment process and provided validation that the alignment process was conducted with professional integrity and scientific rigor.
Cut scores for school year 2001-02 through 2003-04 addressed grades 4, 8, and 12. With the assessment of more grades in 2004-05, cut scores for grades 3 – 8 and 11 were established in the spring of 2005. The publication of the State Assessment’s cut scores can be accessed at the following web sites:
http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/testing/assess/cutscores02.pdf for 2002, and http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/testing/assess/cutscores05.pdf for 2005.
By its design as a multiple-measures assessment, the North Dakota State Assessment measures higher order thinking skills and understanding. The State Assessment combines selected-response test items (e.g., multiple choice items) with constructed-response test items (e.g., answers written by the student) into a unified assessment tool. The selected-response items require the student to incorporate reasoning, analysis, and problem-solving skills. Constructed-response items require the student to demonstrate actual writing, reasoning, analysis, and problem-solving skills. It is the commitment of the Department of Public Instruction to employ an item-replacement model that steadily increases the number and quality of constructed-response test items, including greater use of extendedresponse items. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction has raised this priority to a high level of attention. The assessment design for the North Dakota State Assessment includes a schedule for the advancement of constructedresponse test items.
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