Next-generation assessment and accountability in Texas


Mar 20, 2015

On Thursday, March 19, 2015, the Texas Senate Education Committee held a public hearing for SB 1200, a bill that would create a commission on next-generation assessments and accountability. I testified in favor of the bill at that hearing and my testimony is provided below.


Testimony to the Texas Senate Education Committee

Thomas Arnett, on behalf of the Clayton Christensen Institute

March 19, 2015

My name is Thomas Arnett, and I am an Education Research Fellow at a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank called the Clayton Christensen Institute. At the Christensen Institute we bring a unique perspective to policy research. We examine social sector problems using theories of innovation developed at the Harvard Business School in order to better understand how to make life-changing innovations in these sectors happen with far more predictable success.

In our research on the K–12 education sector, we have found that improving our assessment and accountability systems is central to improving the overall K–12 education system. Current approaches to assessment have created needed transparency regarding how well schools are doing at serving their students. But current paper-based annual assessments often lack precision and rigor, do not adequately capture student growth, and put a great deal of stress on students and educators, while providing them with little meaningful data on how to improve.

Fortunately, innovations in this space are making assessments much more humane, while also making their data more accurate and meaningful. For example, online assessments can be interwoven into the learning experience in a way that is far less burdensome on students and teachers. Such assessments also allow for real-time measure of student learning and can adapt to students’ levels to measure their understanding more accurately. They can also incorporate simulations and performance activities that reveal a richer picture of student learning than multiple-choice tests.

As these next-generation assessment systems continuously gather student-learning data, they become useful not only for accountability purposes, but also for improving teaching and learning. Data from such assessments can give teachers a more clear picture of each student’s current level of understanding, and then assist them in targeting their instruction in real-time to each student’s learning needs. Ongoing measures of student learning are also incredibly powerful for accelerating innovations in K–12 education by providing educators and innovators with immediate and objective feedback on whether their innovations are working.

Although these developments in assessment technology will have a huge impact on improving our education system, it is not yet clear exactly how to integrate these new technologies into policy. As such, this bill takes a smart approach of appointing a commission to study new technologies and best practices to then figure out what the best policies will be for next-generation assessment and accountability. Lastly, Texas’ independence from the national assessment consortia provides it with a valuable opportunity to lead the nation in these efforts. For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to support this bill.

Thank you.

Thomas’ research focuses on the changing roles of teachers in blended-learning environments and other innovative educational models. He also examines how teacher education and professional development are shifting to support the evolving needs of teachers and school systems.