Kevin: Sometimes the lessons we must learn come at a great cost to us as individuals and as societies at large. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted so many of us in very personal and intimate ways, forever altering our perception of self and the importance of our communities. I want to dig deeper into the pivotal changes education has experienced from the pandemic.
Are kids still learning? How do we know? Will the pandemic allow us to change the way we evaluate the effectiveness of our schools in a way that's more fair to both students and teachers? I want to know more. I want to know how we will adapt, pivot and improve the way we assess our schools. In this episode, I will be joined by Chris Minnich and Dr. Saran Stewart to explore more around this topic.
Chris Minnich grew up in Oregon, and attended the University of Washington. After college, he worked for the Oregon Department of Education in the early days of No Child Left behind. As a result of this early exposure to education issues, Chris joined the Council of Chief State School Officers. While with the Council, Congress passed a large stimulus package called "Race to the Top," where Chris aided in the rollout of the program across the country. Today, Chris is CEO of assessment giant NWEA. More than 10.7 million students worldwide use NWEA's assessments. A critical part of his current role is working with states to upgrade their standards and assessments, transform educator preparation programs, design new approaches to teaching and learning, and implement and sustain promising reforms across the country. Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris: Thanks for having me.
Kevin: Well, your bio speaks for itself, but I always like to throw little tidbits in there. I understand that you and your wife are storm chasers. Is that right?
Chris: I don't know which bio you read, but that's right. We have been tornado-chasing before. Yeah, I'm kind of a meteorological geek. I love weather. And we have been tornado-chasing before. Luckily, we didn't see anything get hit. When we saw a tornado, it was out in a field, and so that was better. But I enjoy the weather, and I enjoy that type of thing in my free time.
Kevin: So, you've done incredible work in education, but you also run one of the largest assessment companies in the world, and that's not something that most school age boys grow up and say they want to do. How did you get into the assessment work?
Chris: When I first started in assessment, I thought it was odd that the breakdown was always kids with money had the opportunity to do better than kids without money. Or it would break down by race. And my goal in assessment has always been to create a fair playing field for kids, and I think we've lost some of that in the assessment discussion. The current assessment discussion is about, "Oh, well, we're spending too much time on these tests," or "We're not doing enough local assessment." And I think that's all really good, and I think we should have those conversations.
But for me, this is an issue of fairness, and when it comes to growth, and when it comes to the ability of every student to maximize their potential, assessments play an important role in that piece of it. And that's why I'm passionate about it. I do want assessments to be different. I want them to be based much more in where a student started from, and where they end. And then let's talk about what the opportunity for that student is. It should be less punitive and more about where is the next step for that kid. And that's what we're trying to drive.
Kevin: And look, I want to tee it up, because you said a lot of things I agree with. I think there, for many, many years, Chris, you and I both know this, standardized tests, high-stakes tests, however you want to characterize it, have been knocked for being racially, culturally biased, that they were tilted toward folks and kids who were fortunate enough to go to elite schools. But now, the conversation has shifted to even whether or not we should have standardized tests. I want to read a couple of paragraphs. These are headlines from around America.
One headline says, "Even in Non-Pandemic Years, High-Stakes Standardized Tests Don't Accurately and Objectively Measure Teaching and Learning." Another headline, "Backlash Growing to Biden's Insistence That Schools Give Standardized Tests During the Pandemic." And the final one, "Don't Judge Schools by High-Stakes Testing." You know, Chris, I agree with you that we have to assess and measure kids. Where is all this backlash to standardized testing coming from, especially from...When it seems to be both from the right and the left of the political spectrum?
Chris: Yeah, yeah. Well, because I think there's some fairness in it. I think the one thing we haven't done as a community has been really honest about what are we trying to accomplish here. Does one standardized test make or break a student's career, or grade, even, for that matter? And the answer to that is no, it shouldn't. We have overused this data in certain places. But now, at the same time, if you pull all the common metrics out of the system, we're going to be stuck. Back in a time where certain schools are allowed to just talk about how great they are, and they probably are, and then some of our kids will be left out of the good stuff.
And so, I think, as with most things, it's somewhere in the middle of these two things. It is not throw every one of these tests out. That is not where I would be. But I also think we can have a conversation about how do we use the information we have. And if we start with growth, that if we don't penalize a kid for what has come before, but we say, "Look, you're right here right now. Our goal this year is to have great growth with you on these subjects. And we'll be able to show that through our assessment system." The problem with some of our state tests, for that matter, they're only once a year, and they don't generally show growth very well. They're paired up against academic standards that are based on ages. And I think that's the conversation we need to have, is how do we get a system that's more sensitive to where students start from, and then we can still hold schools and districts and teachers accountable for that growth?
But it's unfair to say every kid in 7th grade should be at this point in time, on March 25th, because that's when we're taking the test. That's unfair.
Kevin: Totally agree with you. In fact, you and I share this belief that growth is important, and for viewers out there, the way most assessments are handled in states, it's almost like above the line or below the line. So, if a kid isn't at a certain level, then they're deemed to be behind and/or failing, and the school's deemed to be a failing school. It doesn't take to account, as you alluded to, Chris, the starting point. I think the starting point is so important, because if a kid starts the school year two grades behind, and they make up a grade, then that is growth. But on most state tests, they will still be behind a grade, even though they made up one the previous year, and that will be viewed as a failure.
This idea of growth, is it starting to take hold, in terms of states? Oh, one of the challenge with the states, not only do they measure this above the line/below the line, pass/fail stuff, but it may take six months after the tests before some states even release the results, so even if you're a teacher that wants to build on the test results, you may not get them until well into the next year.
Chris: We can't defend the system as-is, because it's not working for too many kids. And so, what I would suggest is we need to build a different system. One of the things we're working on is an assessment system that would give shorter assessments throughout the year, and then roll that up, so that a state could have access to the data, but we don't have to stop and give this long three-hour test at the end of the year, because we already know something about the students' academics. We can roll that up. And it would just be smarter, in my thinking, to have a system of assessments rather than this one test that everybody's focused on.
Kevin: And the good thing about that, Chris, is it's building on the interim approach, which is generally three times a year, but if you have a group of assessments during the course of a semester, teachers can take from that data, see where a child needs more intervention in one area, or needs to build on some things in another area, as opposed to the all-or-nothing.
Chris: I believe if you're going to take a kid's precious instructional time, you know, it's generally about an hour, right? So, if you're going to take an hour of a kid's time to show you what they know, you sure as heck better do something with that information, and you better engage with the kid's parents, guardians, family members. You better be engaged in, like, adjusting what you're doing with that student. Because if you're not, you're wasting everybody's time. You're just checking a box that you gave a test, and you gave it back to the kid, and we're still in the same spot we were before. So, when we come in the door, we want to have a conversation about what needs to be different in this school setting. What do we need to change? How do we make sure that every kid has access to the good stuff?
I like to talk about the good stuff, because we all know what it means. Like, I went through high school, and I got the good stuff. I went through college, I got the good stuff. Every kid needs access to it. And the way we show whether they're getting access to it is some sort of measure. It's amazing what happens when kids take control of their learning. A lot of the stuff that you guys do is really about kids taking control of their learning, and if we can motivate students in a way where we show them what they know, show them what they need to grow on, then we have a different conversation.
Kevin: I heard this from successful people, that "I was written off because I didn't do well on standardized tests." And how true of a predictor are these tests? The one test a year, the end-of-the year test? How much of a predictor is it on whether or not a kid is going to be successful in college, or in life? And then, the approach you talked about where you really focus on growth, where you have interim assessments, or a series of tests, contrast whether or not there's some predictability in terms of really ensuring that we know where kids are headed.
Chris: The tests are actually fairly predictable, but I would rather them not be as predictable. Because what I would love to do is, say, "Look. This is where your student is. Let's change the trajectory of this kid. On the current trajectory, this is where they're going to be. They're going to struggle as they get into high school because they're not reading well yet." Yet. You notice that I said the word "yet." Because I think the real change is to make them not predictable of future success. And right now, generally, they break out by income, and they break out by race and gender sometimes. And so, I guess I would just say I think the tests aren't the issue. It's what we do with the information. And the tests obviously can get better. And we're continually working on that. Make the tests less biased, for that matter, right? I mean, and so, test bias is a real issue that we work on. But, at the same time, if you take that information and you change a kid's trajectory with it, we have story after story of a kid saying, "Look, I didn't know I had dyslexia until I had the indicator on that MAP assessment. And I got help, and I am now a fluent reader, because I was able to work through my challenge with my dyslexia."
And, like, these are things that would not happen without these assessments. And so, yes, are we too focused on one test at the end of the year? Absolutely. Does assessment have to change? Absolutely. But, if you throw the whole thing out, you're going to be having a different conversation. We're going to be flying blind.
Kevin: Yeah, and I agree. But there is an elephant in the room. What is this relationship between K-12, the school districts in America, and higher ed, as we talk about reshaping things? Shouldn't there be better synergies between the higher ed community and school districts, to try to figure this out?
Chris: Absolutely. You know, we spend most of our time in K-12. And so, what I would tell you, my observation of what goes on between K-12 and higher ed is yeah, they're looking for a ranking opportunity. But I will tell you, I think things are starting to shift in higher ed. I think they're starting to understand that assessments should be a gateway to opportunity, not a gateway to closing doors for students.
Kevin: Yeah. So, tell me this. COVID has been a game-changer. The pandemic has affected everything in education, and one of the things people talk about is a loss of learning time. How can we deal with the lost learning time, and I know families are facing this, so that the students can be better prepared for these standardized tests whenever they come back?
Chris: Our data shows that students really haven't lost learning in the traditional sense. Something that they had learned before generally hasn't gone away. But what our study did show is that students are not advancing as quickly as they normally do. So what that means for teachers is that when you interact with a kid at the beginning of the school year next year, there may have been things in the previous grade that we gotta go back and pick up. And we gotta be really purposeful about that, especially for our 3rd through about 6th grade teachers. There are some really important building blocks in early reading and in early mathematics that have to be attended to as we come back to school.
So, how do we get kids ready? We don't assume that they know everything from the previous level. We do assessments to show us what they know, and then we really dig in, because it's not like a full re-teach. It's not, you have to teach the previous grade in entirety. It's generally, like, "Hey, I missed combining fractions." Or, "I missed adding fractions, in 3rd or 4th grade." We gotta go back and recheck on that. And that's the type of thing that's going to be missed. And if you missed that, then you missed the building blocks for 4th, 5th, 6th grade. And so, that's what we have to focus on. The sky is not falling. We can solve this. But we gotta pay attention, or else we will just pass these kids through, and that won't work.
Kevin: You've been an advocate for us to explore multiple assessments. Talk about the alternatives. Because we know to say, "Get rid of it all," that doesn't work, because there is value. We want to make sure kids are learning. But talk just for a couple minutes or so about other ways we could measure student performance and school performance.
Chris: First is just using the data we have on students already. If a district is already engaged, and giving assessments throughout the year, there is no reason why we couldn't use that data in some way. Now, we want to make sure it's common across multiple districts, especially in a state, so we would have to work on that, but something like multiple short assessments throughout the year might be one way that we could figure out where kids are. We don't have to wait until the end of the year. Especially if a student can prove to us that they know something in the standards already, why are we waiting until April to give that assessment? So, that's one piece.
I would also say we should be looking at things that aren't tests. How a student does in high school is probably a direct representation of how their middle school experience was. And so, we should be using metrics that are not test-related, too. And much more so than we do right now. Attendance has creeped in in a lot of the accountability systems, but I'm actually more bullish on things like surveys checking in on students two years after high school, for example. If 90% of my students are doing well, they're engaged, either in higher ed, they get a job, they got a CTE pathway maybe, there's a lot of positive outcomes for students after high school, and if that's what's happening with our students, then we're being successful.
And so, I do think it does boil down to, though, are we going to have some way of showing that we were successful with students or not? Are we just gonna say, "Yeah, we know they'll be okay?" And I cannot get my head around what it looks like to just say, "Well, we know they'll be okay." I think we have to measure it in some way. Now, I don't think we have to do it the way we're doing it right now, but we need to acknowledge the fact that we are losing too many kids even, in the system we have right now. And so, that has to change. That has to change.
Kevin: Well-said. Chris, thanks for being on "What I Want to Know." Appreciate it.
Chris: Thanks for having me.
Kevin: Since completing her doctorate from the University of Denver in 2013, Doctor Saran Stewart has produced an impressive record of research, scholarship and service. She has authored more than 20 publications. Equally impressive, Dr. Stewart has given nearly 50 scholarly presentations, including seven keynotes and lectures across 12 different countries. Recently promoted to the rank of Senior Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Stewart is also the coordinator of the Master of Arts in Higher Educational Management program, and chief editor of the Journal of Education and Development in the Caribbean. She holds a bachelor's in English and International Studies, an MBA, a master's in International Administration, and a PhD in Higher Education.
Dr. Stewart is a Salzburg Global Fellow, and the recipient of multiple awards for her research and scholarship, most notably winning the Principal Award for Most Outstanding Researcher and Best Research Publication on two separate occasions. At the core of her research, Dr. Stewart uses a variety of social science methodologies to examine access and equity issues in higher education. A distinguished scholar and classroom practitioner, Dr. Stewart has extensively studied the impact of standardized tests on children of color.
Dr. Stewart, I'm so happy to have you join the show. Your work speaks for itself, in terms of equity and inclusion, and looking at how people of color are impacted by standardized tests. But I was reading some of your work, and you talk about postcolonial theories in education. I wanna tease that out a little bit. What do you mean by that?
Dr. Stewart: Sure. So, I'm glad that you asked, because most important to my identity is that I was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. And so, in many ways, I grew up as a first generation postcolonial citizen. I was born to parents who were born in a colonial era, out of British Jamaica, to be quite honest with you. And so, coming into my PhD and my work, I really wanted to focus on what did life and educational systems really look like in a...life after independence, right?
And when I was growing up, my parents went through schooling and stuff. We still had a very much mirrored image of British schooling. And so, to have our own Jamaican schooling really has taken quite an effect and shape into what I'm currently writing on against Anti-Blackness curriculum and the 50-plus years it took for many educators in majority Black countries, such as Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean islands, in order to push for a curriculum that looked like and was by and for the Caribbean people. And because the majority are of African descent, we found that most of the curriculum needed to be written for and shaped through a very strength-based focus on what it means to be Black and affirmed. And that took many, many decades, as I just said.
Kevin: And the thing is, when you look at it that way, it impacts people of color in the United States as well, but they may not know it as much, because the post-colonial period, if you will, post-slavery period for us, is not as close. It's not as proximate. And, how do you see that overlay between people of color in the states, who go through that same sort of second-class citizen treatment in education, and what you've experienced growing up in the Caribbean?
Dr. Stewart: It's a defining moment, to be quite honest with you, when you grow up under the duress of white supremacy, right? And let's just face it, colonialism and white supremacy are highly interconnected and interwoven and interlinked with each other. I would agree, and I would argue and have argued that colonialism was the precept of white supremacy. It was based on that. And following independence in countries such as Jamaica, in which it was Black majority rule there after independence, it was a struggle. It was an economic, socio-demographic struggle. But there was a fight and a persistence to see prime ministers that were Black and Brown, to see doctors and dentists and teachers that were Black and Brown, to see PhDs and academics that were being taught, where the norm was that you are simply of African descent, and that was the norm.
And so, what I find is when you do not grow up within that context, there is a belief of naming and titling as "minority," as something lesser than, or other than. So, actually, my first entry point into United States was on a scholarship to one of those preparatory schools in the U.S. after I had actually graduated from high school. And it was my first time being labeled actually African American, even though I had no American passport, of course. And in many ways, it was also my first time being labeled a minority. I had no idea what that meant. And it has stuck out to me in my memories because I didn't understand and conceptualize what that meant. Or, heroes and heroine were a combination of former slave revolutionist and activists, right? And we have a strong patriotic nationalism about Garveyism and Afrocentrism and Pan Africanism. And so, you are steeped in that, and that kind of sense and sense and belief, from a curriculum sense.
Kevin: And that's in Jamaica, right?
Dr. Stewart: That is in Jamaica, yeah.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Stewart: And so, when I see the struggles a lot here, and my colleagues and I are writing about Anti-Blackness curriculum, is that the curriculum is heavily situated and still shaped and steeped in White supremacy here. My daughters are brand new, right, to the U.S. schooling system, and the first thing that my 6th grader asked me, actually, in September, is, "Mummy, I'm in social studies class, but I'm not learning about Native Americans. I'm not learning about African Americans. Why not? Aren't those the founders of the United States?" And so, she kept asking me, "Where's the history?"
And so, you know, we had to go through, because she knows about indigeneity, and the Tainos and the Caribs and the Arawaks that came from Jamaica and the islands. And to not see that represented here in First Nations and Native American history was very difficult, because she was, like, "But we were taught about our indigenous people. What happened to the United States indigenous people? Why aren't they talked about in the standardized curriculum?" So, you know, it is a struggle. And I find that when our students come through a K through 12 system with that missing link, it directly affects their social emotional learning as well, because they're not valued or seen within the textbooks that they're reading.
Kevin: Well, let's talk about that missing link. I mean, you couldn't have created a better link-up to where I want to go, because many people were talking about the way to fill that missing link is to have more cultural awareness, and building curriculum, to talk about the impacts of systemic racism. But there has been a pushback, and I wanted to ask you specifically about this. There are legislative efforts popping up in various states to restrict how teachers discuss racism and sexism. And one legislator in Rhode Island proposed that the state's divisive concepts bill is a divisive, destructive, poisonous ideology, that encourages people to judge each other by the color of their skins, and it makes white males oppressors, and it makes everyone else victims.
So, part of this equity in education push, which is now prevalent, understandably, there's now this pushback. How would you respond to some of these efforts that we see really are designed to counter the challenge that you just mentioned?
Dr. Stewart: Absolutely Kevin. That's a excellent question. Kevin, I would say that Whiteness is so pervasive that it's invisible. And it leads into power grabs, fragility, the many myriads of fear, and fear-mongering, to be quite honest with you. Because I have been raised, helped to design curriculum for Afro-Caribbean countries, where we talk truly and define truly about the histories of enslavement and enslaved persons. And those are not the current tangible outcome, so if you want to point towards pushing against legislation, I would always argue, go to where it's actually happening. Look at Rwanda. Look at the countries that are actually putting in these types of curriculum, and see what the results really are, rather than speculate that this shouldn't be done or can't be done, because I guarantee you, it's happening around the world. It's just a matter of these policymakers to do their due diligence and homework to really get evidence-based and data-based results, and to see what are the real outcomes.
Kevin: Yeah, well, a lot of this is the politics of education. We know we're in a highly intensive, partisan time period in U.S. history. But let's connect the dots, because all of this is relevant to the way we measure and evaluate kids' progress. I mean, the ultimate goal of school is for kids to learn and grow. And yet, we see the standardized tests and assessments, there's been this big backlash that they are culturally biased, and that also, there's a backlash from parents of all races that, you know, high-stakes testing is not a fair way to measure kids' abilities. You and Dr. Chayla Haynes co-authored a white paper, and it's called "An Alternative Approach to Standardized Testing: A Model That Promotes Racial Equity and College Access." So much good stuff in there. I can't go through all of it, but tell me the highlights that address this issue of how we mismanage evaluating our kids.
Dr. Stewart: Dr. Chayla Haynes Davison of Texas A&M, she's been my ride or die sister scholar for the past decade, and when we wrote this back in 2015, I want to say that much has changed, and because of it. So I'm happy that you actually revisited it because I think COVID has now shown us exactly what we were writing about that was possible, right? Imagining the futurities of what standardized testing and assessment. I want to distinguish as well, Kevin, that assessment, there is formative assessment, right, that happens, ongoing, and it happens for learning. Whereas summative assessment, just what we're really debating, is of learning, right, at the end.
Kevin: How often are summative assessments? Usually once a year?
Dr. Stewart: So, it depends, right, on which states, as you know. It really depends on which state. Throughout the academic career of a child from K through 12, they could easily sit anywhere from 17 to 23 different standardized tests. And even before grade three, 3rd grade. And that wouldn't be problematic if it was only being used for diagnostic purposes. The problematics of it is that it is often used and attributed to tracking and placement of Black and Brown children into more disadvantaged and lower-grade schooling or programs.
Kevin: The weight given those tests are used to prop up legacy admittees to college?
Dr. Stewart: Absolutely.
Kevin: People who are steeped in understanding how to take those tests and get those prep courses and can afford the most expensive prep courses.
Dr. Stewart: Ah, yes.
Kevin: The whole system becomes self-perpetuating. Isn't that true?
Dr. Stewart: Absolutely. And as we know, standardized tests, there's so much research on it already that the proxy, for example, for one of the most formidable standardized tests coming out of the United States is the SATs, right? And the closest proxy that it really predicts for is where you live, your socioeconomic levels, your zip code, to be quite honest with you. It really doesn't tell us enough about how a student will perform in college, right? How successful they will be thereafter. And so, the result of that has been a lot of backlash. Hence the decision that happened last year with the University of California State System, in terms of pulling back away from using SATs and ACTs to come into, as entry admission points. And so, what we saw through COVID was that many states stopped relying on standardized assessment. Much of the world, by the way, not just the United States, but this has been much of the world in the pandemic.
In addition to budget cuts, public health concerns, most governors just realize that you don't need to do this. We can assess our students. Teachers have been assessing students for decades, right, and for centuries, using formative-based assessments, and we can continue to do that, even into for college entry purposes. And so, what we argue in the paper is to look a lot deeper, actually, from a critical race lens, that truly standardized testing also propagates and promotes colorblind approaches, where Black and Brown children do statistically worse or lower on these standardized testing than their White counterparts.
Kevin: So, let me ask you this. Let's get to specifics. If you do away with standardized tests, let's say, what specifically would we put in their place? How will we measure kids year by year? How will colleges be able to evaluate them, and how would kids of color, and kids who come from economically challenged backgrounds, how would they be able to compete in this new world you're talking about?
Dr. Stewart: There is great use for assessment, even some such as standardized assessment. And if it's going to be used for teachers to better instruct students, and know exactly how to differentiate instruction, how to create proper lesson plans and syllabus, etc., I am perfectly fine and okay with that. My issue always becomes when there is a disproportionate representation of Black and Brown kids in special ed, and not in gifted ed, due to standardized testing, and when it is used to show who should get funding and who should not get funding, or a meritocracy, right? And so, what it ends up becoming, it's just another form of racist-based educational torment on our children.
And, you know, I'll give you a very concrete example, to be quite honest with you. I just moved with these two young girls. They have a grade 6 assessment for my 6th grader, right? When I was looking at, you know, school rankings and stuff like that I looked at how the schools ranked, and, you know, this school is highly ranked. So I looked closer at the standardized tests, and they did great. They were about 30 points above the math average and the reading average. I said, "Oh, this is fantastic. The school is great." Then, I looked and disaggregated the data to see which group of students were performing, and do you want to know that at my daughter's school, the Black students perform 30% lower than average, by the way. So, the issues are strife, that here I come, bring this honor roll Black child to this school, but the school is telling me that my Black child may not perform as well on these tests. Now, is that the child fault? Is that the assessment? Is that teacher bias?
We know from research that it's a combination, much less of the children, but much more of the learning environment and the system that they are placed in. So, one of the biggest things with assessment, Kevin, and I would love for people to really take away, is that assessment can be used for very much well-intentioned strength-based approaches to learning, and to understanding differentiated instruction. Where students are, what kind of resources do we need for them? Which schools need resources? But to use them for derogatory purposes, which we've seen them being used mostly for, that is where we continue to reinforce, actually, a system of Whiteness, and we re-center it into all schools' education curriculum. And then it becomes dangerous for our kids.
Kevin: You know, it brings to mind, what should the future look like? Because I know the Biden administration is trying to figure out what they do with standardized testing. How should we shape it going forward, from a federal government perspective?
Dr. Stewart: I do believe that with the current picture and wave of what's happening now with the pandemic, from last year into this year and moving forward, that they're seeing alternative pathways. So, we see Ohio. We see, there was another state I was just looking up, actually, that are looking towards reducing significantly all standardized tests for the states. Coming out, for various reasons, budget deficits being a primary one, to be quite honest with you, but also naming the reality that they're not doing what they're intended to do.
That formative forms of assessment can very much work in the absence of summative forms of assessment, and we're seeing that in schools through this onset of distance learning, where the standardized tests have taken a back seat until schools are promised to be resumed, and then we'll see how much lessons have been learned. But with that, I would also argue that we push forward with looking at what the UC system has done. It was a precedented event that University of California System said, "You know what? We're not going to use SATs and ACTs as we did. Now, their system is massive, and truly, they have an overarching voice in our higher ed system, to be quite honest. I've known a lot of scholars in higher ed looking to them, and systems saying they're worried for, you know, SATs the College Board, ACTs, and then the billion-dollar industry that follows, you know, that industry?
Kevin: Yeah, and not only the billion-dollar industry, you're right, but higher ed, because they are culprits in all this as well.
Dr. Stewart: Absolutely.
Kevin: I mean, what you're talking about, really, it's student-centered accountability, where you measure kids individually, based on where they start and where they end up and how they grow. But as we come to close here, Saran, this is what I really want to know. You mentioned that COVID has changed the game, and you've been fighting for equity in education for a long time. Still, there's a lot of bias. What are some of the positive strides you are seeing since you wrote that piece in 2015?
Dr. Stewart: Kevin, you know this. You have to have a seat at the table to often truly make changes, right? You can make noise, I think, or people made noise. And then we got an invitation to sit at the table. And sometimes you don't need that invite, but it's nice to have that invitation to sit at the table. So, we received an invitation to sit at the table, and we had a great discussion. It was in, I believe, 2019, and this was by Educational Testing Services.
Kevin: Wow. They are the group.
Dr. Stewart: They are the group. And we have some great what I call “tempered radicals”. Dr. Catherine Millett and Michael Nettles, who has been doing this work as well alongside. And we got a seat at the table with their board members, right. And College Board was there, and ACT was there.
Kevin: Oh, wow.
Dr. Stewart: And there was a number of us. There was a collective room of critical activists, thought agents, thinkers, academicians, practitioners, policymakers. There was probably about 60 to 80 of us, to be quite honest with you. And we left with a number of charges to continue the work, and it is ongoing. Of course, with the pandemic, kinda broke some of the initiatives, and then we're starting back up. That seat at the table provided us a room to listen to both sides of what was happening, and really debate the inequities around the stigma of African Americans taking these standardized tests, right, and what were the results?
So we were focusing more, not on K through 12, but the entry exam perspectives, and even through, and whether or not are they still necessary in today's day and age, right? And so, as you asked that, I thought about there are different initiatives in place that we are going through, about more equitable forms of assessment. And actually, they just had a talk online with ETS again about these forms of more looking at assessment through a different lens. So we're working with them on more inclusive, social justice-oriented, cultural-responsive forms of assessment, and really going hard at it with, you know, asking the critical and hard questions about how much has testing propagated this, but what does the future look like? What can it look like? And recognizing that we cannot afford anymore to continue the way that we have been going.
And so, we've seen initiatives like that come about where we've been able to really help encourage what inclusion should look like from an assessment standpoint, and a framework to build out with that. And we've also been looking at, of course, I've been touching on the Anti-Blackness curriculum, right, and naming what Anti-Blackness looks like in the curriculum, what it has always looked like, but never named that way, because nomenclature changes, and how we need to change the way in which our curriculum is designed and shaped and who is it designed to really support?
So, we've been doing that hard work. The critical race assessment that we wrote about is nothing new, but just shaped differently. Students have been doing portfolio-based work, school-based assessment work, and they can be used for entry into, you know, colleges and universities. So what we're doing is supporting our colleagues doing this work, pushing the agenda, and talking to the industry makers who support this, who support the standardize industry, and trying to disrupt it with those who are already in there, trying to say this is not contemporary. It's not serving our students anymore, all our students. Only some. And we need to do a better job.
Kevin: Well, I tell you, that, in and of itself, is encouraging, Dr. Stewart. I'm gonna tell you. Having the seat at the table matters, and I'm so glad you're there as we push toward a more student-centered accountability system that respects and acknowledges the value of all of our children. Dr. Saran Stewart, it's been an honor to have you on the show. Thank you so much.
Dr. Stewart: Thank you so much for having me.
Kevin: Thanks for joining "What I Want to Know." Be sure to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And don't forget to write a review, too. Explore other episodes, and dive into our discussions on the future of education. Join the conversation, and let me know what you want to know, using #WIWTK on social media. That's #WIWTK on social media. For more information on Stride, visit stridelearning.com. I'm your host, Kevin P. Chavous. Thank you for joining "What I Want to Know.”
Chris Minnich grew up in Oregon and attended the University of Washington. After college, he moved back home to start his career. He found a temporary position at the Oregon Department of Education in the early days of No Child Left Behind, the federal legislation that required annual testing. As a result of this early exposure to the issues in education, Chris became passionate about better assessments.
He now serves as Chief Executive Officer of assessment giant NWEA, an organization serving more than 10.7 million students worldwide. Prior to joining NWEA in January 2018, Chris held several key leadership roles in the education industry. Most recently, Chris served as the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Chris holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington, as well as a Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland.
Since completing her doctorate from the University of Denver in 2013, Dr. Saran Stewart has produced an impressive record of research, scholarship, and service.
At the core of her research, Saran uses a variety of social science methodologies to critically examine issues in comparative education, decolonizing methodologies, postcolonial theories, critical/inclusive pedagogy, and access and equity issues in higher education. She has worked to question status quo regarding access to educational institutions, resources, and opportunities.
Saran is also the coordinator for the Master in Higher Educational Management Program, and chief editor of the Journal of Education and Development in the Caribbean. She holds a BA in English and International Studies, MBA with honors, MA in International Administration, and PhD in Higher Education.
What I Want to Know
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