Recently while heading into work, I realized how much I was looking forward to my day. What was on my calendar? Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) was partnering with the Global Learning Network (part of America Achieves) to host a day of learning for teachers and administrators from districts across Maryland and Virginia. What would we be doing? Discussing results and learning from a test to identify ways to improve outcomes for our students.
It is not just any test. It is the OECD Test for Schools (based on an international exam known as PISA) – the only assessment that enables high schools to compare themselves to students in other countries. This tool for learning is completely voluntary; not required by any state, has nothing to do with end-of-grade promotion or Advanced Placement or college admissions.
So why did three Loudoun County high schools volunteer to take the assessment in 2013-2014 and two other schools join them in 2014-2015? Because Loudoun is committed to providing students with a world-class education and this assessment not only enables LCPS to understand how well we are preparing our students to be globally competitive, but also provides rich information about how we can get even better.
The assessment is only administered to a small sample of 15-year-olds in each school. It measures how effectively students can apply what they know in math, reading and science to solve complex, real world problems. Through a student survey, it captures student perspectives on the school climate, their relationships with teachers and the relevance of their course work to future opportunities. During the 2013-14 academic year, Stone Bridge, Heritage and Potomac Falls high schools administered the assessment to roughly 70 students each. This academic year, those three were joined by Rock Ridge and Loudoun Valley high schools.
The 2013-14 results were highly encouraging. Data show we have students who are outperforming their global peers. The overall science and math results showed all three Loudoun high schools outperformed the U.S. average. In science, the results at Stone Bridge and Potomac Falls were similar to Japan and Finland and Heritage’s science results were similar to New Zealand and Switzerland. Beyond math, reading and science results, the OECD Test for Schools gives us insight into teacher-student relationships, student motivation and student engagement.
Results show Loudoun County has some of the smartest kids in the world and as a community we need to ensure opportunities exist that challenge and engage our students. Loudoun Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams and the School Board are ensuring LCPS students are globally competitive by developing a strategic plan, Vision 2020, with a goal to develop knowledgeable critical thinkers, communicators, collaborators, creators and contributors. Achieving this outcome is very different work than just meeting state benchmarks.
In partnership with the Global Learning Network – a learning community for school districts that use the OECD Test – we were able to provide an opportunity for educators across districts to reflect on their results and share best practices while identifying concrete actions to improve student outcomes. Attendees grappled with questions like, “How do you improve the rigor of instruction?” and “Why do some teachers have better relationships with their students than do others?”
The critical information that enabled these discussions did not come from weeks of testing every student in every grade in every subject, but rather from a sampling of 15-year-old students who took one test for two-and-a-half hours. This type of testing seems to be a much more common sense approach to ensuring districts are accountable for results, without overburdening students with hours of testing.
LCPS will soon have the results from this year’s test. When they are available, I’ll look forward to learning if our students are performing at the most rigorous levels in math, science and reading. We will learn whether students believe what they are learning will help them in the future; the reading habits of our students and insight into teacher-student relationships. The answers to all of these questions will assist us as we prepare students for their futures.
The author is the assistant superintendent of instruction for Loudoun County Public Schools and the former assistant superintendent of accountability in Fairfax County Public Schools.
Dr. Terri Breeden
Loudoun County Public Schools
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