A quick report from the trenches. We’ve been working these past weeks in Rhode Island helping stand up their more complex projects with Race to the Top and to help them performance manage the many complex streams of work that will happen in parallel.

Of note, we’ve been helping develop their educator evaluation program which will bring all teachers in the state onto a common evaluation platform that incorporates observations, goal attainment, and multiple measures of student growth. As the state has worked to include the maximum array of grades and subjects into the process, we’ve run into a challenge that I am sure many states will see as well.

If a state or district uses value-added in a teacher’s evaluation and the state test is the feed for the model, you limit the grades and teachers that the value-added model can cover to between 15 percent to 20 percent of teachers. That leaves a lot of teachers out of the program. In an effort to include more grades and subjects, many states are scrambling to find more assessments to inject into the model. In this search, some states and districts are considering the use of formative and interim assessments that track student progress against state standards or curriculum throughout the year.

There is a big problem with this. Formative data is held separate from summative data for very good reasons. Summative data is designed to tell you which students met academic standards for AYP designations. When students take the summative tests, teachers teach them “test taking strategies” to help them do the best they can on items where they are not completely sure.

The opposite is true of formative assessments. Teachers use formative assessments to understand the connection, or lack of connection, between what they are teaching, and what their students are learning. It is meant to be honest and accurate. If a student does not know the answer, the teacher tells them not to try and guess. The result is a more accurate picture of the specific areas of strength and weakness where the teacher can re-tool instruction.

So imagine for a second if these states and districts incorporate formative and interim data into a teacher’s evaluation. Yes, it might be a good picture of what a teacher’s students know, but you have just upended the purpose of that formative assessment and destroyed its value. If a teacher knows a formative or interim assessment will be part of their evaluation, they will tell their students to represent that they know things that they do not and the teacher will lose a powerful tool in helping them meet the very goals the summative test is trying to measure.  Rhode Island realized this early on.

Its a lose-lose proposition and states and districts looking to incorporate student data into non-tested grades and subjects should resist the temptation to cross the streams.