Assessment Task Force Report

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The Task Force was formed to provide input for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction as it selects the state assessment system for North Dakota’s K – 12 students.  The assessment system will be selected in 2017 with implementation scheduled for the Spring of 2018.  The objectives that have guided the work of the Task Force thus far are listed below.
  • Develop a foundational knowledge of assessment systems and practices
  • Review past and current assessment practices in North Dakota
  • Study assessment practices across the country
  • Develop and submit a set of assessment recommendations for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction that will guide the formation of a Request for Proposal for a 2018 assessment system.

Over the course of the five Assessment Task Force meetings, a variety of speakers and educators have contributed to the discussion.  The Task Force has received reports from the following educators with a strong background in assessment and/or knowledge of assessment related issues in North Dakota.
  • Tonette Salazar and Julie Rowland Woods – Education Commission of the States
  • Peter Zamora – Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) (Focus:  ESSA Act)
  • Tony Alpert – Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)
  • Barry Topol, Ed Roeber and John Olson – Assessment Solutions Group
  • Tommy Bice – Superintendent of Public Instruction – Alabama (Focus: ACT as the state assessment)
  • Paul Leather – Deputy Commissioner – New Hampshire (Focus: Waiver for an Innovative assessment pilot approved by USDE)
  • North Dakota Educators (Panel Discussion)
  • Lisa Johnson – North Dakota University System (Focus: Use of state assessment and ACT scores for NDUS admissions and course placement)
  • Scott Norton – Council of Chief State School Officers – Assessment Director (Focus: Other state models)
  • Jacob Mishook – ACHIEVE – Associate Director of Assessment and Accountability (Focus: Assessment Audit model developed to help local school districts reduce amount of testing)
In addition, representatives from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction have been helpful to the Task Force to answer members’ questions about the current assessment practices in North Dakota. 


As the Task Force concluded its work, recommendations were formulated in the areas highlighted below.  These recommendations will be reviewed by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction as it prepares its Request for Proposal (RFP) for its 2018 state assessment.  The state has committed to the use of the Smarter Balanced Assessment for the 2016 - 17 year to ensure continuity for the schools across the state, to provide a minimum of three years of trending data, and to align 2017 state assessment to the standards being taught during 2016-2107 school year.  Meanwhile, a comprehensive standards review in the content areas of Reading/English Language Arts and Mathematics was initiated in June of 2016.  This review, which will involve educators from across the state, will conclude by March of 2017.  At that time, an assessment RFP will be finalized to ensure that the future state assessment in North Dakota will be aligned with the revised content standards in Reading/English Language Arts and Mathematics.
  • Administration and Item Type
    • A majority of the Task Force members recommended that the state of North Dakota consider a “hybrid” state assessment that would combine items previously developed along with the integration of items unique to North Dakota.  This “hybrid” approach would provide some input by educators across the state while maintaining some control over the expense of the annual assessment.
    • The Task Force indicated its support for a mixture of multiple choice items and items known as “constructive response”.  Constructive response items involve a combination of short, medium and long responses. These responses allow for an assessment of each student’s critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Comparability
    • The Task Force recommended that the state assessment should provide an opportunity for schools and districts to compare achievement results across the state of North Dakota.  In addition, a majority of Task Force members felt it was important for the test results to be used to compare the state of North Dakota with other states across the country.  This would indicate support for a state assessment that contained common assessment items that appear in assessments used by other states.
  • Test Length
    • The amount of time that students are involved in assessments has been a discussion point across the country.  The Task Force also discussed this issue as it relates to North Dakota assessments.  While much of the testing time is directed by the local school districts, the Task Force wanted to ensure that the future state assessment did not extend testing time beyond what was desired by educators, parents and policy makers.  Current testing time for the state assessment was estimated at about eight hours/student.  The Task Force recommended that the future state assessment be limited to six hours or less/student if possible.   If the state should choose to move to more constructed response items, it could impact the amount of time it would take for each student to complete the state assessment.
  • Standards Alignment
    • When faced with the question of whether the future state assessment should be based (questions address a range of standards) or aligned (questions are specifically aligned with grade level standards), the Task Force was split on its response.  Some Task Force members supported a state assessment that is based on state content standards which would allow educators to assess a students’ knowledge over a range of grade levels while a similar number of Task Force members saw the benefit in an assessment that was specifically aligned with the North Dakota content standards.
  • Reporting of Results
    • The Task Force members advocated strongly for a prompt report on the results of the state assessment.  Given the fact that the state assessment is given in the Spring of each academic year, the results must be reported promptly to be of use to North Dakota educators.   A majority of the Task Force members indicated a desire to have the results of the state assessment reported within a month of the final date of administration.
  • Accommodations
    • The Task Force was clear to ensure that appropriate accommodations were considered for any students in need of testing accommodations.  A more challenging accommodation related to providing the state assessment in alternate languages other than English.  It was determined that while there was no objection to providing as many language accommodations as possible, there would be a limit on what a vendor could do at a reasonable price.  
  • High School Assessments: 
    • The Task Force debated whether each local school district in North Dakota should have the ability to choose its own High School assessment (i.e. State assessment or ACT) versus having one statewide assessment determined for all North Dakota High Schools.  The Task Force was split in its view on this topic.  It was agreed that it is necessary for the Department of Public Instruction to ensure that comparability exists across North Dakota high school assessment scores and should work with the school districts to determine an acceptable option for high school assessments.

The North Dakota Assessment Task Force should be commended for its’ efforts.  The Task Force members were diligent in their attendance and participation in the Task Force meetings.  While the individual task force members did not agree on all issues, the collective group had frank and honest discussions about the purposes of the state assessment in North Dakota.

During the course of the Task Force meetings, a new federal law was passed.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will have an impact on how states respond to the accountability standards that are set for each school district.  North Dakota has enjoyed strong academic achievement in the past and the Task Force members were unified in their efforts to recommend criteria that would help to continue this rich academic tradition.

In addition to the successful passage of ESSA, the Department of Public Instruction initiated a content standards review in the areas of Reading/English Language Arts and Mathematics.  This review, which will conclude in the Spring of 2017, will set an important foundation for the selection of the state assessment that will be used in North Dakota beginning in the Spring of 2018. 

This final report does not represent the views of individual Task Force members.  Rather it is a summary of the meetings, speakers and topics that were discussed.  In addition, the June meeting was devoted to asking Task Force members for their individual opinions about the proposed criteria that could be included in a future RFP.  These opinions were collected and a summary of that meeting is contained in this report.

A special thanks to Patty Carmichael for her excellent support of the Assessment Task Force.  Her handling of the logistics for each of the meetings allowed the Task Force to focus its energies on the work at hand.  In addition, the representatives from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, led by Superintendent Baesler and Assessment Director Greg Gallagher, provided guidance to the Task Force members to ensure that questions were answered in a prompt and effective manner.