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Building with Benchmarks: The Role of the District in Philadelphia’s Benchmark Assessment System

This paper draws on district interviews and meeting observations to understand (1) the accountability, organizational, and instructional context for benchmark assessments in Philadelphia and how they compare with national trends; (2) the district’s expectations concerning benchmark assessment use; (3) the supports provided by the district and private providers for benchmark assessment use and instructional improvement; and (4) the challenges to meeting district expectations for use. Our research indicates that Philadelphia leaders expected that benchmark assessments would help teachers adjust and improve instruction. The six-week cycle of benchmarks was designed to enhance their formative use. It is our assessment that the six-week instructional cycle does enhance the benchmark’s formative use, and that the tools (SchoolNet, protocols for analysis and reflection, professional development, etc.) have provided a useful set of supports for school-based educators. Nevertheless, challenges, including misalignments between the benchmarks and the core curriculum, lack of resources and questions about how to support teachers, remain. Finally, our literature review highlighted the distinction between summative, interim, and formative assessments, including how they are used and experienced. The Philadelphia case demonstrates that even formative assessments can become summative in settings in which people are differently positioned vis a vis power and authority and in an overall environment of high-stakes accountability.Download PDF: Consortium for Policy Research in Education