Reflections from RILS 2020: Charting a Course in Uncertain Times   

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Reflections from RILS 2020: Charting a Course in Uncertain Times   

To some extent, trying to address the many challenges that the pandemic presents for K-12 education has been like steering a ship in a storm without the benefit of the ability to predict the storm’s duration or path with any confidence.

Indeed, helping education leaders chart a course forward in the midst of such uncertainty has been the primary emphasis of the Center’s work since last March. So, it seemed only natural this year to change the format and theme for our annual conference, the Reidy Interactive Lecture Series (RILS), in order to focus exclusively on addressing implications of the pandemic.   

Thanks to my amazing colleagues, the Center was able to pull off our first-ever online format for RILS in 2020. We organized and offered eight webinars from August 11 to September 16 – all completely open-access and free of charge. Each webinar featured resources (i.e. papers and presentations) produced by the Center team, many of them generously supported through a partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). We were also fortunate to have first-rate, expert panelists accept our invitation to join these sessions, and benefited greatly from their terrific ideas and insights. We were encouraged to see all the sessions very well attended (more than 200 live attendees for most of them) and many more people are benefiting by downloading the free webinar recordings and materials.  

Now that the conference is complete, it’s fair to ask, what did we learn in 12 hours of Zooming with some of the smartest people in the field? Here are my blog-friendly top takeaways.

  • Near term: summative assessments can wait. Lorrie Shepard makes the case brilliantly in her piece for the Washington Post. Instead, prioritize assessment to support instructional action in fall 2020. Scott, Marion, Brian Gong, and Will Lorié offer great ideas for putting this recommendation into action in their presentation and paper.  
  • Invest in building capacity to support strong classroom assessment practices. Looking for support? Carla Evans and Jeri Thompson have created a superb set of open-access resources: The Classroom Assessment Learning Modules.   
  • Summative assessment is not off-the-table for 2021, but the approach must be tailored to meet the challenges and fit the context. States and assessment vendors should develop a spring testing plan now. What should be included in that plan? Leslie Keng, Michelle Boyer, Scott Marion, and Nathan Dadey provide guidance in their presentation and paper.  
  • With respect to school accountability, returning to status-quo systems in 2021 is probably not realistic, but there are some promising alternatives such as transitional systems and reporting solutions. There are many layers to this issue, but the Center has produced a wide-ranging set of resources to support design, evaluation, and implementation, such as this presentation and paper authored by Juan D’Brot, Erika Landl, Chris Domaleski, and Chris Brandt.  
  • Actions to support reporting and inform school improvement need not wait until spring 2021. There are steps states can take in the near term to evaluate existing data and collect new information. For example, Damian Betebenner and Adam VanIwaarden provide great ideas to evaluate legacy data to inform alternatives for reporting academic growth in this presentation (paper forthcoming). Additionally, I worked with my colleagues Michelle Boyer and Carla Evans to provide guidance to help states develop effective data collection and reporting plans outlined in this presentation and paper.  

Overall, I thought the online conference was a success and we hope the participants agree. In fact, the Center will continue to take advantage of webinars and other communication vehicles to share new ideas and resources as they are available, some of which are already in the works.   

We know the waters are choppy and the course ahead is anything but certain. But we hope the content shared at RILS, which will remain archived on our website, provides a source of support.  

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