March 20th, 2014

One Mom’s Struggle With School and Tests

I can always tell when testing season arrives here in New Jersey as I start getting e-mails from parents wanting to know more about my experiences in opting my son Tucker out of the test. It’s not a deluge, mind you, but one or two a week that I try to reply to with more info and links. 

Some are more than about testing, however. Some, like the one I’ve gotten permission to reprint below, get to the heart of the larger tension between schools as they’re currently constructed and learning. I’m not saying this is every person’s experience, but when I read e-mails like this, it gives me pause. I think it should give us all pause. 

I know this mom would love to hear your response in the comments.

Hi Will,

I’m sorry if this email turns out rambling… but I am at my wits end. I came across your website for the first time tonight, and have not had a chance to read your book yet… but let me give you some background on why I’m writing you…

Tonight, I yelled at my 7 year old child because she misspelled one of her spelling words… the word ‘rainbows’. Yes you read that correctly. I yelled at her. She sobbed uncontrollably as I refused to let her erase the mistake. This I know is ludicrous. Why the hell would I do that? Mistakes happen. That’s why pencils have erasers, right? Well its because of what public school is doing to my child and I cannot stand to watch it anymore. Tonight it turned me into a monster. Its been over 6 hours since this incident and I’m still overwhelmingly disgusted with myself as if it had just happened.

My daughter is a wonderful, bright, funny, delightful little 2nd grader. Most adults that meet her marvel at the obvious level of intelligence she has. This is not me trying to brag or call my child a genius - but what it is… is me standing up for her where she is being made to feel insecure and unintelligent. 

For too many nights to count, I have watched my child come apart at the seams trying to make sense of homework that I deem to be complete and utter bullshit and a complete waste of time. I watch her write letters, words and numbers…. only to erase and write again, erase and write again…. because it’s not perfect, it’s not what the teacher said to do, it’s not what will get her perfect scores and make everyone happy. I watch her trying to think of multiple ways to write out a math sentence such as ‘5+4=9’. I mean, how many ways does a 7 year old need to write it? She even gets math equations that look like this: ‘16+12=__’. Ask her what the ones and tens places are and she couldn’t tell you. (I have explained them to her… and she is beginning to understand, but isn’t allowed to use that method at school(WTF?). The math that is being taught isn’t math at all. Its all comprehension. Why is she getting comprehension shoved down her throat before she even has the basic building blocks in the fundamentals of addition and subtract? I know the answer - NJ ASK. I’m sick of erasing, and the tears and wasted nights. I sick of watching this beautiful creature being snuffed out by school work that really isn’t teaching anything.

Every night we do 2 hours of homework. I dread homework. I’m not anti-homework. What I’m against is homework hijacking my night 5 days a week. A typical day she gets home at 4pm. I let her have a snack and unwind for an hour. Then we begin this awful homework regime. She is tired. Why is she doing school work from 9am to 7pm( if I’m lucky)? She isn’t learning at this rate… she is just going through the motions to get it done. 

Tonight as my child sobbed, curled up in my arms, with her little body trembling, she tells me what a bad reader she is and that’s why she tries to read more than what’s required; so she can get better. She’s a bad speller too. She’s afraid she won’t get to go to 3rd grade. Everything feels hard for her. These are the words coming from her mouth.

In my mind, I could not even begin to fully process what she was saying to me at the time. I read with her every night. She reads well. She stumbles on words sometimes, but she is only 7 and I thought that was to be expected. So where are these feelings of inadequacy coming from? I give her only praise at home, so I must believe it stems from something happening at school. I find it disgusting that my child is made to feel that way in an environment that is supposed to be building her up, cheering her on and not making her feel like the class dunce. 

At the same time, I have loved every teacher she has had. I believe the school and the people in it are honestly doing their best to help my child succeed. So I just don’t understand what is happening or where the breakdown is.

I’m confused about my feelings for Common Core… It’s political, it’s a dirty word, it has ‘good intentions’ but its implementation sucks….

My quest isn’t political. I have no hidden agenda. My only goal is for my child to be afforded an education that nurtures real critical thinking, teaches her grammar and arithmetic, teaches her to love learning, to question, explore and so much more. 

I dread NJ ASK when 3rd grade comes. But I don’t want to just ‘opt out’ of the test… because I don’t see how that solves the greater problem. I’ve tried to search for alternative educations solutions but I really don’t know where to even begin.

We live in *******, where the school district claims to be one of the best in the state. I often feel alone in my opinion of the education she is receiving. So many friends and family members have told me to not worry. That the school system is fine. Its not fine. I am not fine and she is not fine. Tonight was horrible. Its not the first night that we have had like this. But I vowed it will be the last.

Do you have any recommendations as a starting place for alternative school options that don’t teach using Common Core standards? I can’t afford a private school. I just really don’t know what to do anymore.
November 27th, 2012

The Data of Work

Michael Schrage in the Harvard Business Review blog:

Where ambitious project managers, team leaders and business unit heads once visited their alma maters to interview top talent, they’ll increasingly be going back to check out their school’s attitude/aptitude/high-performance assessment algorithms. Where organizations once demanded student transcripts, they’ll now demand access to schools’ “advisory engine” software. Ironically, the biggest impact America’s higher education system may have on business is less about the students they educate than the tools and technologies they use to manage them.

What’s happening in higher education assessment today will increasingly define the job and performance reviews of tomorrow. It barely took five years for the iPhone to displace the Blackberry as the corporate mobile device of executive choice. How long do you think it will be before the software used to assess college students will be entrepreneurially transformed into Amazonesque and Netflixed-like services “recommending” whether you deserve a raise or a promotion? Whether the economy improves quickly or sluggishly, the technologies of assessment are going to reshape both your compensation and your opportunities.

September 19th, 2012

Our Numbers Obsession Will Kill Us

It’s been an assessment oriented day here on the ol’ blog.

From the Boston Globe:

But if Shaffer and other next-generation test designers share a dream of replacing pen-and-paper exams with process-oriented problem-solving exercises, they also share a thorny challenge: The skills they’re trying to measure are much harder to detect and quantify than, say, whether someone knows the quadratic formula. “It’s not just that [complex skills] are harder to isolate—it’s that they don’t exist in isolation,” said Shaffer.

Breaking down these multifaceted skills into testable qualities is difficult, and it’s something educators have been trying and failing to do for more than half a century. The first president of ETS, which has long administered the SAT, set out in 1948 to develop a test that could evaluate a student’s intellectual stamina, ability to get along with others, and so on—but the company eventually concluded it was too hard to measure in a reliable way. More recently, in the late 1980s and ’90s, the Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner participated in an effort to design new kinds of tests in the humanities that could be graded objectively. Ultimately, he found that the nuance required to measure softer skills collided with the demands of standardization. When a test needs to reliably compare students from across schools and districts, “there is pressure to simplify, have ironclad rubrics, essentially move toward multiple choice,” Gardner wrote in an e-mail.

And there you have it. “The nuance required to measure softer skills collided with the demands of standardization.” And god knows we need to standardize because if we don’t, how in the heck are we going to rank kids, evaluate teacher effectiveness, give letter grades to schools, assess teacher preservice programs, and beat Finland?

Here’s the thing: You may think the Common Core is more about critical thinking and skills than about content, a move in the right direction, but it doesn’t matter. The assessments will HAVE TO BE about the quantifiable, since we’ve done such a good job at raising the stakes around how the results will be used.

We’re borked.

According to the late Gerald Bracey, who conducted extensive research and authored numerous books about the misuse of data on education among policymakers, politicians, and the media, a measure of some of the most valuable achievements that test results cannot capture include: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, self-discipline, leadership, resourcefulness, and a sense of wonder [Emphasis mine].

The immeasurable

James Paul Gee:

“[Historically], the testing industry, because it was pragmatic, only tested what it was easy to test. But as a parent, I don’t want you to just test what’s easy to test, I want you to test what’s important to test.”

Sadly, that ain’t gonna happen. 

September 19th, 2012

On Assessment and Measurement

Alfie Kohn:

In education, the question “How do we assess kids/teachers/schools?” has morphed over the years into “How do we measure … ?” We’ve forgotten that assessment doesn’t require measurement, and, moreover, that the most valuable forms of assessment are often qualitative (say, a narrative account of a child’s progress by an observant teacher who knows the child well), rather than quantitative (a standardized-test score). Yet the former may well be brushed aside in favor of the latter by people who don’t even bother to ask what was on the test. It’s a number, so we sit up and pay attention. Over time, the more data we accumulate, the less we really know.

Amen.

August 3rd, 2012

The “Immeasurable” Part 2

I’ve been thinking about ways to represent the emphasis on the measurable that I wrote about a few weeks ago, and I’ve come up with this graph which, I think, comes close to capturing the problem right now. 

What I’m trying to get at is that our school assessment lives primarily in the bottom left part of that graph, and that we rarely if ever get to the “immeasurable” stuff that resides toward the top right. To put it another way, we focus in schools on that which is quantifiable when, I think, our real value as places of learning rests in that messy stuff that isn’t.

What do you think? Am I capturing something worth capturing here? Am I missing something? 

February 10th, 2012

"Open Network" Tests

I just recently ran across Jonathan Martin’s posts regarding the “Open Internet” tests that he’s piloting with some teachers at St. Gregory School in Arizona, and I’m just loving the thinking. In November of 2010, he first asked:

We know that content memorization must no longer [be] the goal of our learning programs; what our goal must be is that students can make the most sense of the voluminous and fast-accelerating quantity of information which will forever be at their fingertips, and about which they must be able to think critically, to select, to evaluate, to apply, and to amend as they tackle challenging problems. So why shouldn’t our school-tests evaluate our students ability to do exactly this?  Why not structure tests appropriately, and then invite and welcome (and require) our students to use their computers on their tests? Isn’t this real world, and real life, preparation?

A couple of months ago, Jonathan wrote about a chemistry teacher at his school who was letting students use the Internet to take tests, (check out the embedded annotated example test) and he added this piece of reasoning:

Our students are preparing to work in professional environments where they must tackle and resolve complex problems, and we know that in nearly every envisionable such environment, they will have laptops or other mobile, web-connected, digital tools to address those problems.   Let’s assess their  understanding in situations parallel to those for which we are preparing them.

Then, this week, Jonathan added a third post that documents the experiences of a Theater History teacher, and he refined his pitch for “Open Internet” tests even more:

I think this assessment approach is a highly valuable one for promoting deeper learning, information literacy, and analytic and organizational skill development over memorization and regurgitation.  I think that many tests in most subjects can be, with the right intentional design, “open internet” and that they will be the better for it.  Some argue against tests altogether, but I still love a good test, and taking the time to think through as a teacher what kind of questions can we ask which will continue to be meaningful assessments when Google and Wolfram Alpha are available is, I think, a highly productive exercise, and, of course, will generate a more authentic assessment experience far more well aligned with the real world of professionals for which we are preparing our students.

The student feedback about the test structure included in the post is instructive. For instance:

I liked this test because it allowed me to show what I know. With multiple choice tests, that’s not always obvious (it could just be a lucky guess or limited knowledge of something).  Short answer takes too much time and also isn’t the best option for full explanations. I also liked how we had some input on the test, because not only were the suggested questions helpful for studying, but it also forced me to think about the test long before the morning of.

Read the rest.

Now a couple of quick points and then a push. First, as both teachers that are featured in the posts point out, the thinking is a bit different when creating tests like these. For instance:

In his Chemistry class, Dr. Morris recognizes how radically the questions he asks must change if he knows his test-takers have access to the internet, Wolfram-Alpha, and a myriad of other sources on chemical information.   His questions must require his students to genuinely sort out what information they require, get that information, evaluate it, and then apply it to solve his now much more complex and rich questions. This is assessment for genuine understanding, not assessment of recall and regurgitation. It is far [more] likely to be assessment of lasting understanding and future applicability than typical memorization based testing.

Second, while the idea of going online to find answers may strike some as “cheating” and/or making things too easy, many of our students will find this more difficult:

This test does not have multiple choice or terms that we had to define. This is more about testing your ability to find resources that you need, write a quality essay under pressure. I find I like the multiple choice and defining terms better.

And now the push. What if we didn’t just make it about giving kids access to Google and Wolfram Alpha for test taking? What if we invited them to use their networks of peer learners and teachers as well? 

Awesome.

I know that this goes back to the “what do we really need to make sure kids are carrying around in their heads?” debate, and it speaks to the fact that not every child is going to have access to the Web at every moment (at least not in the near term.) But just think of all of the new ways we would be able to prepare kids to answer the questions that they will be asked in their real lives if we gave them a handful of “Open Network” tests before they graduated. I mean, why wouldn’t we be doing this?

And if you really want to go there, why wouldn’t we let kids access their networks for the Common Core assessments that are coming down the pike? 

Curious to hear your thoughts. Anyone else out there moving in this direction? Why or why not?

(Note: Jonathan will be presenting on these ideas at the NAIS conference next month in Seattle.) 

February 7th, 2012

The Sorry State of Standardized Writing

A couple of items from the world of writing and assessment have been niggling at me of late.

First, news that the Hewlett Foundation is sponsoring a $100,000 competition to create automated essay scoring software that, in theory at least, will do as good or better job of assessing student writing on standardized tests than the current human graders do. I get the reasoning behind this. Current “scoring mills” have turned test essay readers into skimmers, and the reality that the more kids write regardless of quality the better they score are well documented. And as currently structured, there is no way current assessments do anything to improve student writing. As always, it’s a time and money issue, but my initial reaction to this is if we value writing enough to make sure every child can do it reasonably well, we should also value the time and effort it takes to evaluate it reasonably well.

I remember the long, long hours of reading and responding to tens of thousands of essays during my English teacher days. The turnaround wasn’t always fast. The notes and marks and narrative comments on the page went largely unread despite the fact that I didn’t give a grade to most pieces. I spent as much time as I could holding conversations with kids about their writing both one on one and in small peer groups. The best assessment and advice came in that analysis and feedback where we had a chance to reflect and experiment with the writing. I know that many of my students learned to really appreciate failure in that process because it was a safe place to try things, to push their practice without any stakes, high or low. I know at the end of the day that every child, including my own, should reach some level of expression that allows them to communicate ideas clearly and compellingly, but I also know that the paths to that place are varied and filled with stops and starts. It’s a highly complex process, much more than putting comma in the right place and simply varying sentence structure (though both of those can’t hurt.)

Having said that, it’s scary to see what passes for acceptable writing on the state tests. Yesterday, Michael Winerip’s piece in the New York Times showed examples from the state scoring guide of writing from the state high school English Regents exam that should be scored a 1 on a 2-point scale:

These two Charater have very different mind Sets because they are creative in away that no one would imagen just put clay together and using leaves to create art.

I’m wondering why that would even get one point. Are we really satisfied that student is sufficiently ready to communicate in writing to the larger world? I get the tension here, too:

If the standard is set too high, so many will fail — including children with special education needs and students for whom English is a second language — that there will be a public outcry.

But if the standard is set too low, the result is a diploma that has little meaning.

But will machine scored essays fix this? The Hewlett Foundation seems to think so:

“Better tests support better learning,” says Barbara Chow, Education Program Director at the Hewlett Foundation. “Rapid and accurate automated essay scoring will encourage states to include more writing in their state assessments. And the more we can use essays to assess what students have learned, the greater the likelihood they’ll master important academic content, critical thinking, and effective communication.”

Look, I’m on board that kids should write more, and that learning what a student has learned by having her write is better than having her fill in bubbles for questions she can use her phones to answer if we let her. But here’s the problem: this is more about money than it is about serving kids well. Let’s be honest, while it may be less consistent and more complex, and while it may take more time and money to get it right, human graders have a distinct advantage over machines when it comes to writing: emotion.  I love the way the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) puts it:

Automated assessment programs do not respond as human readers. While they may promise consistency, they distort the very nature of writing as a complex and context-rich interaction between people. They simplify writing in ways that can mislead writers to focus more on structure and grammar than on what they are saying by using a given structure and style.

Here’s what I know will happen once we move to the machines: we’ll help kids learn how to write what the machines want instead of focusing on the power and beauty and uniqueness of human communication. I can name a slew of brilliant writers who would probably fail the test because they wrote in a unique, compelling style that went far beyond our traditional thinking around “good writing.” Sure, in the name of efficiency we can choose to set the bar low and reward kids for putting together a sentence that’s barely readable but conveys a simple thought regardless. But why wouldn’t we choose something better? 

In the end, I’m getting tired of “efficiencies” when it comes to education. But that’s a larger discussion of priorities that really needs to be left to another day…

July 22nd, 2011

Why the Tests Don’t Work

This is about as succinct an argument against standardized tests as I’ve come across yet. Written by William Wraga, a professor in the program in educational administration and policy at the College of Education, University of Georgia, it’s in response to the cheating scandal now rocking the Atlanta Public School System, and it clearly lays out the case that we are not doing much to assess our kids’ knowledge OR promote a learning disposition when we use them.

Research has found that when high-stakes tests are used:

1. Educators will teach to the tests.

2. Curriculum narrows to that which is on the test.

3. Instruction narrows to skill-drill test prep.

4. Academically disaffected students are more likely to drop out of school.

5. The pressure to raise scores in the face of severe sanctions increases the incidence of unethical behavior.

Research has not found sufficient evidence to support the notion that implementing high-stakes tests will improve student learning. In short, research suggests that high-stakes testing accountability measures not only will not improve education, but also may actually undermine education. Why would we enact a policy that would do that to educators and students?

Even without the research, this isn’t rocket science, is it? Very little of what we test is useful knowledge to any individual child, and we basically have no idea to what extent students can build on that knowledge nonetheless. It’d be nice if we trusted teachers a bit more to do that. 

(Do take a moment to read this reply to get the gist of the dysfunction in our thinking about this. The system is just doing a horrible job of teaching critical thinking, obviously.)

July 18th, 2011

Another Reason to “Ditch Testing”: Cheating

Yong Zhao has an interesting series of posts on how cheating scandals around standardized tests are growing and becoming, for all intents, an important part of the why we should get rid of them argument.

The evidence is clear. Test-score cheating is not isolated to Atlanta, Baltimore, and a few other schools, as testing proponents tend to suggest. It is not a problem that can be fixed with technical measures such as tightened security. It may be human nature but it is the high and unreasonable pressure of high-stakes standardized testing that leads to corruption. Thus, we cannot minimize the problem, trivialize potential solutions, or blame a few educators who have been caught. The Atlanta scandal should serve as a wake-up call to all of us, especially to those who continue to promote testing as a necessary and effective way to improve education.

He goes on to summarize the other reasons why we should get rid of the test in terms of the other “costs” to both budgets and psyches.

A number of states are now moving their testing over onto computers in the next few years, and I’m already hearing that “it won’t be as easy to cheat” when that happens. Doubtful. The incentives to cheat have been made stronger, not reduced by the recent Race to the Top stupidity. 

Anyway, all five parts of this series are well worth the read.

July 15th, 2011

Testing Kindergartners

So during vacation it apparently came out that a new Obama edu-initiative appeared, called by some “Race to the Top for Tots.” You guessed it…we’re now going to be giving money to states who can show that it’s preschoolers are test ready for elementary school. Cooper Zale has a great reflection on this fact that ties in nicely to the research that I cited in my post here yesterday. The absurdity continues:

But my fear is that in our instructional obsession (including a focus on a drill and test approach to ensure that instruction “sticks” at least until after the test), state funded and regulated preschool programs will be pushed in the direction of teaching to the test, which I believe would do a great disservice to our kids’ healthy development.  “Kindergarten readiness tests” are one thing if they are a low-stakes assessment for parents and other adults that work with the kid.  They are quite another thing when they become a high-stakes assessment by the state of which preschool programs will receive or not receive funding.

If as I fear it becomes a high-stakes situation, adult preschool staff are highly likely to increase their efforts to direct children’s play more, while the study I cited above says that children’s development is generally facilitated by directing their play less.  Even now, from my anecdotal experience, I’m concerned that many parents, childcare providers and teachers are way too directive when it comes to children’s skill development.

And it’s already happening. In this piece by Milwaukee kindergarten teacher Kelly McMahon in Rethinking Schools from a year ago (reg. req.), she recounts the number of tests that her 5-year-olds took in the 08-09 school year. 

  • Milwaukee Public Schools’ 5-Year-Old Kindergarten Assessment (completed three times a year)
  • On the Mark Reading Verification Assessment (completed three times a year)
  • A monthly writing prompt focused on different strands of the Six Traits of Writing
  • 28 assessments measuring key early reading and spelling skills
  • Chapter pre- and post-tests for all nine math chapters completed
  • Three additional assessments for each math chapter completed
  • A monthly math prompt
  • Four Classroom Assessments Based on Standards (CABS) per social studies chapter (20 total)
  • Four CABS assessments per science chapter (20 total)
  • Four CABS assessments per health chapter (20 total)

It’s hard to come to any other conclusion that we have simply lost our collective minds when it comes to learning, and the worst part of it is, there is no leadership at the highest levels that a) has an understanding of the really powerful negative effects of standardization, and b) is willing to educate us and move us collectively in a different direction. In that vacuum, we have Bill Gates and Jeb Bush and other non-educators who can’t see learning as anything but a bunch of numbers and data that can be sold to vendors and, now, parents.

But here is the bigger problem, I think. An engaged citizenry would have picked up this fight by now. I’m constantly amazed at how few people I talk to outside of my network really don’t have any sense of what this system is doing to their kids, and, more importantly, the kids in inner cities who don’t have nearly the advantages and opportunities they do. The fact we haven’t mustered much of a collective fight speaks volumes about the negative effects of a system that now is going to dumb down our youngest learners even more. 

July 14th, 2011

My Kids Need Some Creative Disobedience

Seems like I’m hitting a creativity theme here of late, but if you have 15 minutes to read this most excellent piece titled “The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience" by Andrea Kuszewski in Scientific American, you won’t regret it. It’s a research based look at why traditional teaching methods suck the creativity out of us and the hard work each of us needs to do to escape the effects as we grow into adulthood. The last paragraph captures the idea and the urgency:

What is supposed to be the most critical learning period for shaping children into the leaders of tomorrow has evolved over the years into a stifling of the creative instinct—wasting the age of imagination—which we then spend the rest of our lives trying to reconnect with. The time has never been more ready for systemic change than right now, and we’ve never had better tools to achieve this level of creative disobedience, to successfully prepare our children for the big challenges that lie ahead. It might be uncomfortable and take a bit of work, but our future depends on this radical change in order to survive.

Let me just add here the effects on creativity of the assessments we currently use are no less of a factor in this. They are what drive our teaching methods, and until we find a path to assessing something other than basic skills and content knowledge, we are assured of deepening the creativity crisis that is already here.

One more quick note of connection. I’m almost done with Eli Pariser’s great new book “The Filter Bubble,” and I hope to be blogging some thoughts on it shortly. But there is deep resonance between his thesis (watch his TED Talk to get the gist) that current search metrics are severely narrowing our access to the world of ideas and this quote from the Kuszewski article:

While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution…it seems that by directly instructing children—giving them the answers to problems, then testing them on memory—we are inhibiting creative problem solving, to quite a significant degree.

In a few words, we are killing creativity on all fronts. And we’re going to have to change the way we teach (as well as, to a large extent, what we teach) if we’re to resuscitate it in our kids.

And, in the end, it’s not just about our kids. We need creative, “problem-finding” teachers in our classrooms as well. How do we get there?

July 13th, 2011

Standardizing Creativity and Innovation. Really?

From a lengthy .pdf titled “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" by Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, this snip jumped out at me as one that captures the challenges that our testing mindset is bringing us:

The new Common Core State Standards for mathematics and English and the work being done by the two assessment consortia will begin to address some of these issues, but, even when that work is done, the United States will still be at an enormous disadvantage relative to our competitors. We will have tests in these two subjects that are still not squarely based on clearly drawn curricula. The two consortia are betting heavily on the ability of computer-scored tests to measure the more complex skills and the creativity and capacity for innovation on which the future of our economy is likely to depend. No country that is currently out-performing the United States is doing that or is even considering doing that, because they are deeply skeptical that computer-scored tests or examinations can adequately measure the acquisition of the skills and knowledge they are most interested in. If the United States is right about this, we will wind up with a significant advantage over our competitors in the accuracy, timeliness and cost of scoring. If we are wrong, we will significantly hamper our capacity to measure the things we are most interested in measuring and will probably drive our curricula in directions we will ultimately regret.

What kills me is that we are even attempting to measure creativity and innovation by a “computer scored test” when we have this thing called a teacher already in the room and the potential of many other human assessors via the network who could do a much better job. Inherent in all of this is a deep distrust of the ability of humans to do the work of preparing our children for their worlds. On some level, I get that…we have a lot of work to do to bring the profession to a different, more effective place when it comes to developing the learning dispositions we want in both teachers and students. But surely, investing in that process, creating a new normal of teaching and learning will better serve our kids than attempting to standardize creativity. 

Right?

Our policy makers have this deep love of the test for lots of reasons: money, power, politics. But at it’s root, it’s because they are not educators. They can’t define and communicate what real learning is and looks like to their constituents, people who have all formed their own views of learning in test centric schools (for the most part.) They crave the easy answer. They can’t lead on this, but neither are they willing to let others, the real experts on learning, the educators in our schools, take the reins. That, ultimately, is what we will come to regret most of all.

June 13th, 2011

National Tests Yield Few Results

Heavily testing students and relying on their scores in order to hold schools — and in some cases teachers — accountable has become the norm in education policy. The No Child Left Behind Act, the largest piece of education legislation on the federal level, for example, uses performance on math and reading exams to gauge whether schools are failing or succeeding — and which schools are closed or phased out.

“Incentives are powerful, which means they don’t always do what they want them to do,” said Kevin Lang, a committee member who also chairs Boston University’s economics department. “As applied so far, they have not registered the type of improvements that everyone has hoped for despite the fact that it’s been a major thrust of education reform for the last 40 years.”

The tests educators rely on are often too narrow to measure student progress, according to the study. The testing system also failed to adequately safeguard itself, the study added, providing ways for teachers and students to produce results that seemed to reflect performance without actually teaching much.

That last sentence, the idea that we have a system that allows us to produce results without actually teaching much, is a huge indictment of the current educational framework. I’m starting to think more and more that the assessment “problem” is where we should be spending our energies more and more.

(Source: The Huffington Post)

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