Sir? Would You Mind Taking this Test?

My daughter texted me yesterday morning, wanting to meet at the coffee shop to talk about an article she’d just discovered. She texted me the URL, It’s not a recent article and is actually one of Valerie Strauss‘ (The Answer Sheet) reprints of a blog article [link/pdf], written by Marion Brady (veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author).

The article concerned a forth-term Florida district school board member, a friend of Marion’s, who had taken a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th graders.  After taking the test, the board member called Brady, and this repeatedly re-elected board member, who helps to oversee 22,000 employees and a $3 billion budget and claims to be “able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities,” said that he “hadn’t done well.”

He confessed that he wasn’t confident about any of the 60 math questions, “but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly.”  On the reading test, he got 62% of the questions right.  In an email to Brady, his friend wrote,

It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of (that) life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.

Strauss later identified and interviewed the school board member, and reported on that interview in “Revealed: School Board member who took standardized test.”

My daughter, who is certified to teach elementary grades and high school history, but has given up finding a teaching job (2008 recession followed by recent school staff cuts imposed by our state General Assembly [see]), expressed outrage.  She is currently struggling to score well enough on the GRE to get into the graduate school of her choice.

That Florida school board member’s experience suggests a question that we are still not asking in any substantive way.  We eagerly, actively, and obsessively ask,

“What kind of teaching best practices lead to higher standardized test scores?”

We are not asking,

“How do higher scores on high-stakes standardized tests lead to satisfying, successful and productive lives and a better world?”

Brady says that decisions about how we assess teaching are,

..shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.

How many of us, productive and successful adults, would willingly and confidently take our state’s high-stakes standardized test, especially if our freedom to move forward was based on passing those tests?  

What would our legislative bodies look like, if a requirement for serving elected office was to pass the same tests that they impose on their 15 year old children?

This article has also been written about here:

Actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt also posted a link to the article here.


Such a Punch…

Cropped from a Flickr Image by Fiona Grant

My last blog post just just shy of 1000 words. Vera B. Hoyle (my senior English teachers) would be proud. But in this day and time of being overwhelmed by information, it’s the short statement that counts.

Gary Stager and I can quibble about a trillionth here and a trillionth there, but he certainly packs a punch and says what’s true in this comment posted on a recent blogging by Will Richardson.

If a human is breathing, he is a “true learner.”

School teaches at best a trillionth of the knowledge available on the planet yet we quibble endlessly over which trillionth of a percent is most important. (short answer – the most trivial and less useful least useful)

Who cares?

If teaching was an actual profession, all curriculum and assessment issues would be resolved internally within that profession, not imposed by committees of anonymous (and amateur) bureaucrats.

What is the “true lesson” of education for students when they see their teachers routinely trampled and become increasingly helpless?

This obsession with measurement of human achievement IN ALL OF ITS FORMS is a form of arrogance at best and psychosis at worst.

No more to be said, but thanks, Gary…

Added later: Also passed along from Gary —

It Wasn’t the Same that it Was a Few Minutes Ago!

I took this picture, walking out to the car last night.

I know that some keynote speakers do not do this as a general rule, because it is “work,” and I understand this position, but one of the best parts of my job is getting invited to dinner by local district ed tech leaders or conference organizers the evening before the event.  Granted, I’m not always excited about it, when I’ve been traveling all day and I’m tired.  But I’m always (ALWAYS) energized and I’m always going back to my room with something I didn’t know before.

Last night it was with four folks of the Thompson School District, in Loveland (love´-lund), Colorado, just south of Fort Collins.  Diana (sorry if I get the names wrong) is experiencing her first Colorado winter, a former eMints coach from Missouri.  She shared a lot about the structured eMints approach, and the adaptability that is enabled by their constant collaborations.  Jenny comes from the media side and is with redefining the school library and asking all the right questions.  Monica Monika is one of the most innovative and open educators I’ve met — and courageous.  In a district that has things fairly locked down (like most), she’s convinced the PTB to open her classroom and ask her students to bring their computers to class and integrate (students are asked to integrate the tech).  And then Kellie Bashor, the district technology integration coordinator, did what good leaders do — she listened.

I think that the high point for me was when Diana was asked what she would be presenting tomorrow (today) at the district’s staff development event.  She said, “It’s Not the Same Thing it was Going to be a Few Minutes Ago.”  That is the perfect title for a conference presentation, and I got her permission to use it.

One of the stats I’ll be including in my keynote this morning is that only a few years ago, the world was doubling technical knowledge every two years.  At some point, during 2010, knowledge will be doubling every 72 hours.  The the test answers are going to be changing.  We need to get rid of the high-stakes tests.  They are irrelevant, counter-productive, and harmful to our children and their future.

In a time of change, we should not be asking, “Did you learn this?”

Instead we should be saying, every day,

“Show me what you’ve learned!  … and surprise me!”

I think it’s going to be a good day.

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