Let’s be honest about annual testing

Testing pencils

Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.

All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.

Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.

Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?

Image credit: perfect, romana klee


3-month updates: Digital Leadership Daily, School Visibility Initiative

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

Three months ago I launched both Digital Leadership Daily and our School Visibility Initiative.

Digital Leadership Daily is now up to 714 subscribers across its text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook channels.

The School Visibility Initiative now has 66 participating schools from 29 unique states and countries.

Awesome!


Whipping people into line

Bullwhip

Sir Ken Robinson said:

It’s not the need for standards. It’s the way they play out. . . . testing is not some benign educational process. It is a multibillion-dollar industry that is absorbing massive time, resources and cash that could be used for other things. Its a massive profit-making machine. . . . You can look at the value of there being some sort of commonly-agreed standards and some core content that could be helpful to schools. That’s one conversation. You can look at some value of some form of diagnostic testing. But when you look at it cumulatively and lay the politics on top of it, it’s just a mess. . . . People are just exhausted by this whole enterprise. . . . If you don’t implement reforms, then you don’t get the cash. It’s just trying to whip people into line. And it doesn’t have to be that way, as other countries are showing, looking for more creative approaches to education. . . .

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/sir-ken-robinson-has-a-lot-to-say-about-u-s-school-reform-it-isnt-good

Image credit: 10’Morgan Blacksnake, AldoZL

 


There’s no diagnostic value in locked-down summative assessments

Diane Ravitch said:

It’s totally inappropriate to compare opting out of testing to opting out of immunization. One has a scientific basis, the other has none. The tests that kids take today have nothing to do with the tests that we took when we were kids. When we were kids, we took an hour test to see how we did in reading, an hour test to see how we did in math. Children today in third grade are taking eight hours of testing. They’re spending more time taking tests than people taking the bar exam.

Now, when we talk about the results of the test, they come back four to six months later. The kids already have a different teacher. And all they get is a score and a ranking. The teachers can’t see the item analysis. They can’t see what the kids got wrong. They’re getting no instructional gain, no possibility of improvement for the kids, because there’s no value to the test. They have no diagnostic value.

[It’s as] if you go to a doctor and you say, ‘I have a pain,’ and the doctor says, ‘I’ll get back to you in six months,’ and he gets back to you and tells you how you compare to everyone else in the state, but he doesn’t have any medicine for you.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/16/why-the-debate-between-diane-ravitch-and-merryl-tisch-was-remarkable


If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity

Sir Ken Robinson said:

Politicians often scratch their heads over [persistent educational] problems. Sometimes, they punish schools for not making the grade. Sometimes, they fund remedial programs to get them back on track. But the problems persist and in many ways they’re getting worse. The reason is that many of these problems are being caused by the system itself.

If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/how-to-really-change-education-excerpt-from-sir-ken-robinsons-new-book


How does losing 1,000+ teaching positions make Iowa schools better?

#PinkApril30

Patrick Kearney said:

I had a Republican legislator [in Iowa] reference me saying that I was “wrong” in my writing on school funding. Yet, after saying I was “wrong” he admitted that Republican legislators are using large amounts of tax dollars (80% of next year’s state revenues) for corporate property tax relief. He wrote that the state simply couldn’t afford more than a 1.25% increase in K-12 school funding, yet state budget experts say that we have $717 million in state reserves and don’t even need to touch our state surplus in order to support education spending and still balance the budget. He said he didn’t have any problems with teachers, but it sure seemed crazy that those darned teacher unions were asking for 4% salary increases (although Iowa teachers make at least $5,000 less than the national average). He admitted that the 1.25% growth included money from the governor’s Teacher Leadership Compensation plan that was never intended to be included in SSA (what used to be allowable growth). I was perplexed as to what I have said that is wrong. I’m not even saying Republican legislators are “wrong”, I’m simply saying that I disagree with their priorities. I disagree that losing over 1,000 teaching positions in Iowa make Iowa schools better. I disagree that our money is better spent on corporate tax loop holes and corporate property tax relief than on education.

via https://patrickjkearney.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/april-30-2015-in-iowa

Image credit: ISEA


Science for life and citizenship, not just for scientists

Science Is You

Arthur Camins said:

Despite inducements to change, and a half-century of research-based consensus that students would be well served by more active learning and less lecture and memorization, the latter practices are still ubiquitous. While we remain the world’s leading generator of science and engineering innovation, far too many Americans lack sufficient understanding of the foundational principles of the scientific investigations and engineering designs that have improved our lives.

As a result, they are unable to fully engage in informed participation in debates about such critical issues as climate change, sustainable development and genetic engineering…

the case for a substantial change in what happens in science classrooms. It wants students not to simply memorize what scientists already know but engage in the practices of scientists and engineers in order to understand – and potentially participate in – figuring out and explaining the natural world. Decades of learning science research suggest that this approach is far more likely to result in durable, usable knowledge. This learning includes developing the expertise to evaluate whether scientific explanations and arguments are supportable, refutable or in need of revision.

The third important idea is that scientific literacy is not just specialized knowledge for the gifted few or those who choose science or engineering as a career, but essential for life and citizenship.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/20/what-the-future-of-science-education-should-look-like

Image credit: Science Is You, Krissy Venosdale


If you’re an Iowan, wear pink tomorrow

Pink slips tweet

Tomorrow is #PinkApril30, so named because of the unfilled teaching positions and educator pink slips that Iowa school districts will have next year because their operational funding won’t be enough to keep up with inflation despite our state’s strong economy and full reserves. It’s been an extremely disappointing year as we’ve watched our House propose to cut funding from both our public schools and our public universities. We’re already underfunded compared to most states and we know that investments in our youth are critical for current and future success, yet we are disinvesting in our children and instead finding new ways to reduce state revenue. It looks like we’re trying to be Kansas (sorry, Kansans).

Will wearing pink do anything to break apart our legislators’ intransigence? Will wearing pink do anything to force our policymakers to compromise? Will wearing pink do anything to give our schools what they need to keep the lights on and the buses running? No, probably not, but it might at least make you feel a little solidarity with the rest of us who are so dang frustrated…

Said No Iowan Ever


The backwards bicycle [VIDEO]

What a backwards bicycle can teach us about learning… Fascinating.

Hat tip: Will Richardson


Trading pills for recess

Recess

Janelle Wilson said:

For some reason, we have traded sunshine, wind on our faces, and running for more desk time and tests. Magically, older students no longer need to move and run. That’s what we pretend anyway. We’ve even started pretending that elementary students don’t need recess either, and then we wonder when our kids can’t sit still. Instead of prescribing some time outside in the fresh air, we prescribe pills for hyperactivity.

via http://mrswilsonscience.com/stretchingforward/is-it-time-to-stop-pretending-aprilblogaday-makeschooldifferent

Image credit: First Friday of School, Bruce McKay


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