Tag Archives: Testing

Your Bar Graphs Don’t Impress (or Inspire) Me.

Years ago when we were Racing to the Top and Leaving No Child Behind, a district leader of a professional development session for language arts teachers that I was sitting in asked participating teams to share their greatest accomplishment from the previous school year.

He was nudging teams towards describing the measurable growth that their students had made towards mastering important outcomes in their required curriculum — “Really look at that test score data,” he said.  “What patterns do you see?  What can we celebrate about your work together!”

Group after group stood up with pie charts and bar graphs, proud of the fact that they had increased student mastery of core curriculum objectives by 6.3% or that benchmark screening data showed that growth in reading proficiency averaged 14 months — and sometimes more for their “at risk” populations.

And then I got up to represent our team.  “Our greatest accomplishment was Jarius*” I said, sharing a beautiful picture of a boy who had won our hearts in place of the pie charts everyone was expecting.

He’d been “a behavior problem” his entire school career — chronically in trouble, chronically absent, and chronically behind academically as a result.  He’d tested us early on — but once he realized that we were on his side, he invested fully.  We pushed him — using data to identify gaps in his knowledge and then developing lessons tailored to address those gaps.  Just as importantly, we tinkered with the role that relationships play in driving student learning — and learned lessons that I still apply today.

I’m not sure how Mr. PD Man felt about our presentation.  But I’m also not sure that he realized I was sending a message that everyone in that flippin’ rippin’ room needed to hear.

My point was a simple one:  Our greatest achievements should never be moving SCORES forward.  Our greatest achievements should be moving STUDENTS forward.

When we stop talking about kids and start talking about numbers, we lose the moral imperative of our work.  The passion that drew every one of us into the classroom in spite of crappy salaries, long hours and little public respect is the notion that we can make a difference in the lives of the kids that we cross paths with.

You can’t motivate me to work harder or to give more by celebrating statistical growth.  Bar graphs bore me.  They feel cold and impersonal — and there’s nothing about the hearts of the best teachers that is cold and impersonal.

Want to motivate me?  Show me a kid who is struggling mightily and ask me if there’s something that I can do to help.  I’ll work harder than anyone you’ve ever seen.  I’m more than willing to throw your data away — but I’ll never throw a kid away.

Now lemme ask YOU an uncomfortable question:  Are your school’s most important goals and/or celebrations SCORE driven or STUDENT driven?   

Odds are that, if you are being honest, you just said, “Score Driven.”

Here’s how I know:  When I look at the websites of schools and districts that I consult with, I see tons of impressive sounding statements like, “We will increase graduation rates by 8% by 2018” or “The percentage of students in our school who are college and career ready will move from 71.8 to 74.5% by 2019.”

Those goals aren’t surprising.  They are a by-product of the accountability culture that has strangled education for the past twenty years.  We think that measurable outcomes define our credibility.

And by no means would I argue that we should IGNORE evidence when trying to determine just how successful we have been as an organization.

But imagine how much more powerful our goals and celebrations would be if you told the story of students who you had moved forward.  Shouldn’t every team be able to point to kids like Jarius that they had influenced?  Inspiration matters — and stories of kids who are better off because of the work that we are doing together are a thousand times more inspiring than banners touting the fact that we “exceeded growth expectations” for the third year running.

George Couros calls this being Child Driven, Evidence Informed.

I call it the first step towards capturing the hearts and minds of your teachers again.  

#trudatchat

 

*Jarius wasn’t his real name.  But his accomplishments really were our greatest success that year.  Take THAT, Data Guy.

___________________

Related Radical Reads:

Meaningful Ain’t Always Measurable

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

A Parent’s Reflection on School Letter Grades

Do Your Students Treasure Answers or Collect Questions?

One of the brightest minds I know is a guy named Evan Sharp.  I had the chance to meet Evan at Educon this year and his drive to wrestle with big ideas was instantly contagious.

At one point over the last year, Evan shared this cartoon with me.  

Go ahead and read it.

I’ll wait.

Really.  I want you to read it.

It’s interesting, right?  And it has me thinking this morning.  In fact, it’s stirred up a bunch of provocative questions that have been sitting in the back of my mind.  

Here’s just a few:

Do school cultures teach kids to treasure answers or to collect questions?

We know the answer to this one, don’t we?  Knowledge driven curricula and high-stakes, fact-based end of grade exams have placed a high priority on answers and a low priority on questions.

Need proof?

Ask the kids in your classroom two questions.  Tell them that you are going to grade the first and the second is just for fun.  See which one they tackle first/work hardest on.

#sheesh

How will a “treasuring answers” attitude towards learning help and/or harm students in today’s world?

I’ll admit it:  I’m SUPER skeptical about the “treasuring answers” approach to learning that we’ve taken in the last few decades in American schools.

I think it was a function of easy accountability instead of an attempt to truly prepare students to be successful in life.  And I think kids who treasure answers will struggle with the one skill that Seymour Papert identified as essential for being competitive in today’s world:  Knowing how to act in situations for which you were not specifically prepared.

Treasuring answers feels like rehearsal to me.  “What am I going to be asked — and how do others want me to answer those questions?”

Collecting questions feels like discovery to me.  “What can I find that no one else has considered before — and why are those new discoveries important to me and to the people around me?”

But IS there a place for treasuring answers in school?  SHOULD we be preparing kids with a solid foundation of basic information that they can draw on and from?  More importantly, is it possible to ask good questions if you don’t have a solid foundation of basic information to draw from?

What’s the right balance between treasuring answers and collecting questions?

What steps can we take to create learning spaces where the questions that kids ask are perceived as just as valuable as answers that they give?

Maybe this is an easy fix.  Maybe teachers should just create time and space for their kids to ask and answer their own questions in class.  Kind of like the Wonder Question project that I started tinkering with last year.

Or maybe we need to begin educating parents — who often have traditional views of schooling based on their own experiences in classrooms decades ago — about the tension between treasuring answers and collecting questions.

Maybe we need to do a better job identifying (and eliminating) the nonessentials in our curricula to create time and space for questioning.

Or maybe we should start grading questions.

(That was a joke, people!)


Related Radical Reads:

What Kind of Students is YOUR School Producing?

Wonder = Joy (And Joy Should be Shared!)

More on the Challenge of Wondering in Schools.

Does This Sound Like YOUR School?

This is the worst time of the school year for me.  

That’s because we are in the middle of the long slog to the End of Grade Exams — a series of high stakes tests that, at least here in North Carolina, are used to rate and evaluate everyone and everything connected with public education.

What’s crazy to me, though, is the VAST majority of the content assessed on our end of grade exams — particularly in social studies and science — is content that can be Googled.

(click here to view image and credits on Flickr)

Slide - Taught In Schools

Need some examples?

My students will need to know the difference between intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks, the difference between longitudinal and transverse waves, and the impact that density has on both light and sound.  They’ll need to be able to name both the male and female parts of plants, explain the difference between atoms and elements, and identify chemical and physical properties of matter.

They’ll be asked about the reasons for the seasons, the reason for eclipses, and the reason for tides.  They’ll have to know the layers of the earth and the characteristics of habitable planets.  They’ll see questions about the focus and epicenter of earthquakes, the compressions and rarefactions in sound waves, and the lens and cornea in your eyes.

Should I keep going?

Now don’t get me wrong:  I understand the importance of having foundational knowledge about essential content.  It’s impossible to make new discoveries when you have no basic understanding of what’s happening in the world around you — and while it’s POSSIBLE to Google darn near everything in our required curriculum, it’s also incredibly inefficient and time consuming.  Fluency with core ideas matters.

But it’s also important to understand that by tying high stakes tests to mastery of basic facts, we are fundamentally changing what happens in the science classroom.

As a teacher, I’m forced into making a decision between spending class time on wondering and investigation and collaboration OR spending class time covering as many basic facts as possible.  Choose the former, and I’ll have students who are better prepared to be the kind of inquisitive scientists who make important discoveries that change the world.  Choose the latter and I’ll have students who are better prepared to pass our state’s standardized exams.

I know what you are thinking, y’all:  Why can’t you do both?  Why can’t you integrate inquiry into classrooms where students ALSO walk away with a solid understanding of basic facts?

The answer is you can — as long as the list of “basic facts” that kids are expected to know is manageable.  And at least now — in North Carolina — that’s not the case.  Our essential curriculum is massive and unmanageable.

That has to change.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year

 

I Support Kyle Williams for Secretary of Education.

Yup.  THAT Kyle Williams.  Defensive Tackle for the Buffalo Bills:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Image licensed Creative Commons Attribution by Jeffrey Beall)

Now I know what you are thinking:  Why the HECK would we ever want to name an NFL player to such an important position in the federal government?  How is THAT guy qualified?

My snarky answer:  “Come ON.  Qualifications?  Did you see who we elected president?”

(I didn’t say that out loud, did I?)

But if you’re the kind of person that IS all hung up on qualifications, check out how Williams — an impact player for the Bills for over a decade who wasn’t given much of a chance at a meaningful career when he was drafted out of LSU in 2006 because his arms weren’t as long as they were supposed to be to play defensive tackle in the NFL — described the role that metrics should play in judging NFL prospects in a recent interview with the Buffalo News:

“So I really didn’t much care what anybody’s opinion was about whether I could or couldn’t play because nobody else knew. ‘All right, well, his arms are an inch and a half short.’ There’s a lot more involved in this game you can’t measure than what you can. That’s what makes players great. What gives guys longevity are the things they can’t put their finger on or put their stopwatch to.”

Williams is right, isn’t he?  Success in the NFL isn’t dependent on the length of  some guy’s arms.  But as ridiculous as that may sound, that’s EXACTLY why Williams slipped to the fifth round in the draft. 

Now translate that argument to education.  In our quest to rank and sort and rate schools and teachers and kids, we’ve put a hell of a lot of weight on metrics (read:  standardized test scores).  We celebrate schools and teachers and kids who do well on those metrics — and we shame and punish those who don’t.  But ask ANYONE with common sense and a bit of experience and they can give you a LIST of schools and teachers and students who were remarkably successful in spite of their “scores.”  Better yet, they can also give you a LIST of schools and teachers and students who earned the highest marks but were complete failures.

So what’s my point?  

Simple:  There’s a lot more involved in OUR game that you can’t measure than what you can.  What’s more, the things that make schools and teachers and kids great are rarely measurable — and the things we CAN measure aren’t all that important.

That’s a message that every #edpolicy maker needs to hear if we are going to create the kinds of learning spaces that students deserve.

#trudatchat

#gobills

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Related Radical Reads:

Lessons Schools Can Learn from the Pittsburgh Steelers

I Wouldn’t Want to Work with Walter Payton.

Lessons #edpolicy Nation Can Learn from Andrew Luck