Getting Around

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pro-Solution, Not Anti-Reform

I'm not sure what did it, but something sent me in a rage this morning about the anti-reform movement in education. Before you flame me, hear me out.

People who know me personally know that I don't care to teach to the test. I am a firm believer in teaching what I'm supposed to teach in the most engaging manner I can that respects each student's learning needs. I'm not a huge fan of the standardized tests we have now, and I have little faith that the new ones coming with CCSS will be any better.

I tell my students that complaints will get them nowhere. They need to be looking for solutions, no matter how frustrating that is. I am tired of all the complaining in the anti-reform movement. It's time to come up with student-centered solutions.

Putting my money where my mouth is, here's my stab. Just a place to get the conversation going.


We need to give up on the "or" attitude. It's time to look for an "and" attitude. As in, "I know we need to allow children to construct their own meaning in their own time, AND I respect your need to make sure the children we send out in the world can actually read." We don't have to choose one, we need to find some moderation that helps children learn to function in this world.

Change is not always bad, people, and if we don't try we'll never know if there's a better way.


I have no problem with standards. In fact, they guide me in what students should learn. But we need to understand that writing MORE standards does not make them "rigorous."  It just makes them impossible. My own state has math standards a mile wide and an inch deep. Our state politicians are reconsidering the CCSS because our standards are more "rigorous." But numerous does not equal rigorous on the ground. What those politicians don't understand is that students cannot possibly learn all the standards in any given year because there are too many and they're too unconnected. Note that I didn't say I couldn't cover them. I can. But most of my students are not able to move that quickly. So whether I cover them or our district decides which ones are most important so I have some focus, my students are not learning them all. For me, CCSS is a step in a more sane direction. Not perfect, but an attempt to move toward better. They are better sequenced and deeper than our state standards, which aren't really that bad, just too many.


I respect the need of the people who send money to my school district to know that their money is producing an educated citizenry. So, I offer a few changes to testing:

Have teachers write the tests. 

That sounds crazy, but I'd be happy to contribute to a bank of questions based on the standards that some fancy-pants, highly-paid non-educator can then turn into tests. It means less centralized control but more input from the people who are actually teaching the stuff that's tested. We have the technology, we can build this. Heck, I used to write systems to do this kind of collaborate work for businesses, and I'm no genius.

Don't evaluate everyone every year. 

We have a cutoff for passing. I say, have a cutoff for skipping. If you get above some certain score on your multiple choice test (which should be much higher than the passing cutoff), you can skip testing for a year or two. I need to focus on the kids who need remediation. I know who those kids are and it's fair to evaluate how much farther they need to go on a regular basis. Testing everyone all the time doesn't tell me that and wastes resources. While everyone else is testing, these top kids should be working on an interdisciplinary problem that will provide their teachers with the QUALITATIVE data that current standardized testing can't. Don't whine to me about logistics on this. Where there's a will, there's a way, and you know it.

Use some task-based testing. 

Yes, this is hard to design and evaluate in a standardized fashion, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt it. No one will EVER walk up to my students in the street, provide them with the dimensions of their garden, and ask how many tiles they should buy for the perimeter. But their grandmothers might ask for help with an actual garden and only an idea of what the end result should be. We can get all sorts of data from actual, real-world tasks (I am NOT talking about ridiculous, so-called, real-world word problems) beyond whether they've learned the standards that will help us help whole children learn.

Use tests in the manner for which they were designed. 

Standardized tests right now are not really designed to assess if teachers did a good job. I'd argue they also don't necessarily test whether students have mastered the standards, but that's a rant for another day. If we want to evaluate teachers based on tests that students take, someone smarter than I am will have to build a more appropriate test. I don't mind being evaluated by my students' performance, but I do mind being evaluated by an inappropriate tool for that job.

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