Monday, April 23, 2012

Edupocalypse

It was too tempting to outright call this “Pineapple-Gate,” but I love that the issue of the ridiculous nature of assessment is getting attention. The stakeholders need to be discussing this and those in power need to be listening.

At issue specifically is the ridiculous testing practices that have been allowed to go on for years, collecting data that is skewed to this result or another, depending on what is chosen for inclusion or exclusion, and how we ultimately measure student learning - something that may or may not be as quantifiable as we think.  Just a simple Google search for “How do we measure student learning?” offers results around measuring objectives, Bloom’s, or achievement. Not learning.

How do we know for sure that learning has occurred? And how do we know specifically what a teacher’s impact is?

In New York State, English Language Arts testing was last week, and even the students knew something was amiss. THE NEW YORK TIMES published an article about the testing situation with metaphorical pineapple drama (Pineapples don’t have sleeves!) and a NEW YORK CITY PRINCIPAL chimed in with her assessment of the situation.

What I think is pretty cool is that the students are proficient enough to assess the assessment. What might that say about student learning?

With many states upping the ante for not only more rigorous assessment and more frequent assessment, we are presenting the idea to students that learning = testing. If you don’t have to prove it, why attempt to learn it?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against standardized assessment. When I go to the doctor and he checks my cholesterol--I want that normed against what is acceptably healthy. I’m not a winner with a higher number! Likewise for blood pressure and weight. During the assessment of my health, I want there to be conversation and if a specific diagnosis is required, I want differentiated (more specific) assessments based on the information that was gathered.

But we don’t treat education in the same diagnostic way. It’s one size fits all.

There’s a funny cartoon making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter recently that speaks to this, asking a DIVERSE GROUP OF ANIMALS to participate in the same assessment. (noted that there is NOT a pineapple in the mix...)

What’s really happening is more about keeping federal Race to the Top Money than it is kids.

The fact is, systemic change takes time.

Education itself, even outside of current assessment practices, has needed an overhaul for awhile. It seems of late that the necessary upgrades and changes that are swiftly being (somewhat thoughtlessly) implemented are “good for the masses,”  but it also feels like, to quote Elton John, “a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.”

Is what we’re doing a brave and courageous thing with Race to the Top? Or is this just an attempt at cherry picking the best of what we think will work and piling it on top of an old system? That is never going to work.

Our “application today, better tomorrow” mentality is seriously flawed, and I have a feeling that things are going to implode if we don’t address some major inconsistencies in the successes we’re planning. Implode on an Apocalyptic level. It starts today with ridiculous pineapple test questions, and tomorrow--the whole system could fall apart.

I’m sure there are more things to consider, and would welcome anyone reading this to add to the list, but these are some of the major issues that I’m seeing in real schools across our country, even in states that have received millions of RTTT dollars:

  • the millions of dollars are going to less than well planned professional development that is frustrating schools and preventing them from systemic growth. The PD is creating a system of compliance instead. “Too much, too soon,” “dump and run,” and “drive by” are not great adjectives to describe what a lot of states are doing with their professional development. But that is how teachers and administrators feel.
  • The money trail is leading not to children, programs, and teachers. It is leading to assessment vendors, online teacher evaluation programs, and brand new textbooks. (Textbooks which may address/reference the new standards, but hardly represent 21st Century mindsets or College and Career Readiness--many schools purchasing new textbooks would never in a million years consider a digital text.) Additionally, many of the “exemplar units” from states represent the awesomeness of 1981, not 2012.
  • Teachers are being given the new standards and expected to unpack, translate, design, and implement around them with little time for the critical foundational pieces of collegial dialogue, collaboration, and consensus. (And perhaps, buy in?)
  • Time is not being addressed. Time for curriculum work, time for deepening instructional design and practice, and time for planning and assessment are major roadblocks not being dealt with. This will be true for administrators too as they suddenly must deal with overwhelming and cumbersome teacher evaluation plans, while being instructional leaders, running their buildings, and navigating a daily schedule of the hundreds of little decisions that have to be made on a daily basis.
  • The assessments are not really living up to the measurement of much beyond flawed teacher evaluation systems and a misalignment of priorities around what students know and are able to do. If it were me--those students that identified some of the flaws in the recent NY state test should get honorary mastery level scores. Beyond answering those flawed pineapple questions correctly, what else says “learning has occurred” like a demonstration of the deconstruction of the validity of the test. By kids.

We are not necessarily heading to a better place. We are heading toward a standoff. It’s not okay to push through so much change with the expectation of lawsuits and compliance. It’s not okay to use the variability of “one moment in time” tests to determine student achievement or teacher effectiveness. It’s not okay to call all of this innovative when we are really just bolstering the traditional.

Real change means new forms and different ways of thinking. Growth should not be punitive.

We are dealing with the lives and learning of children. We need to make better decisions.  (I say “we” to mitigate responsibility...but I mean State and Federal Governments!)  Let the people start making decisions and not the money.

An Edupocalypse is imminent if we don’t start thinking forward.


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