“I know what I hate. I don’t hate this.”
C. Montgomery Burns
Okay, before this Blog goes any further, I want to advance some evidence that I’m not simply a naysayer. When I started writing this stuff I didn’t know I’d be posting it publicly a bit at a time, it was simply a form of catharsis. Therefore, you’ll have to bear with me through the first half-dozen posts or so while I get some things off my chest. Later, I’m assure you I will begin to offer constructive ideas of what I would consider helpful educational reform. But, just to ward off any inclination to write me off as nothing but a whiner, I thought I’d offer up some things I don’t hate:
I don’t hate tests. I don’t even hate multiple choice tests. Further, I don’t hate machine scored tests. (For the record, I use Scantron products regularly and I gotta say, they make a mighty fine product!)
Quite the contrary. I believe a good old-fashioned end-of-unit test is a high school staple – and an important variable for determining what we call grades. I realize, though, that some students, even good ones aren’t very good test takers. It’s a skill after all. There must be other ways to determine whether a student has learned, or better yet, understood what they were supposed to. But here’s the thing, the problem is not necessarily with multiple-choice tests, the problem is with the notion that there is any ONE instrument of measurement that will do the job.
And while I’m vehemently opposed to standardized tests the way we now use them, I’m not necessarily opposed to them in concept. In an upcoming post I’ll elaborate on how standardized tests, if we must have them, could be better used, the results more legitimate.
Sometimes I feel like if I see one more bar-graph of test scores at a faculty meeting I’m going to stab my own eyes out with a number 2 pencil. However, I’m a recreational poker player (I know, I know, great role model right?). As such I understand and value the collection and analysis of data to improve my play. I don’t mind data analysis in a school setting either as long as we keep the following in mind:
1. The data must be relevant: More than once I have attended a benchmark test debrief where, from the get go, everyone present acknowledged that in the TR (Transitional English) classes, the results were more representative of the students’ ability to decode the questions rather than their actual knowledge of the historical content – and then proceeded to analyze the daylights out of that data as though it represented the latter.
2. Never, and I mean ever, forget that every one of those data points is a real live human. They’re not Model-Ts, they’re people … with names, personalities, concerns and a hierarchy of needs that may be wildly different from ours.
3. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. The analysis and application of data to the classroom has to be tempered with conventional, experience-based common sense. The data is at the service of instruction, not the other way around. At one of the previously mentioned benchmark debrief meetings, every teacher in attendance agreed that one particular test item was invalid, as it had more than one legitimately correct answer. The administrator running the meeting asked, in all sincerity, how we could teach that topic next year so that the students would answer that question with the “right” correct answer. As Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction might have said, “I seen ‘im do it!”. He really said that. Well … we could teach the term incorrectly – that’s about it.
I don’t hate innovation. I don’t believe that having everyone do everything the same way, so that it produces an easily bar-graphable outcome is very innovative. Reducing science and history courses to the memorization of tested terms, names and events is certainly not innovative. Let’s try to minimize pedantry, not venerate it. Innovation removes shackles, it doesn’t impose them. If you want to be innovative, give students more control over what they learn, not less. Why not let students decide what to study during a U.S. History class? Why not present a variety of grading/assessment options that students choose from at the beginning of the semester? Why not ask students to create their own assignments? Why group students by age, why not some other way? I don’t know, these are just some ideas off the top of my head. The point is, true innovation is exciting. What’s happening now is soul-crushing. If “reform” were truly innovative, I’d be at the front of the line.
- plan3tscantr0n posted this