Friday, August 1, 2014

How Test Scores Have Become 'Infallible Indicators of Teaching & Learning Quality'

Veteran Educator and education writer Marion Brady had some thought provoking words in this recent post on Valarie Strauss' Washington Post Answer Sheet blog. (See "What do standardized tests really measure?") In that post, Brady provides some gems that should provoke more discussion on the damage to public education that is occurring by those who insist, as Brady puts it, "Test scores are infallible indicators of quality."

Yesterday, in my post about how the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations in Tennessee has perverted both education practice and teacher evaluation, I called these individuals who insist on the "infallibility of test scores" as fundamentalists. The dictionary definition of "fundamentalist" is:
"Fundamentalist: strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles"
In the case of the testing fundamentalists, there is a strict adherence in the belief that tests scores are infallible indicators of quality of both teaching and learning. Why they might argue that they don't believe test scores are "infallible," they still use them as if they were infallible.  While I called them "fundamentalists" as a jest in part, but there is some truth to that statement. Too easily educators, politicians, businesses, and the general public have come to view "test scores as indicators of quality" and take the attitude "that numbers don't lie" and that they are "objective" and that belief is driving much of the strict adherence to current testing and accountability reform.

Get into an honest discussion with a true believer in test-scores-as-indicators-of-quality, and they sometimes acknowledge the problems with tests, the testing process. But, and this always happen, they resort to the argument, "Well, that's the best we've got." It's easy to see what's wrong with that argument. Basing the future of a child and a teacher on test scores and defining "teaching quality" as only test score results ignores the real complexity of learning.

When test scores are worshipped (or used in a fundamentalist manner) as the "true and infallible" indicator of teaching and learning quality, both are reduced to simplistic, rote activities. As Brady points out, "Teaching---trying to shape minds---is hard complicated work." But herein is the problem. Those who worship at the altar of bubble sheets, Pearson, and College Board, don't see learning as "trying to shape minds." They see learning as a simple imparting of knowledge from teacher to student. Brady points that out when he says that Bill Gates sees "learning as a product of teaching." By reducing teaching to a process of product delivery in the form of test scores, then all this blather about testing, accountability, and value-added measures makes sense. But if anyone argues against these beliefs that are labeled as "status-quo supporters" as if they were some kind of heretic to question this doctrine.

Test scores are only test scores. They might sometimes tell us something about teaching and learning, and sometimes they tell us more about a student's socioeconomic status, or the kinds of support the child is getting at home. Test scores are and always will be subject to error, and they aren't as "objective" as the true believers believe. We can't use test scores "as if they were infallible indicators of learning."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Happens When Test Scores Are Used in High Stakes Decisions? Stupid Decision-Making

What happens when schools and school districts let test scores rule the day? Check out letter of resignation by a 14 year veteran teacher from Tennessee who was found "ineffective" due to her TVAAS ratings.

"What Defines an 'Ineffective' Teacher?"

What immediately becomes clear to me is the following:

  • The problem with the accountability in education movement, like in this case, is that too many educators, politicians and state level testing bureaucrats think "any old test will do" when it comes to obtaining data for teacher ratings. Little time is taken to check to see if the tests really test what is being taught, and whether or not using the tests to evaluate teacher effectiveness is even valid. In this accountability madness, there is always an assumption that test data does not lie and that it's objectivity is a given. Both are wrong. Test data is just numbers, but the inferences, like teacher effectiveness, we make from those numbers can be wrong. Any old test will not do when high stakes of any kind are attached.
  • Our education system has become blinded by its own test data. In other words, our education decision-makers have blinders on because it is somehow seen sacred that all decisions should be tied to data, and good data are test scores. You can't rely on teacher judgment because it is tainted with subjectivity, so those making these bizarre decisions about accountability through test scores and value-added measures immediately discard everything else. In this case, and I fear in many others around the country, the teaching profession and our education system is being destroyed by "testing fundamentalists" who have become blind to reason and to the possibility that their teacher evaluation systems are hurting real people and even that they might be wrong.
  • The "testing fundamentalists" are beginning to see the fruits of their blind, ideological belief in sacredness of test score data. When test scores matter above all else, educational decision-making gets just "plain stupid." It is just plain bizarre that a 14 year veteran teacher was coached by an instructional coach WHO WAS ONCE HER STUDENT TEACHER. The person she mentored four years earlier is now mentoring her. When educators blindly follow the data trail, they end up in bizarre situations like this one.
As we get ready to start yet another school year, I can only hope that common sense and wisdom will somehow prevail in the age of accountability. Testing is has become so rampant, hours of our time is consumed with it. We are using a single test score to make high stakes decisions about students and teachers. We are even judging whole schools based on these test scores. It is just stupid!

The "testing fundamentalists" as I call them just can't let go of this assumption that if "We somehow find or create the right test, students are going to learn more effectively." 

I've got news for them. That mythical test does not and will not ever exist. The "Holy Grail of Testing" does not exist. Let's just quit being stupid with data.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Is Your School or District in the Business of Suppressing Creativity and Genius?

"Why would anyone want to suppress genius? Well, it is not intentional. It is not a plot. Genius is an innocent casualty in society's efforts to train children away from natural born foolishness." Gordan MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace

Is your school or district engaged in what Gordan MacKenzie calls "suppression of creative genius?" In his book entitled Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace, MacKenzie, who once worked as a cartoonist and for Hallmark Greeting Cards, describes a visit he had with elementary school children. During those visits he reported that when he asked first graders who saw themselves as artists to raise their hands, and the children leapt en mass from their chairs with their hands flying.

When he asked the same question of second graders, he says about half the kids raised their hands with less enthusiasm.

When he asked third graders to raise their hands if they were artists, at best, "10 kids out of 30 raised their hands." And, they raised their hands tentively and self-consciously, MacKenzie noted.

MacKenzie noted that as the grades he spoke to went higher, fewer children raised their hands, so that by the time he reached sixth graders, only one or two raised their hands, and they did so with the demeanor of being "closet artists."

What exactly are we doing to our kids? Are we "educating the artist, the musician, the sculptor" out of our students by progressively subjecting them to "education" that is garuarnteed to destroy imagination, inventiveness, and creativity?

All of us fondly remember those times in elementary school when we called ourselves writers, artists, or musicians. Then standardized education happened to us; it literally stamped the creativity out of us. How dare we engage in orginal thought! How dare we think outside-the-box! My fears are with all this emphasis on having a "standardized curriculum and testing" we are still very much in the business of "training children away from natural born foolishness." Too bad! Let's just hope we don't kill the dreams of the next Steve Jobs or Mozart!

 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Time for K-12 Education to Capitalize and Embrace Virtual Learning Opportunities

In the 21st century, it is impossible to dismiss the powerful possibilities that exist due to online learning delivery systems. I have seen that learning evolve over the years from models where teachers simply tried to "teach as they did face-to-face" in these online environments, to today, where teaching has evolved with techniques only possible in these virtual places of learning. I've seen more and more universities embrace virtual learning, while K-12 public schools continue to pay homage to the necessity of students sitting physically in front of teachers.

We K-12 educators have dabbled in virtual learning with our online class providers, but we still have this need to make sure that learning is still placed within the context of a four-by-four block schedule. Somehow the idea that learning can only occur within the four walls of classroom stubbornly hangs on. We still limit students to taking only four credits a semester or six credits a year because why? Somehow we are afraid that students might get ahead and learn something earlier than they should. In other words, K-12 education has hindered the growth of online learning because of an unwillingness to let go of structures and rules designed to make sure all students advance through the system and graduate at the same pace. But why? Why can't K-12 embrace online learning as much as higher education has?

Certainly we do have students not ready to effectively learn online, but perhaps it's our job to make them ready. Do we use this excuse to avoid allowing students to expand their learning virtually because some aren't ready for it? There are many of our students capable of learning just as well through online learning. Public schools have an obligation to meet the needs of all students, and that includes not holding those back who could take 10 classes a year rather than the prescribed 8. So what if they earn enough credits to graduate early! Perhaps we should rethink the length of time it takes to graduate. At any rate, as the infographic below indicates, online learning continues to grow. With this growth, let's start talking about ways of capitalizing on the learning opportunities this phenomenon offers instead of continuing to force all students to learn at the same rates and in the same manner.


Growth of Online Education

Source: OnlineSchoolsCenter.com

Thursday, July 17, 2014

ASCD Offers Professional Development Resources to Support New Teachers

Alexandria, VA (7/17/2014)ASCD, a global community dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading, is pleased to offer a variety of professional development resources for new teachers entering the education profession this upcoming school year. Through ASCD resources, teachers will find support from leading experts and veteran educators who understand the challenges of the early years in the classroom.

“Becoming a teacher can be a rich and rewarding experience, but it can also be a challenging one,” said Judy Seltz, ASCD acting executive director. “That’s why ASCD is committed to providing teachers at every level with the tools, resources, and support they need to ensure their success for the upcoming school year and throughout their careers as educators.” 

ASCD Book Bundles for Teachers
ASCD has compiled several book bundles specifically for teachers’ professional development. Each bundle is packed with sound advice, strategies, and solutions for teachers seeking to improve their practices. 
Enhance Your Professional Career
  • Join ASCD—ASCD membership offers more information and ideas about learning and teaching than any other single source. Multiple membership levels offer an increasing number of valuable benefits and resources, including substantial savings on ASCD publications.
  • Pathfinder—This new ASCD membership benefit offers a variety of practical articles for educators at any career stage who want to expand or redefine their jobs.
Join ASCD’s Social Networks
  • #ASCDL2L Twitter chat—ASCD (@ASCD) invites educators to participate in a monthly conversation about learning, teaching, and leading during the Tuesday night #ASCDL2L Twitter chat. Held on the firstTuesday of each month using #ASCDL2L, the chat allows participants to submit questions, share insights, and offer resources that help all educators support the success of each learner.
  • Pinterest—ASCD has added a new pin board to the ASCD Pinterest page that is specifically for new teachers entering the education profession. The New Teacher Resource board features practical articles, publications, and other professional development resources that will enhance new teachers’ practices in the classroom.
  • Instagram—Follow ASCD on Instagram and get a glimpse inside ASCD events, read inspiring quotes from ASCD experts, learn about ASCD publications, and interact with our community through inspiring pictures and videos.
In addition, teachers can connect with ASCD via other award-winning social media channels including Twitter,FacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn. ASCD’s social media presence connects ASCD with educators and allows ASCD to share unique content that is dedicated to learning, teaching, and leading.
For more information about ASCD, visit www.ascd.org or read the 2013 Annual Report.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Five-Paragraph Essay & PowerPoint Presentations: Fossils from the Past

In may, I became an official Mac User. This occurred after being a PC user whose experience with computers began all the way back to MS DOS and Windows 3.1. My first personal computer was a Windows 3.1 Dell computer whose processor was less powerful than those found in phones, and you can purchase flash drives that have more storage space than my first hard drive.

If I really confess about my own computer experiences, the very first computer that I used was actually a Mac. Back in the beginning of my teaching career, our media center at the high school where I taught had a Macintosh lab which included 25 Macintosh SE computers, networked together, complete with a Mac printer. I was one of the few teachers in my building that constantly brought students into the media center to use these machines. Mind you, this was before there was a single Internet connection in the school, so we primarily used these computers for the creation of printed documents. My students created some real flashy brochures, newsletters, and magazines for their in-class projects.

Looking back to that experience now, almost 25 years later, there was an excitement in those classes. My students, most of which at that time would have not had computers at home, were excited at being able to engage in both the use of technology, and in the use of that technology to create original content. As a teacher, I was excited as well because my students and I were engaged in learning quite different from what any other teachers and students were engaged in in the entire building. The excitement of being pioneers and pushing learning beyond the edges motivated both my students and myself. We literally monopolized the computers and the computer lab because at that time, no one else saw any future in it.

Today, my lesson plans in 1988 would hardly be considered integrating technology into learning, and rightfully so. Just getting students to do what they could without technology hardly means capitalizing on technology. Today, teachers who subject their students to endless PowerPoint presentations are hardly getting students to actively use technology. Even getting students to create their own presentations is no longer really engaging students in using technology to push the edges of innovation.

In some ways, PowerPoint presentations have become the "five paragraph essay" of yesterday. Most of us who've taught English for more than fifteen years remember that monstrosity. The five-paragraph essay was an attempt to standardize writing in order help students mold their writing to fit standardized test scoring. Needless to say, as a teaching strategy, it was more about getting high scores on state writing tests than about students expressing original ideas and thoughts. It certainly wasn't about creativity and innovation. PowerPoint presentations as projects in many ways have replaced those five-paragraphs essays; they are simply as standardized way for students to present information.

Looking back to my own experiences with the old Macintosh SE lab, our excitement about learning was about possibility and promise. When you explore new technologies, you experiment and innovate; standardized products don't exist yet, because you are exploring the edges of what can be done. The technology itself does not cause that excitement; that excitement comes from what you can do with the technology. The exciting thing for me, and I suspect for students, is not the technology itself; it's the act of creation. With technology, we can create in new and unique ways. We can bring into existence things that never existed before using tools in ways they perhaps have never been used before.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Oyster: E-Book Susbcription Service App for iOS and Android Devices---NetFlix of E-Books?

As an avid reader, last night, I downloaded Oyster, the subscription book service app to my iPad, just to check it out. There are many times when I read a book, I am not necessarily interested in purchasing a copy, but would still like to read it in e-book format.

Some are calling Oyster, the Netflix of e-books, and upon opening the app, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of books available. I even found the titles of several books on my reading list that I’ve been planning to read. Oyster, gives you access to book titles for a monthly subscription fee of $9.95. Right now, I am using a trial of the service, so I am personally undecided whether or not it’s worth my while to pay the month fee. It also remains to be seen whether the e-book service can provide access to an increasing number of titles, but the idea is appealing, especially to someone like me who enjoys access to a book any way I can get it.

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Oyster Interface
For more information about Oyster E-book subscription service, check out their web site. Apps are available for both iOS and Android devices.