Dualities, Shmualities
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Dualities, Shmualities

Dualities, Shmualities

Our public forums teem with dueling dualities:

  • Luke vs. Vader
  • Booker vs. du Bois
  • Optimus vs. Megatron
  • Homework vs. None
  • Fraiser vs. Ali
  • Whole language vs. Phonics
  • Nixon vs. Truth
  • Skills vs. Content
  • Cylons vs. Humans

However, the latest iteration hits a bit too close to home to be anything besides unnerving for educators:

Judging teachers using only students’ scores on high stakes test vs. Not

While I’m not a huge fan of standardized tests as primary markers for achievement, I understand (and even appreciate) their utility and functionality.  For assessing benchmarks and basic skills, they serve a purpose.  However, we must temper our enthusiasm for relying on basic skills attainment as the sole measure for determining if teachers are teaching.

If this dichotomy is really the best we can do, then we really do need to retool our education system.  Badly.  Quickly. Immediately.

Clearly the basic skills approach isn’t leading to critical thinking in basic deliberation/mitigation/compromise skills.  Additionally, such “dualities only” debates illuminate a graphic lack of creativity, imagination, and, ultimately, innovation.

Basic civics lessons teach us that “either/or” ultimatums often lead to “neither/none” outcomes.

Aren’t there other options?!

Of course there are.  But they cost money and take time.  Two things of critical shortage in our school system.  And are more difficult to standardized and analyze than, well, standardized scores.

The problem with a sole reliance on standardized test is well stated in  Campbell’s Law:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

David T. Campbell, in 1976, goes on to write:

Achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways. (Similar biases of course surround the use of objective tests in courses or as entrance examinations.)

Perhaps it is time for us to take a page out of Carol Ann Tomlinson’s differentiation schtick. Perhaps it is time for us to begin with the idea that all students and teachers are different — and therefore perform differently in different situations, and have different needs in terms of growth and development.

I am personally a big fan of working on a local level to improve the quality of life and quality of instruction provided in our institutions.  I also believe that once a year evaluations by principals are too few and too thin to provide any sort of reliable and effective professional development for teachers. Additionally, in terms of cultivating a professional atmosphere for teachers and principals necessitates that both take a larger role in steering areas of growth.

Enter rubrics. Kid tested, teacher approved.

I am a big fan of the teacher and principal rubrics developed by Kim Marshall:

Moving beyond this or that, one or the other, mine or yours, them or us, and with us or against us mentality should be a chief objective for cultivating civil school systems.  To that end, lets empower districts and principals to weigh in on who deserves pay incentive.  A new teacher working hard to improve in identified areas of needed growth should be rewarded for doing so, even if it can’t be measured on a multiple choice test.

In this way, we may just find teachers more willing to look their shortcomings in the eye and work to overcome them.

As the old adage goes, if all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails.  Let’s fill the assessment tool box, or at least put another option in it.

Image: How Stuff Works, but obviously a Lucas Films Image

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