What is the goal of testing and data?

Data is a key component in education. Schools need to know where students are in their learning so instruction can be designed to meet students learning needs. Schools have always used data. We use data to help determine grades, know reading levels, math levels etc. Recently the government (State and Federal) has arbitrarily decided that the data schools have been collecting should be used to measure the effectiveness of teachers. The test design corporations, such as Pearson, create tests with little teacher input, to sell to states for the purpose of measuring students against a “standard”.  If students don’t achieve the standard, teachers can be deemed ineffective and eventually lead to the loss of their teaching position if low scores persist. Government has mandated this value add measure, with the desire to hold teachers accountable for their student’s learning. All the while placing little to no accountability on the student or parents for learning achievement.

So what is this data really? Is it a summary of everything a student has learned? Does it measure higher level thinking? Quite frequently the data is just a mere snapshot, of where a student is performing at a certain spot in time. Is it right to assume that a picture of a 75 degree sunny day is the norm for a Michigan Winter? No, but it happens. As well as a 30 degree snowy day in April. Like weather student performance can vary from day-to-day. Different events occur in their lives. Sleep and regularity of meals are major factors in student performance. Instead of looking at student day-to-day “Weather” data, schools should take a “climate” approach at looking at data. Look at performance over the long haul. Examine many different data point to see growth, over extended periods of time. Data should not only come from national standardize testing corporations but from locally created common tests as well. This does make it difficult to attribute the results to an individual teacher (current goal of testing) but shouldn’t the results belong to the individual student?

Students ultimately need to be held accountable for their own learning. There are many other ways to evaluate the quality of teaching. Learning is owned by the student. Schools goals are to make life-long learners who have critical thinking skills. These qualities develop at different rates in all learners. Just like all infants learn to walk and talk at different times in their life. To help hold the students more accountable, schools might want to change their structure. Instead of grouping students by age,  schools could group their by their skills and abilities or by their areas of interests or by learning styles.

The goal of testing and the resulting data, needs to remain student learning. Schools need to focus on holding students accountable for their own learning. Without being held accountable student frequently blame others for their results. I hear it often in my classroom, when discussion grades with students. “The teacher gave me a C!” We need to mold the conversation around students earning their scores. Right now, students see no relevance for most standardized tests. These test have little merit towards students’ grades or graduation. Colleges only focus on the FINAL standardized test of the student’s career, ACT or SAT for admittance.

If districts/states are going to mandate so many standardized test for our students, lets remember one thing: Make them focus on student achievement and their individual growth, not the effectiveness of teachers. Testing does not measure teachers, observations of practice and actions does. If teachers, performance is measured on tests we will end up with more cheating scandals like Atlanta!! More questions will arise about cheating in schools than we have had about cheating in baseball during the steroids area!

Conference Reflections

After spending a day last week talking to parents about how their children are doing in my class at school. My conversations seem to focus on grades and behavior and not on learning. Sure, the grades are a reflection of learning and the behavior affects the learning. I did not seem to have questions about learning directly. When conferences were finished I left with questions of my own.

  1. Why are parents fixated on student grades instead of student understand?
  2. Why do some parents want more homework, others less?
  3. In general What is the purpose of school?

To start our educational system has created a culture of grades. We have a system where “A” is what parents want, “B” is okay if the student tried hard, “C” is bad and we have to take some action, “D and F” mean parents will yell at the child right in front of the teacher. Does this grading system work anymore? No, first it does not talk about what a student knows or doesn’t know. Second, it creates a ranking and expectation system. Parents will look at how many A’s are on the report card and rank their child above students who have fewer. Parents will begin to expect the same grades from year to year, without thinking about their child’s ability, passion and work ethic. The learning expectations change each year and with each teacher. Science jumps from biology to physics to geology. Social Studies jumps from state to state, continent to continent, geography to history. Math and language arts are more progressive but they have jumps also. Schools need to move away from grades and focus on what a student knows and doesn’t know. Colleges would have a better idea if a student was a candidate if they knew the knowledge levels not the letter grades of applicants.

This moves us to question #2: My parents at conferences always ask about homework, “I have not seen any (or very little) work at home.” Well for staters, I don’t believe in homework, so only work that is not completed in class goes home. Some of my parents get upset and ask for MORE homework. I always ask why, and it is so their child can do better in my class. I don’t understand the correlation, if you want your child to do better, spend time with them. Go over the work we did in class. Have them read. Look up the topics on the internet and discuss. Parents are to be partners in the teaching process. I always offer resources for the parents, few have taken me up on this offer. I have also heard of the parents who want less homework. I would say, that school is the job your child is doing now. If you feel the homework isn’t meaningful then have a discussion with that teacher. If the work is meaningful then do it. Hopefully teachers are only giving meaningful homework but I have seen some work that sure seems busy.

Finally the big question: What is the purpose of school? I often feel I am a babysitter for 12-13 year olds. During their time with me I feel I need to instill in them the values of society and show them how to gain knowledge. Are teachers too overloaded with content nowadays? I was asked that by one parent. Yes, we have more content standards now. Schools have SO much content to teach. Students come in with a wide range of ability and background knowledge. Should schools be focused on content? No, schools need to make an impact. If they try to teach too much content knowledge it is not covered in a way that students can critically think about the content. Covering a broad range of content also creates problems with the disadvantaged students. The speed at which each topic is covered puts them at a disadvantage.

So what should schools focus on? Schools need to focus on knowledge obtainment skills. They need to teach student how they are to learn. Different tools, strategies and processing skills that give students the ability to learn on their own. The old proverb comes to mind:” If you give a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach him to fish he eats for a life time.” So if you give a man knowledge he only has the knowledge you gave him, if you teach a man how to obtain knowledge he can have all the knowledge he wants.

The purpose of schools is to create independant learners, lets not complicate them by adding to much content that the essential skills of knowledge obtainment are missed.