Tag Archives: testing

Which is worse?

Which is worse?

  • Reading below grade level or living below the poverty level?
  • Achievement gaps or gaps in healthcare?
  • Failing M-Step (substitute your state test here) or failing to get enough food to eat?
  • Institutions without structured curriculum or institutional racism re-enforcing structural poverty?
  • Children who don’t know their math facts or homeless children who don’t know where they are sleeping tonight?
  • Kids who break the dress code or kids who are broken from domestic abuse?
  • Students who aren’t engaged in class or students whose families are stuck in the lowest class.
  • Kids who aren’t exposed to “rigorous” learning or kids who are exposed to drugs and crime in their neighborhood.
  • Students who don’t memorize the right answers or students whose civil rights are violated.
Photo by Urbanfeel https://www.flickr.com/photos/30003006@N00/3538568443

Photo by Urbanfeel https://www.flickr.com/photos/30003006@N00/3538568443

Should we start firing social workers to hold them accountable because of all of the domestic problems in this country?

Should we cut national funding to cities who have segregated neighborhoods with high poverty, drugs and crime?

Should we privatize police forces in areas with high crime rates to save money and give communities “choices?”

The United States is a world leader in child poverty. Maybe instead of all of the time, energy, and money spent by politicians on testing to blame schools and teachers they should try to spend some money actually helping the families of our poorest children.

But that would require a change in mindset to admit that our system isn’t perfect and is designed for those at the top to remain there. It would require admitting that people don’t choose to be poor. It would require empathy and compassion.

Maybe education alone can’t solve all of our problems.

Trivia Crack-Education Version

trivia-crackAt NovaNow last weekend I was part of an interesting discussion on assessment. Someone brought up the fact that she did not know what was going to be on the standardized state tests. A friend of mine in the room was very surprised that any teachers did not know what was on the tests (I believe because it was her primary job to make sure that teachers in her district were prepared for them).

I raised my hand and said that I had no idea what was on the state test. I think that I surprised my friend. I teach American History. The truth is that I do know that there are 40 multiple choice questions covering three years of social studies: World, American, Government, and Economics. So there are roughly 15 questions on my entire year of class.

The larger truth is that I just don’t care about the tests. In our class we look at the over arching themes of history: growth of democracy, especially for women and the Civil Rights Movement; America’s role in the world through the various wars and foreign policy; economic trends including the Great Depression, the prosperous fifties, stagflation, and current trends. We look at how America has grown as a country and how it has stayed the same. We look at all of these things and compare them to current events and policies.

But the state tests, ah the tests. They are like Trivia Crack. I swear that they were written by some history professors who ask the students about some minuscule fact or date. I feel like they are trying to trick students and make sure that I “cover” everything and don’t miss any details. The emphasis is on trivial facts of history that can easily be looked up in a million places.

I prefer to teach students how to think critically, see an event from multiple viewpoints, use the past to evaluate current trends and decisions, and to see the overarching trends of how America got to be what it is today. Those ideas are hard to turn into Trivia Crack questions. Until the state tests assess those kinds of things I just can’t worry about them. I refuse to sacrifice time spent challenging my kids to consider history deeply to force them to memorize facts.

Don’t get me wrong I love to play Trivia Crack and am pretty good at it. History is my best category with 82% correct. But I would hate to have myself evaluated by that score. Trivia is fun, but it is not what a history class should be about. History is meant to be studied in context to teach about our values and progress (or lack of it).

I guess what it comes down to is we can stress out about how our students will do on the tests and adjust our methods to things that we know are not beneficial to kids or we can teach kids the right way and chose not to worry about them. I have made my choice how about you?

 

Am I a hypocrite?

Dan Meyer put together the slides and talk from Uri Treisman at NCTM 2013. This is a very detailed critique of education bashing (particularly math) in this country that shows poverty and place are major factors in test results. I highly, highly recommend viewing it. Go watch it and come back 🙂

photo credit: _Untitled-1 via photopin cc

photo credit: _Untitled-1 via photopin cc

I am left struggling with a few thoughts.

  • He convincingly shows that the United States is a leader in the world in math when looking at upper and middle class students.
  • Poor students lag behind depending on their location in the United States. 
  • Poor and minority students still have too large of achievement gap to the wealthy but have made large gains in the past twenty years. What has caused these gains? What are we doing right?
  • He does not explain why Texas and Massachusetts are more successful than states such as Alabama? What are they doing right?
  • Do the testing gains that he demonstrates mean an increase in mathematical knowledge in the U.S. or better test prep strategies being taught to students?
  • Agreeing that education in the U.S. is not as bad as portrayed by ed reformers and the media, but also questioning what parts need to be improved especially in lower socio-economic schools?
  • How to reconcile the belief that schools need to teach more mathematical thinking than just algorithms with the test score gains?
  • With the Campbell’s Law example, Treisman warns of the negative effects of high stakes testing on teachers and students. Is that inconsistent with using the data from these tests to make his points about math levels in the U.S.?
  • My biggest ethical/moral/logical question for myself is am I being a hypocrite by criticizing national, high stakes testing on the one hand; while on the other hand using testing data such as presented here to show that U.S. is not universally behind the world.
  • In other words, is it logically flawed to point out based on testing data that the major education issue is disparity based on parent income, while at the same time rejecting these tests as inaccurate, one day snapshots that do not accurately represent students’ abilities/

These are some of the thoughts rattling around in my brain right now. Anyone got some answers for me?