Friday, April 18, 2014

Why do parents believe standardized tests tell them anything about their children?

Standardized Achievement Tests are inappropriate measures to use for making judgments about students, teachers, and schools because:

Children are being punished for a reward.  See "Punished By Rewards", by Alfie Kohn.

A small sample of the curriculum is used to make a judgment about a child's progress.

Inadequate sample of the content is being tested.

The test is an inadequate time of observing a student's learning. 

It is an indirect observation as opposed to a direct observation of a student's learning.

Test scores require inferences that lead to questionable conclusions about children and have a lasting impact.

Comparing children with each other produces competitiveness and winners and losers.

Tests are normed with a population no one knows anything about. 

The standardized achievement tests cannot be used as diagnostic tools.

The test is designed so that 50% of students fall below the mean.

Standardized tests serve only to sort and select our children.
August 15th,2011
How Does Our Garden Grow?

By Bruce Smith and Phillip Harris

Metaphors are inherently visionary. That is, they create mental images. They don’t replace strategic plans, and they don’t expand budgetary authority. They don’t provide textbooks or other classroom-based or community resources. But make no mistake: metaphors matter. By highlighting similarities between two apparently unrelated endeavors, metaphors help us see in new ways, and so well-chosen metaphors sharpen our perceptions of complex activities. The metaphors we employ to describe our schools and what goes on within them are no exceptions.

For more than a century, we have seen our schools reflected in the funhouse mirror of an industrial metaphor. Beginning in the late 19th century, we applied to our schools ideas about “productivity” that derived from and more appropriately fit the manufacturing sector of our economy. In industry we saw raw materials, production workers, managers, outputs, and quantifiable results. So in education we could simply replace each of those terms to yield, in order, students, teachers, principals, graduates, and test scores. So where’s the harm? After all, what’s in a name? Perhaps not much if we’re talking just about nomenclature, but when what’s at stake is a guiding metaphor? The short answer is plenty.

When we accept an industrial metaphor for schools and adopt the language of industrial production to describe what goes on in them, we soon find ourselves seeking a uniformity of process that easily leads to the pursuit of a uniformity of outcomes. If taking algebra in eighth grade was good for the small percentage of kids who did so in the mid-1990s and predicted their college attendance better than other indicators, then it must be good for all kids to study algebra in eighth grade. A U.S. Department of Education staffer, who shall remain nameless, made just this argument to one of us during the Clinton Administration. (The inherent fallacies in such thinking should be obvious, and we won’t pursue them here.)

But all the evidence and our experience shows that pursuing such uniformity will always turn out to be a fool’s errand. Try as we might to interest him, Johnny just isn’t all that taken with American literature and does only the minimum required to get by. But living things and their interactions carry him away. He is a diligent and motivated observer of living systems and an avid reader when they are the subject, from the fruit flies in the bio lab, to bee colonies behind his uncle’s barn, to coral reefs and rain forest communities he’s only read about. Janie doesn’t really see the point of writing scripts for her desktop computer to execute; she’s happy to let someone else do that part and simply make use of the ones she needs. But can we please crack open the cover and “look under the hood” to see what makes it tick? How do we make such differently shaped pegs fit into our uniformly round holes? And should we even try?

We propose a new metaphor and with it a new way of thinking about our schools. Where the industrial metaphor (manufacturing products) has led us to pursue the false goal of uniformity of output, we would substitute an agricultural metaphor (growing children) that sees the development of human beings -- intellectually, socially, and emotionally -- as the primary activity for educators, parents, and, indeed, for all adults. In many ways our public schools are like community gardens. And our primary role in them is to cultivate a new crop of citizens to join us -- and, ultimately, to replace us.

Adopting this point of view does not mean that a bunch of “back to the land hippies” have taken over and that there will be no standards, however that word is construed. Reading, writing, speaking, and working with numbers in a variety of ways will always be fundamental elements of a good and well-rounded education. All children need to develop their capabilities in these and other areas if they are to grow. If you’ll forgive our giving in to the temptation of extending our new metaphor, these subjects and the skills they require are the soil, sun, and water that build the fibers of our different crops. Nor need we expect -- or accept -- poor performance in any of these areas. We simply need to expect -- and accept -- that differences in interest will to lead to differing levels of involvement with subjects. As children grow and their interests evolve, the palette of subjects they pursue and the depth at which they engage them will vary. And that, we submit, is a good thing. Some years ago, Elliot Eisner said it this way:

The kind of schools we need would not hold as an ideal that all students get to the same destinations at the same time. They would embrace the idea that good schools increase the variance in student performance and at the same time escalate the mean.

That’s a professorial way of saying that a successful school will help children become more different, rather than more alike, as they grow to physical and intellectual maturity. More different, yet everyone grows.

This individualized view of children and their growth and learning is not new. Friedrich Froebel certainly got there first with kindergartens. And other educators, from Deborah Meier to James Comer to Eric Schaps, have continued to pursue it even after decades of working in a field dominated by industrially designed structures and processes. But if such “organic” views are ever to be seen as achievable and accepted widely as ends worth pursuing, we need to stop allowing the language of industrial production and balance sheets to limit our vision of what’s possible and desirable for each child.

When the seed packets arrive in the mail each spring, without looking at the pictures on the envelopes, it’s not easy to tell a pumpkin from a zucchini. But no matter what regimen of watering and fertilizing you follow, you’ll never turn one into the other.