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“…but that’s not what I teach.”
That phrase was the conversation stopper of a recent discussion I was having with a teacher about assessing student learning. Somewhere along the way, because of new state rules about teacher evaluation and accountability, this teacher had changed the way she assesses her students so that she could get a clean, quantitative measure of what students were expected to learn in her class. And the conversation was difficult to have.
Her High School Art students, her excited and engaged High School Art students, had to take a reductive assessment that amounted to little more than definition regurgitation to prove that they had grown in knowledge over the course of their time with this teacher. The students’ pretest was an unknown list of vocabulary words and art terms that they did not know. The posttest was set to determine if they learned those words and terms. If they performed well on this written assessment, then the teacher would be found to be effective or highly effective in her teaching performance.
“…but that’s not what I teach.”
There’s a scene in the 5th Harry Potter film, The Order of the Phoenix, where the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge (who works for the Ministry of Magic–insert your own State or National Education Reform Commission metaphor here) refuses to teach practical magic. The students remind her that in each of their previous four years at the school there has been an authentic reason to know how to defend themselves with magic.
As long as you have studied the theory hard enough, there is no reason why any of you should not be able to perform the spells under a controlled examination.
Without ever practicing them?
I repeat, as long as you’ve studied the theory!
How does that help us in the real world?
This is school, not the real world.
The conversation with the HS Art teacher was heading in this same direction. She was describing a system that was trying to measure what was, perhaps, not worth learning; at least not worth learning in isolation. Surely the art terms had some worth contextually but were they the primary target of instruction? No.
During our conversation, I looked over at the window sill and saw this:
I walked over to the variety of mugs, in their final stages of drying, before being put into the kiln. The students had been working for weeks (keeping their mugs in plastic to prevent drying) on perfecting techniques to shape the mugs, the handles, the top lip, and the design of the outside. The teacher explained and demonstrated different techniques and students tried them out, creating their own works of art. Over several weeks and with feedback from the teacher, they came to a point where their work was “Kiln-Ready.” Once it goes into the kiln, it cannot be modified.
The conversation shifted.
“Here’s what you teach,” I said. “Here’s your assessment.”
“Oh, I know,” the teacher said, “this is my destination; this is what I’m driving the kids toward. But I also have to make sure I attack that vocabulary for the test. The actual product is too difficult to quantify how effective I may be.”
We talked more about using rubrics. We talked about elements of art critique and collaborative cycles of feedback. We talked about how the students and the teacher could collaboratively navigate degrees of quality so that a rubric could help students determine when their work was “Kiln-Ready.”
Is all of this reform we’re dealing with that great in theory? Is what we quantify in the classroom more important than what we qualify? Is doing what is easy more important than doing what is right? Because the reality is, at least in this classroom (and classrooms like it across our country), it isn’t practical. We don’t need more REform. We need more TRANSform. We need more NEW form.
We need more Kiln-Ready moments and less Umbridge-style interpretations of assessment. Also, we need to celebrate those teachers, like this one, who understand how important Kiln-Readiness is, in spite of a misguided and ill-informed accountability system.
Mr. Coleman has already said that he hopes to align the SAT with the Common Core standards, which could further alter the identity of an exam that was long ago conceived of as a measure of students’ abilities—and not as an achievement test. Moreover, he believes the standards provide a blueprint for helping more students succeed in Advanced Placement courses. “What the Common Core does in combination with the College Board is make it more realistic for us as a society to make sure that a kid’s educational life is richer and more rigorous every year,” he said, “so there’s not this sudden rise in challenge when it comes time to take an examination.”
“As American students continue to fall behind foreign peers, 45 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a new set of academic benchmarks aimed at raising the bar for teaching and learning across the country.
But as John Merrow reports for PBS News, meeting the new requirements won’t be easy for many schools, as a long-taught reading curriculum for young children still learning to sound out words doesn’t comply with the Common Core’s guidelines for emphasis on nonfiction in literacy education…”
“Science and social studies classes could look a little different next year as all New York City schools gradually adapt to a new set of curriculum standards.
The standards, called the Common Core, are expected to be in place at schools across 42 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands by 2014, but New York City is introducing them gradually, increasing each year the extent to which schools must adhere to them…”
“In June, a yearlong joint initiative by 48 states produced a set of uniform but voluntary educational standards in English and math. Urged on by the Obama administration, the initiative’s main purpose was to encourage states with low academic standards to bring their expectations into line with those of other states. Twenty states have already adopted the standards; 28 more, including California, are considering them. Texas and Alaska are the only states that declined to participate in the project…
California has among the highest academic standards in the country; the new “common core standards” would neither toughen nor weaken them appreciably. But the state still has something important to gain by adopting them: a more coherent blueprint for instruction that builds students’ skills in a clear and sensible way, and allows teachers to delve more deeply into each subject…”
“Now, the standards face what experts say is their biggest challenge yet: faithful translation from expectations on paper to instruction in classrooms.
The implementation stage brims with possibilities both promising and threatening, depending on one’s perspective…
…Whether opponents’ nightmares come true, or advocates’ hopes are borne out, will depend largely on how the standards are put into practice.”
“A quiet, sub-rosa fear is brewing among supporters of the Common Core State Standards Initiative: that the standards will die the slow death of poor implementation in K-12 classrooms…
…It’s a Herculean task, given the size of the public school teaching force and the difficulty educators face in creating the sustained, intensive training that research indicates is necessary to change teachers’ practices.”
- Mike’s Social Studies Links in Diigo
- Common Core Live Binder
- Curriculum 21’s Video Conferencing Resources
- Curriculum 21’s Social Studies Clearinghouse