Friday, March 14, 2014

Reality Impaired Assessment & Joyce Foundation

Over at Education Week: Teacher, Liana Heitin has rewritten a press release from the Joyce Foundation (if you don't know that name, more shortly) for general consumption. The lede is there in the title: Teachers May Need to Deepen Assessment Practices for Common Core.

The article spins off the work of Olivia Lozano and Gabriela Cardenas, two teachers at the UCLA Lab School in Los Angeles. This teaching team has spent ten years exploring the wonders of formative assessment. One of the handy specifics they have landed on include talking to the students one-on-one or in small groups, asking open-ended questions, and recording all the stuff they find out (copious notes) in a binder. Also, they like to call themselves "teacher researchers."

"More than just a buzzword among savvy educators, formative assessment is the ongoing process of collecting data on what students know or don't know, and changing instruction accordingly." First, hats off to the copywriter at Joyce, who has apparently stepped up from his previous job as a copywriter for JC Penneys. Second, who is the audience for this article? People who slept through all four years of teacher school? People whose teacher training only lasted five weeks? I read this sort of thing and think these people must believe that actual professional teachers are as ignorant of the teaching profession as these reformy types are. Sigh. Moving on...

Formative assessment used to be just quizzes and things, but now that Common Core has arrived to demand stronger thinky skills, we must formatively assess in stronger thinky ways.

The common standards are asking students to do that and more. They are aimed at "building childrens' capacity to think, and analyze, and communicate, and reason," said Margaret Heritage, the assistant director for professional development at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at UCLA.

"Aimed at"? Yes, and when I was in college, I "aimed at" dating the hot girl in the flute section but I ended up getting pizza by myself. "Aiming at," is a wonderful phrase. I suggest that students taking math assessments indicate that they "aimed at" the correct answer and see if that gets them credit.

At any rate, what we seem to be advocating in the article is taking more time to assess more deeply. "A lot more talking, more focus, more discourse, more depth." Lots and lots of listening, high-quality listening, deep listening, creepy eaves-dropping on the kids listening. Because, again, no teacher has ever thought about listening to students.

In math, instead of "I do, you do, we do" lessons, teachers will need to have discussions about the answers, maybe spending twenty minutes to debate and discuss a single problem.

So, in short, all you need is a ten hour school day and a co-teacher in your classroom. Oh, and the kind of student population that a university lab school gets. Just take this proposal to your school board and suggest it for your entire elementary program; just double the length of the day and the size of the staff. How expensive could it be?

But Joyce--I mean, Heitin-- isn't done drifting through an alternate reality yet. The capper on the article is connecting all of this to the PARCC and SBA. But you will be relieved to know that both consortia will be making formative test materials available to your school! Yes!! Which is a relief because none of the stuff the whole rest of the article talks about will do a thing about preparing your students for the high stakes testing.

This kind of press release is about just one thing-- a credible cover story. It's the least the Joyce Foundation, a group that has its roots in Chicago schools corparateering and hangs out at the same reformy clubs as Gates and Broad, can do for us.

What are we actually going to do? We're going to get the practice tests ("formative assessments") and we're going to use them to teach to the test so that we can try to avoid the punishments threatened for students, teachers, schools, administrators and taxpayers if the students don't do well.

But we can't say we're teaching to the test. So we're offered this option-- pretend that we're doing all this cool stuff advocated by Joyce (if we aren't able to achieve the doubled school model, we can at least say we're "aiming at" it). Use this sparkly rhetoric to sell it to the public. Then send teachers back to their rooms to close the door and use their practice tests to drill students in preparation for the Big Test.

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