Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pearson's Rennaisance (2): Assessment Driving Instruction

We are reading through the four chapters of Pearson's "Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment," Peter Hill and Michael Barber's 88-page ode to reform. In the previous chapter, we looked at how the stage had been set for revolution. Next up-- a look at exactly how assessment (and teaching) is currently coming up short.


2. Assessment: A Field in Need of Reform

Assessments! Man, they're a mess. Particularly because of using tests for purposes other than those for which they were designed and unanticipated side effects. Here we will look at how the world's pre-eminent test salesmen see the various purposes of testing.

Assessment for selection and certification

Like the Regents tests of NY or the SATs. Interesting history of this sort of testing. Graduation exams are controversial all over the world.

Assessment for accountability

Also much fun for everyone. A brief history, including NCLB. They believe these come from a "consensus that outcomes matter; that they should be measured and that schools and systems should be held accountable for them." Neo-liberals like them because they provide data on which to base school choice which will of course lead to great schools. "Parents believe that they are entitled to know how their child is progressing" and boy, is this one tiresome. Has anybody ever heard of a parent stomping into a school or classroom and saying, "I'm tired of living in the dark. I demand you give my child a standardized test right now, dammit!"

The authors discuss both of these testing purposes as if they sprang up like kudzu. They modestly refrain from including any sentence like "Also, we have spent a gabillion dollars lobbying and advocating and convincing  powerful people that they need more testing to make their schools better." This is like reading an objective history of smoking written by The Tobacco Institute declaring, "Man, I don't know why everyone was smoking. I guess they just wanted to be sophisticated and cool."

For these two types of assessment, we face Four Big Challenges of Testing, which are

1) Accommodating the full range of student outcomes

Can they come up with a test that will accurately measure the full range of ability. Hint: remember the standardized test that your top kids finished in fifteen minutes and your low-function students spent five hours on? It was failing in this domain.

2) Providing meaningful information on learning outcomes 

Not being able to test the full range in turn leads to reports of results that aren't exactly helpful or useful. There are many paragraphs here, but they boil down to "no matter how you statistically massage clunky data, you don't get golden eggs." Particularly when you try to draw conclusions from the data that the data was not intended to measure.

3) Assessing the full range of valued outcomes

Fancy words but mostly this about the fact that you can't measure much higher order skill and thought with a multiple choice question. Turns out there are all sorts of things that can't be cheaply and easily assessed by a standardized bubble test. Who knew?

4) Maintaining the integrity of assessments

People try to game the system. I'm shocked. Shocked!

Assessment for improving learning and teaching

Here's what we're selling next. Formative assessment is awesome. Awesome! ay attention to this next part, because although Pearson doesn't label it as such, it's Pearson's picture of

What instruction is supposed to look like

To teach the Pearson way, the teacher must--

-- have a really clear picture of what the student is supposed to learn. This should take the form of "validated maps of the sequence in which students typically learn a given curriculum outcome." These are sometimes called "learning progressions" or "critical learning paths." It's the railroad track that every student must travel down.

-- have a process to collect, store and analyze oodles of student data

-- monitor students daily with structured observation and assessment tools that are connected to objectives

-- use all that data to plan what comes next

Furthermore, Pearson wants you to know

The way you teach now sucks

Teachers mostly don't have the resources to do all of the above. "But without such a systematic, data-driven approach to instruction, teaching remains an imprecise and somewhat idiosyncratic process that is too dependent on the personal intuition and competence of individual teachers."

In other words, we need to teacher-proof classrooms. Teachers are human and variable and not reliable cogs in the educational machine. If we could get them all bound to assessments, that would tie them into a system that would be smooth and elegant. And profitable.

Assessment is the new Missing Link for transforming education into a teacher-proof, school-proof, techno-driven, highly profitable process. In the next chapter, we'll look at how assessment is supposed to be transformed.

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