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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Accountability in Boogie and Snot Land

Accountability in Boogie and Snot Land

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Now Playing» Band: AC/DC Record: Highway to Hell Believe or not, we’re feeling the pressure down in the boogie and snot zone in New Jersey. I want to make my points quick and painless. “This won’t hurt a bit,” crooned Nurse Wilkes. Famous last words before she smashed Paul Sheldon’s legs into kibbles-n-bits. (Misery-Stephen King) Two things: 1.The government is holding teachers accountable for their teaching by issuing different types of standardized tests: Some bubble, some illogical essay, some what-have-you. If you don’t play, you will pay. Here’s my question: What about the beginning teacher? What training did they receive in order to enter a profession that is rapidly turning into a nasty business? In New Jersey, a teacher-in-training student teaches for maybe three months with a veteran teacher before they are thrown into the pit. Are they ready to be held accountable? It’s bad enough that the tests are an inadequate technique to measure student and teacher performance. But to put a beginning teacher with three months of on-site training (maybe three weeks on their own) under the microscope is just ludicrous. 2.This is straight from the New Jersey DOE. Standard 3.2: “Students should be helped to understand the recursive nature and shifting perspectives of the writing process, in moving from the role of writer to the role of reader and back again. It is important for students to understand that writers write, then plan and revise, and then write again. They will learn to appreciate writing not only as a product, but also a process and mode of thinking and communicating.” Sounds great doesn’t it? (I’m not being sarcastic) It does. It’s real writing. I am proud that my state understands real writing. Now here’s the cloud, the thick poisonous cloud that I don’t get. Third graders are assessed by a twenty-five minute first draft. Third graders are assessed by a twenty-five minute first draft. Third graders are assessed by a twenty-five minute first draft. Third graders are assessed by a twenty-five minute first draft. Eight-year-olds, dude! The scores are published and the parents say, “what the ____?” Teachers are judged. Changes are made. The standards shine and the assessment is in the toilet. (Well, it should be.) We are accountable.

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Anthony Cody's picture
Anthony Cody
Science Coach and mentor, Oakland, California
Blogger 2014
Facilitator 2014

To address your questions:

The ability of beginning teachers to do test preparation is one of their selling points. When interns in some programs come into my district they are coached intensively to examine their data closely, focus on learning targets drawn from the standards and test blueprints, and make sure their students score well. This does not always work, and the students may be far less interested in their test scores than their teachers, but it does result in some solid test preparation. Not that this really means the students are learning more, or anything of greater value.

The other issue that you bring up gets to the heart of the matter. What is the quality of the assessments we are being held accountable for? How appropriate are they? What do the results really mean? The public has become convinced that teachers are self-serving charlatans and alchemists, who conjure up our grades from mystical formulae. The only way we can be made honest is by the almighty external test -- no matter its quality. So long as it comes from some reputable agency and is administered to all students so all can be compared -- and we get numbers, because we must have data!

There are certainly meaningful ways to assess students -- even some that will allow us some degree of comparison. But the higher the quality the assessment, the more expensive it is to score. So we have the entire educational system chasing test scores on cheap tests that have little real value.

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