Common Core State Standards, once hailed as a turning point in education, is under fire from the left and the right for a variety reasons but for me the most pressing issue is the assessment piece and the tentacles that surround it. Taking a look at the anchor standards (ELA) for reading, writing, speaking and listening I like the language that relates to the upper levels of Bloom's taxonomy. We want our students (and adults!) to be great at interpreting, analyzing and evaluating all kinds of text. It's imperative that they be great communicators able to write clearly and coherently as well as speak effectively, using rich language, in the form of a monologue or dialogue where critical listening skills come into play. Developmental psychologists debate the age appropriateness of the grade level standards and while increasing the sophistication of the application of the anchor standards with age makes perfect sense to me I'm not sure explicitly outlining what that looks like works well with authentic assessment. Therein lies snake in the weeds for me, the assessment.
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What's the answer?So if not a standardized testing system then what? The answer is not easy and that is the problem, using standardized tests are the easy way out. While the nation's guidance counselors may disagree, administering one test that can be scored quickly and used to compare kids is relatively simple but the limits on the reliability and validity are questionable. The Common Core skills are a small part of what makes our students successful in college and career and limiting our evaluations to those skills is insulting. Much has been made of the progressive schooling in Finland and while the problems and challenges are not the same as in the US it is interesting to note some key differences. As this Smithsonian article points out the overhaul included a much different approach to teacher preparation that has allowed for statements like this: "Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around." So should we trust our teachers? Speaking in general terms yes, we should trust the intentions but having faith in their training is another thing.
The parent in the video above remarks, that if our teachers don't know their student's learning by April we have a problem and she's absolutely right. While many of our schools may know scores of their students they haven't learned how to authentically assess the teaching and learning going on in the building, and there is a difference. It's imperative that we train our teachers to design instruction that effectively assesses our students so we can trust their judgement and feedback to be used in a way that standardized tests only hope to accomplish. This reform includes building systems, like tuning protocols, into our schools that ensure quality with narrative feedback and creating a culture of critical collaboration among students and staff. Instead of teacher evaluations based on checklists they should be having conversations around meeting essential elements. If we knew that our teachers were doing a great job of assessing students on the local level why would we need a behemoth of a testing system? With the concern of assessing teacher quality being a driving force behind the creation of our testing culture this will take a massive retooling by our teacher training institutions and a re-visioning of local quality controls. This isn't tinkering with incremental change, it will require a reboot of nearly every aspect of our educational system. Consistent calibration with established norms to ensure quality work at each school would allow students to be assessed within the normal parameters of their daily "school work" instead of being subjected to days of external testing.