The distinctions between tweaking & transforming

By August 9, 2016Uncategorized

 There is an urgency to address some major areas soon. The current state accountability/assessment system isn’t capable of doing what we want to it to do. If you review the lists and intentions of those who create, orchestrate and mandate our testing system, those lists would be the same as any thinking individual. We all want the same things. We want our students to be in good schools with good teachers. And we want them to learn. 
Our current system of testing, thrown in the middle of the teaching system, needs to change. And, though maybe a little ahead of the game, this testing system may experience transformation first. Possibly even carving out the path for the transformation of everything we do when a classroom door closes each morning. We have an opportunity to establish some new understanding. Rather than tweaking this system, let’s look at transformation.

First, we have to change our thinking, our paradigm. Standardization seems to be important and no one denies that there has to be a standard, an agreed upon expectation. Addressing the concept of standardization, though, has to be approached correctly. The changing of our paradigm starts with how we think about standardizing the test. The following is an excerpt from “Reshaping the Paradigms of Teaching and Learning: What’s Done Today is Education’s Future”, set for August 2016 release from Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. 

Standardized testing, at least in the form currently used, has to be eliminated. Measuring the progress of the individual student has become competitive and used only for the purpose of measuring schools. While knowing that some students will not achieve the passing score, educators have to focus on getting the percentages to the acceptable level for the campus and the district. This diminishes the significance of the engaged educator with students.  

If we continue standardizing a testing system that establishes a false success rate for students based on the ability of every individual to pass the test the same way on the same day, we will continue experiencing the growing environment of disengagement. No one wants to abandon all forms of measurement. What and how we measure, however, is most significant.

To help us understand this role of diagnostic testing, we need only consider the same role in a medical field. The different perspectives, and purposes, of testing can be summed in two words common to this field; biopsy and autopsy. Similar comparisons in the field of education have been used before but, for our purpose, we will be targeting the paradigm of testing as it currently stands in our education system today.

A doctor who suspects that a patient may have a medical issue routinely schedules that person for a procedure to gather information related to the issue. Examination of that area, or specimen, taken from the patient will provide the medical professionals with the data and understanding of the patient’s current status and condition. This is a biopsy. A test for the purpose of diagnosing the current condition and creating a strategy to address the issues identified from that test.

It’s done, hopefully, at the earliest stage possible. It’s performed with a purpose in mind. Take a sample, examine the sample and develop the plan. This is to prevent further damage, stop progress of harmful elements and bring the patient back to a healthy condition.

Let’s look at another test, though. When a person passes away, often an examiner will gather information, inspect conditions that possibly caused the death, to determine what happened. This is an autopsy. It’s performed after it’s too late to do anything about the condition. There’s nothing anyone can do.

Both are tests. And both are diagnostic tests. Yet, the purpose and potential for both are vastly different. There is a huge difference between a biopsy and an autopsy.

Testing the way we do is more like an autopsy. We’ve tried to calculate what the test will ask, we prepare while being warned not to prepare, we run the test in a standardized way for every unique student expecting standardized results. And we panic when it doesn’t. And we determine it’s a bad teacher and a bad school and a bad district. It’s an autopsy to see what happened. It’s a “post” test. 

We should see testing as a biopsy. The “pre” test. To see where the students are at the beginning.  

To standardize a test for every student on the same day, at the same time, in the same way is effective only if it’s a biopsy, at the beginning. In order to assess the condition, the deficiencies, and develop the plan. At the beginning of the year. And we should remove standardization beyond that point.  

We currently run the test at the end, after it’s too late. Our autopsy testing is done to tell us what happened. Biopsy testing can tell what can happen if we will only do these things. Some might think we perform biopsy testing because of all the penalties, warnings, letters to parents, federal money and probations currently thrown in after the fact. However, it’s obvious it isn’t working. We do not run diagnostic testing that helps the individual learner.

Nationally, standards-based autopsy testing needs to become a thing of the past. Yet, we must still be measuring the progress of our students. And mastery-based learning is the key to our measurement. This will demand a lot from us. It requires that we create the system where self-directed learning can happen. 

We’ve often been accused of teaching to a test. With the pressure we place on teachers, it’s not too hard to understand how they may feel tempted to do that overtly, covertly, openly or behind the closed classroom door. However, once we understand that we should be doing biopsy testing, we can standardize at the beginning of the year, create the same conditions for the testers at the beginning. And we give that teacher the freedom to engage with learners in an atmosphere of learning. In other words, we give those among us who have the best opportunity (and skills) to make the biggest difference in our kids the freedom to do that.

Having done that, we can genuinely state, proudly state, that we teach from a test.

The autopsy testing system can stop. We can actually measure the learning, the growth and the readiness of our students for college, for careers, for participation in life. But we have to change our clocks and calendars. We have to change our paradigm. We have to drive a stake in the ground that says “here’s why we do what we do”.

We can transform rather than tweak. It takes courage. And it takes resolve. Intent is always good. But implementation trumps intent. We have the opportunity. Let’s start teaching from a test. Make no mistake. Our digitally proficient, intelligent kindergarteners and graduates will benefit from the courage that we, those responsible for their learning, display in the coming days.