Teaching

Students Are Not Like Beans

Great teaching and learning goes beyond standardized testing. Way beyond.

We are modeling our test-culture after a business theory popular mandated in the States that is based on quarterly earnings. This trains the eye toward the next quarter and the next quarter only. Myopia becomes the norm as participants scrape by on quotas. Similarly, students are put into various demographic groups and given frequent assessments. Their performance on these assessments (every three weeks in my current district) is analyzed to find out if each demographic is meeting the district’s quota. Easily enough, a person can see that this method is deeply flawed, primarily because people aren’t beans. This isn’t the way it has to be.

“Bean counting is the consequence of a view of the world as consisting of “things” to be manipulated, rather than people to be interacted with and conversed with and responded to.” — Steve Denning, Forbes Business, Online.

In fact, a student is very unlike a bean in so many ways. Consider the following ten facts about beans:

1. Beans are not cognitive creatures. 

2. Beans do not experience grief. 

3. Beans do not experience poverty. 

4. Beans do not experience discrimination. 

5. Beans are not affected by their inability to read, problem solve, or learn as well as other beans. 

6. Beans never need foster care, child support, or doctors’ visits. 

7. Beans do not feel the need to pretend everything is ok. 

8. Beans are not afraid to ask for help. 

9. Beans do not pressure other beans into poor decisions. 

10. Beans do not experience puberty.

I could continue to outline the many fascinating ways that students are not like beans, but but imagine if beans were just like students. Would frequent testing make the beans better beans? Or would a farmer be first obligated to address the ten issues (and hundreds more) first before considering the validity of any test or the judgment a test pronounces upon the quality of the beans (and their little bean trainers)?

No doubt, this metaphor is extremely exhausted by this point, but it certainly reveals the “data-driven” status quo’s absurdity. Great teaching is more than science — it is inarguably an art. A great teacher will be sensitive to a student’s individual needs in a way that no standardized test can be. A great teacher will be encouraging when a student feels defeated in ways that no standardized test could measure. A great teacher will strive to move mountains blocking a student’s achievements in ways VAM can not account. Great teachers are sensitive to a student’s stagnation and growth, pain and delight, poverty and privilege, anxiety and assuredness, turmoil and peace — and the list goes on.

I’ve compared our educational model to that of Germany’s in an earlier article. We can make a similar comparison here in the financial world. Germans rely upon great detail regarding complex businesses (like engineering fields) and take exacting measurements — however they consider the long term. If a product or service is currently unprofitable, they will likely continue to keep it if it shows future promise. They have more data and it is vastly more accurate. They have a much stronger information system than companies in the US as well. If you’re interested in reading more about this system, Management Accounting Quarterly has a wonderful abstract from 2007.

While it may sound at first like I’m arguing in favor of more data, I’m not. But I am. I don’t think the kind of data that comes from standardized tests could be construed by ANYONE as high quality or accurate. I do however think that the kind of “data” a master teacher utilizes day to day IS of this high quality and accuracy. Teachers use this data all day long — they confer and collaborate with colleagues about assignment ideas and lesson planning, they reflect with each other on the outcome of a lesson or event, they adapt their own lessons class after class throughout the day based on data that is collected in real-time through dozens of formative assessments while teaching. A really great teacher knows that their students succeed when they work well with teachers who teach the same students — regardless of department, when they listen to kids who look like they need an ear, and when they voice their concerns to the appropriate parties responsible for making in-the-now changes.

We horizontially align and vertically align — mostly through email and conversations in the hallway or during conferences. We pore over data we collect on our individual students when we ask a collegue, “Did Danny seem upset today? I wonder what was wrong?” and our reply is, “I called his grandmother. They were evicted since she lost her job and in two weeks they’re worried they will be living in a car.” We find solutions to challenges that no CCSS could ever address to help a student become successful.

The problem isn’t that students are not beans. The problem is the status quo is treating them like beans.

 

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Teaching

It’s Testing Season in Texas

The EOCs for English this year are over in some districts, ongoing in others. The test this year is an amalgamation of last year’s two separate tests for reading and writing. The powers at Pearson combined the two four-hour tests into one five-hour monstrosity at the behest of our legislators here in Texas. It was anyone’s guess as to how this would impact students, but the intent was to reduce the time spent (wasted) on testing our kids. 

So far, I don’t think our kids feel confident about their anticipated results, regardless of their knowledge of English and their preparations to take the test. Students report feeling rushed and worse, not finishing their tests. This is so disheartening — we spend the majority of the year teaching them both English and instructing them on how to take a test like this and they don’t feel they have the time to properly perform. 

In general, I’ve seen faces marked by anxiety and fear that their efforts were not good enough. Some students reported that they could not answer their test questions due to medication issues (sleepiness is a side-effect of many medications students take). They report just trying to complete the test even without reading the questions. 

I’m still not sure how this system, this test, achieves what the Texas legislature or the POTUS hope to achieve. What it does achieve is erroneous data and a sense of wide-spread hopelessness among students. Our students are left feeling like they have no options and our teachers are made to feel ineffective at best. Meanwhile, campaigning politicians ironically point to our failing schools — a failure engineered by the politicians themselves. 

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