Dear Bill and Melinda,
“What is the ranking of my child?” This is a pretty common question that teachers get at parent-teacher conferences. It seems like a simple question that would result in a simple answer or number. And herein lies the fundamental misconception – there is nothing simplistic about education. This is what the high-stakes testing movement doesn’t understand. Teaching is not about putting information in front of children, it is about figuring out what a student knows and doesn’t know and teaching into the gaps. It is about learning. Good teachers understand learning. Learning is highly differentiated, takes time and practice to master, should be practiced in a variety of modalities and is never the same for all children.
As a novice teacher I remember observing teachers and classrooms and taking voracious notes on the lessons and the activities. As a master teacher, my observations have changed – I am no longer interested in learning about activities – anyone can put an activity in front of students. I am interested in the questions teachers ask, in the anecdotal observations teachers make and in the reflections and course corrections teachers take.
You see ranking students tells us little, it does not provide insight into what a child knows and needs to learn, but only a rank in a point of time. The reason why teachers don’t only use standardized test scores to measure learning is not because they are afraid of the results, it’s because the rankings tell a teacher very little about a student, their strengths and weaknesses or their metacognition.
Teachers are not opposing NCLB and Race to the Top because we are poor teachers and afraid of assessments or evaluations. We oppose it because it represents the lowest form of learning (Blooms Taxonomy). It does not inspire children to love learning, it does not encourage teachers to dig deeper and find new and innovative ways to meet their students’ needs, or provide parents with meaningful information but rather it stifles learners and demoralizes professionals.
To answer the first question – “What is the ranking of my child?” 18/21. Not a good student right? Wrong. You see this ranking was based on reading scores and all of my students were reading above grade level by the end of the year – this anecdotal information would not be included in a ranking score but it is very important in understanding the true measure of this child. Does it change your viewpoint on how successful this student is? – It should.
Educational reform is needed and I’m not opposed to using standardized measures and teacher evaluations in some form. I know what I do and why I do it and you might be surprised to learn that no evaluation form will ever be able to capture the intricacies of a master teacher’s performance. I am however, opposed to one-size fits all testing and evaluating that is not designed to better education, but rather to skew results so that monies can be diverted to Charter Schools which are funded by public money and privately operated and, to big businesses like Pearson to create tests and practice materials and tutorials for consumers to purchase for profit.
Teachers are the real champions of children and learning. Bill and Melinda, I will know you are really interested in education reform when you bring master teachers to the table instead of your business friends and so called reformers like Michelle Rhee who can only assess education with novice eyes.
First Grade Teacher