I Choose Test-based Education?

Posted on October 2, 2010. Filed under: thinking aloud |

Usually I balk at test data.  I probably fit well with what web20classroom describes in his blog:  http://is.gd/fGxxt . Yesterday my position on more holistic educational approaches was deeply challenged. I observed a data meeting between teachers at a nearby elementary school.  This is a school that has raised test scores significantly and now claims zero “Far Below Basic” and only a handful of “Below Basic” CST students (these are the lowest bands in the California testing system).  The school also has so many children qualified as “GATE” through double advanced status on the California test, that once wonders if such a GATE percentage is possible.  This school is not in a wealthy California suburb.  It is a school 90% Hispanic, 17% English learners, and more than half the students have high socio-economic need.  This school houses the Special Day Class (SDC-Special Ed) population for the district (and yes, SDC numbers are included in those test results).

For many educators that I follow, read, listen to, and admire, the very idea of a “data session” with teachers is anathema to a quality learning environment and to teacher professionalism.  They would say to me, “over reliance on testing is bad for American education,” and “teachers need to be thinking about the whole child.”  They would say increasing the test results of students is simply too-thin a margin for judging educational quality. They would tell me that because these teachers were focused on results from bubble-in tests, they were accidentally overlooking the more important responsibilities of education: the needs of the whole child, problem-based learning, the arts, and joy in learning  (and normally I would agree.)

Nevertheless, I sat in upon a meeting of dedicated, sincere educators who carefully analyzed what the test scores might mean for their students, which test items may or may not answer their questions about each student, and how they could adjust their teaching (and the test-itself) to help. Students weren’t numbers.These teachers used names. They talked of issues confronting Michael and Sarah and how those issues could be addressed.  They worried about every child and every group of children. They worked together tightly as a team supporting each other, rather than comparing. They made plans and timelines and committed to making changes right away. They sharpened what they were going to teach and how they were going to teach it.  It felt real.  It felt effective.  It felt empowering of teachers.  I felt proud to be a member of their profession.

As I crossed the campus, wondering whether I had been hoodwinked by the shiny gloss of test data, I heard a group of students giggling on the lawn and another group of students joking with a teacher in the hallway.  I knew they had just returned from the arts classes they receive while their teachers are heavily vested in data discussion.  All I could think is that my daughters would have chosen this school.  I probably would have chosen it as well. Those teachers truly care about children and work hard on behalf of every child. They remain positive and upbeat. They are a team.

Perhaps implementation is the real debate?

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