Last week I found myself in an interesting discussion via Twitter over Harvard’s recently released report on state and international achievement growth. This was the tweet that started it all:
…and then this was the tweet that really got me thinking and engaged in the discussion:
Like Scott, I also generally take a “so what?” kind of attitude toward standardized test scores. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a fan. The general reason I’m not a fan is because I don’t believe the tests we currently have align well with the learner outcomes our society needs. I tend to value ingenuity, creativity and the ability to innovate, while the standardized tests we currently have tend to value knowledge and skills. Yong Zhao’s commentary on the double-think of creativity and testing resonates with me.
But I found myself arguing that we SHOULD, in fact, be alarmed by the conclusion that our state ranks dead last in terms of growth on international measures. Here are my general points:
~ I believe a quality education should result in important knowledge/skills. I still think we have a long ways to go in terms of getting real about what knowledge and which skill sets are actually important, but I believe standardized tests do a reasonable job of measuring whether or not students have gained some specific knowledge and skills. I have a problem with the fact that we widely claim to have taught the tested material, but many students apparently did not learn it. Minimally, we need to accept the challenge of asking more questions in response to these data.
~ I believe a quality education results in much more than knowledge and skills. I believe we’ve done a reasonable job of defining these in Iowa through the Universal Constructs. Many who dismiss achievement data do so by arguing that our goal is not simply knowledge and skills, but the kinds of outcomes described through the Universal Constructs. I agree with this position, but I have a problem with the fact that we have little or no evidence to tell us whether we are achieving these outcomes. We need different/better measures. In the absence of evidence, we can’t simply claim that our students are attaining these outcomes.
~ The easiest path to achievement (currently defined as test scores) is often through what I would consider poor pedagogy. Certainly the learning environments I value (for the sake of common understanding, described by the Iowa Core’s Characteristics of Effective Instruction) should also result in achievement PLUS the outcomes described in the Universal Constructs. Essentially, if we are providing high quality learning environments aligned to common (and tested) standards, we should still see test results.
~ We are fortunate in Iowa to have many districts pushing back against traditional education paradigms and attempting wholeheartedly to re-imagine school through good work around inquiry, project based learning, efforts at personalization, etc. Given that these efforts should result in knowledge, skills AND much more, I am concerned. Minimally, I believe we need to ask and answer at least two follow-up questions:
- Are our schools engaged in a quality, ongoing process of alignment? Is there alignment among our intended, enacted, and assessed curricula? Did our students learn what we believe what we taught? Maybe the test items our students didn’t score well on are aligned to learning goals we chose to let go of. Maybe not, but we’d better know either way.
- Are our efforts at implementing innovative learning environments effective? Are we monitoring their implementation to ensure the outcomes we intend? It is quite possible to “do” inquiry, PBL, and personalization poorly. Simply attempting is not good enough.
Please don’t think I’m saying that it’s time to pull back and go back to our old ways because they gave us test scores. Rather, I am saying that it’s time to pull together. We can’t continue to force the forward-thinking and innovative districts to go forward alone. None of us individually has the time, energy, or brainpower to get us over the tremendous hump of massive systems change. We need to work together and share the burden of developing a new system and new methods for monitoring a evaluating the new system.