Please take time to do the same. The future of education in our state could change if we take this opportunity to break out of the stranglehold of standardized testing and, instead, move toward authentic assessment.
Today, I enjoyed a conversation with a number of colleagues about the “The Digital Influence on Looking Closely at Student Work.” Definitely worth a listen, and be prepared to write down lots of ideas about how to engage deeply with students’ work as a tool for assessment and professional development.
Andrew Sliwinski – Co-Founder of DIY.org; designer and engineer focused on improving how we play and learn
Kylie Peppler – Assistant Professor in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University; Director at Creativity Labs
Tina Blythe – Co-author of “Looking Together at Student Work”; Learning Group Leader at Project Zero
So, I have gathered a few resources that trace CCSS implementation in our state, and across the nation, including the current debate.
This is not meant to be exhaustive, but instead to be a set of resources that can inform our critical, careful conversations about what we, as English teachers, can do moving forward in an era of CCSS. Interestingly enough, not much of this conversation involves actual students, a point I will return to at the end of this post.
Like all origin stories, the CCSS’s is a bit murky, depending on who you ask. The “official” story, as reported on the CCSS website (emphasis is mine) is that:
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt.
The nation’s governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the development of the Common Core State Standards and continue to lead the initiative. Teachers, parents, school administrators and experts from across the country together with state leaders provided input into the development of the standards.
States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards. Each state independently made the decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards, beginning in 2010. The federal government was NOT involved in the development of the standards. Local teachers, principals, and superintendents lead the implementation of the Common Core.
Under criterion (B)(1)(ii), Phase 1 applicants will earn points based on the extent to which they demonstrate commitment to and progress toward adopting a common set of K-12 standards by August 2, 2010. Phase 2 applicants will earn points based on whether they have adopted a common set of K-12 standards by August 2, 2010.
“… while it’s not a federal program, it certainly has strong federal support, enough to make it a controversial program that some Republican politicians have felt the need to back away from.”
For the left, he summarizes by stating that
“[l]iberal opponents describe Common Core as a crude mandate that’s going to push arts and science even further out of schools, limit the teaching of literature and creative writing in classrooms, and end up being used to rate schools and teachers unfairly.”
And, for those of us caught in the middle, it has led to some confusion, frustration, and anger. In Michigan, it appears (for the moment) that the state will allow education funding for CCSS initiatives. We have the Michigan Coalition for High Student Standards — including partners such as varied as Dow Chemical and Steelcase to the MEA and AFT — advocating for the CCSS and, in turn, the federal money and testing that comes with them. On the other side, we have local, grassroots groups like Save Michigan’s Public Schools and the broader coalition formed by Diane Ravitch, the Network for Public Education.
As of the time of this blog post (September 30, 2013), the latest news I can get from MLive reports that:
Despite an Oct. 1 deadline that would stop funding for the Common Core State Standards in Michigan, lawmakers in the Michigan Senate are not going to rush to approve a concurrent resolution approved Thursday by the state House of Representatives.
Interestingly enough, the House stripped out an “amendment which would have required state lawmakers to also take the same exams as students” because “the cost for test materials and scoring for the entire Michigan Legislature alone would have exceeded $3,300.” Really? I bet that we could pass the hat and come up with that much money so our legislators could have the same pleasure as our students.
One of the key features of the conventional wisdom, the dominant ideology, is that we no longer recognize it as such because we hear it so often. There’s no food for thought here; everyone just knows that our students are lousy, or that raising test scores would improve our economy, or that grit is good; there’s no need to defend these propositions.
I doubt that we will solve any of these problems in our conversation later this week, but I hope that we might continue to move forward with our efforts to help teachers and students in the small ways that we still can despite the overwhelming forces that are against us.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Deb Socia, executive director of Tech Goes Home, a non-profit based Boston that has recently launched a national portal with resources for parents, teachers, and community members interested in connecting families with technology. (Quick disclaimer: I was contacted by Intel with an initial press release, but followed up with Deb in an interview.) Here is part of the press release shared by Intel:
Founded in 2000, Tech Goes Home has trained more than 10,000 residents in Boston since 2010 alone, with more than 4,000 individuals now participating in the program each year. Through its impactful and cost-effective model to help families gain access to the skills and tools needed for 21st century success, Tech Goes Home has been committed to tackling the entrenched barriers to technology adoption and Internet access in Boston, and it will now spread this work across the country.
“The success of Tech Goes Home is the result of the amazing partnerships we have with Mayor Menino’s office and our Boston partners,” said Deb Socia, executive director of Tech Goes Home. “Thanks to the support of Intel, Tech Goes Home can now improve the lives of unconnected people across the country.”
The Tech Goes Home national program will virtualize materials so parents, students and teachers can take advantage of technology and learning no matter where they are. The program offers free resources categorized by work, school, finance, personal wellness, and cultural and recreational opportunities that help people make the most of their increased access to technology. The nonprofit also offers training toolkits to support formal and informal education settings, as well as virtual training groups where trainers can upload their own recommended resources.
More importantly, Deb and I had a chance to talk about many issues related to education, including her career as a teacher and principal, her efforts to bring a 1:1 program to her school, and how the resources from Tech Goes Home could be used to offer digital literacy programs for families. She described to me how families in Boston were provided with 15 hours of training in local schools and community centers, and then were provided a netbook or tablet for just a $50 co-pay. The TGH team then helps them get online with Connect2Compete and using ISP’s such as FreedomPop, which offers 1GB of 4G LTE each month for most low income families for, yes, free. Also, there is 500 MB for those who do not live in low income census tracks.
Deb clearly has higher aspirations than just getting everyone online. Her goal is to provide a three-pronged approach to improving digital literacy. “There is training, hardware, and access,” she explains. “With all three we can anticipate more success [for families].”
For me, I am trying to figure out a way that I can work with local schools and other community partners to make use of the resources provided by Tech Goes Home for parents, students, and teachers. I encourage you to do the same, and to share your stories so we can figure out how to make training, hardware, and access available for as many families as possible. I’ve already sent an email to our local library’s technology program director and a community organization focusing on technology skill development for adults.
This is one reason there is a backlash against standardized tests — in particular, using student test scores as the primary basis for making decisions about firing, promoting and compensating teachers. I’m all for accountability, but I understand teachers’ concerns and frustrations.
Even in subjects where the assessments have been validated, such as literacy and math, test scores don’t show a teacher areas in which they need to improve.
If we aren’t careful to build a system that provides feedback and that teachers trust, this opportunity to dramatically improve the U.S. education system will be wasted.
This comes from the man, through his foundation and reputation, who has been one of the most influential educational “reformers” in the past decade. And even he is cautioning us about the ways in which the current push to tie test scores to teacher accountability is wrong-headed. Finally.
In order for a teacher evaluation system to be legitimate, it should have a related set of qualities that go well beyond the simplistic approach imposed by the U.S. Department of Education. A credible evaluation system is valid (it has buy-in from multiple stakeholders’ perspectives, including the teachers for whom it is developed); it is reliable (similar results would be available from different assessors); it has utility for all participants regardless of the outcome of the evaluation (including those who are found deficient); it fosters the development of better teachers; it provides data that contribute to this development by attending to multiple facets of faculty performance; and it is conducted respectfully in terms of the magnitude of the job and the resources provided to undertake it.
This week, a colleague invited me to share some brief thoughts about standards and standardized testing with her preservice teachers in a private discussion forum for her class. I composed this quickly, but I hope that it has something to say for those of us who are interested in teaching writing, authentic writing, and substantive and reflective ways.
Prof V. invited me to join in this conversation last week, and I apologize for getting here a bit late. You all certainly hit on a number of the major pros and cons related to standardized testing and I don’t have too much more to say about what you have already covered. I do, however, want to raise two important points about how standardized tests have come to be used and what the implications are for the PARCC and SMARTER Balanced assessments that will be coming out in the near future.
First, it is fairly well documented that standardized tests have little to do with student achievement and much more to with poverty levels, social class, and the ways in which our children are conditioned for school. One outspoken critic of standardized tests, Alfie Kohn, offers a variety of examples of how more privileged and, for the most part, white students perform much better on these tests than their minority counterparts. This allows politicians and corporate education reformers to keep pushing for “higher standards” and “market-based reforms.” Other critics, such as Diane Ravitch, have been able to clearly make the case for how such reforms are thinly veiled attempt to keep the status quo in place. In other words, standardized tests help perpetuate social inequality.
I was on a panel last fall where we talked about a number of issues related to corporate style reform, and I encourage you to check out our wiki to find more resources that can help you better understand the effects of standardized testing and how you might offer alternative types of assessments for your students. In fact, that’s the conversation I would encourage you to have now. What are our other options? How might we use assessment in thoughtful, productive ways to encourage our students to reflect on their work and set higher goals? How can we get out of the debate about standardized testing and move into a conversation about authentic assessment?
And the proclamations about the power of digital learning are a distant memory in our multi-tasked lives.
Digital Learning Day 2013 is in the books.
The post that follows is, really, in two distinct parts. First, I summarize my cynical vision of what DLDay was designed for as a front for the corporate education machine trying to sell software and computerized assessments.
Then, I summarize just a few of the thoughtful, engaging, and useful ideas from teachers. If you want to skip the sarcasm, then scroll down to “What Really Matters about DLDay.”
What Really Bothers Me about DLDay
Although, it’s important to note that Karen Cator — director of the Office of Educational Technology — would have us believe that “Every day should be Digital Learning Day.” In fact, ““Access to technology has become as important to learning as access to a library, yet teachers remain the critical link between students and the content.” (eSchool News, 2/8/13)
Any chance that teachers will remain the critical link, or — as I have posed before — is there another underlying agenda related to technology and its place in corporate education reform?
I am, at the very least, quite concerned about the implications of Digital Learning Day, because we are now left with Project 24, “an urgent call to action for systemic planning around the effective use of technology and digital learning to achieve the goal of “career and college readiness” for all students.” It’s terrible that no one has thought that technology could change education in powerful ways before, especially our government officials, in recent memory. Another unfunded initiative is bound to help.
purchasing hardware, software, or computer devices that improve learning
creating or upgrading to online assessments
improving technology readiness and online assessments
Ugh. I won’t elaborate much more here.
As a side note, how is it that George Miller funded his way into Congress? Mostly with the support of organized labor, including teachers unions whose members will likely have their jobs outsourced to automated curriculum and assessment “solutions.” Thanks for nothing.
All of this, sadly, simply reinforces the idea that corporate education reform is the new norm. Somehow, this is not very reassuring at all, especially knowing that students and teachers are more valuable as data points then they are as people. If this is the only lesson we take away from Digital Learning Day — and it certainly is one of the lessons — then it was a sad day to think about the future of digital learning.
What Really Matters about DLDay
On the other hand, there were truly innovative things that happened with and for teachers and students on DLDay. Teachers and students doing great work together, which we would believe that Karen Cator is all in favor of, right?
I’ve culled through many tweets, colleagues’ blogs, and other links that people have shared to come up with a list of alternatives to the corporate style of ed tech reform that has been proffered in the official news media. I don’t even pretend to believe that this list is complete, and anyone who has others to add to it would help me out a great deal by sharing them. I will keep updating this post as long as I need to.
So, here are a number of posts from and about teachers that demonstrate the true power of digital learning:
I’m sure that there are more out there, as this is what I came up with from scanning my own PLN and some basic searching on Twitter and Google. I wish I had more of these specific, creative ideas, but I need to call it a night. The individualized, creative, and contextual applications of technology in each of these above examples shows me the power and possibility of digital learning, each and every day.
Most of these examples were free, or at least very low cost. Few required massive infrastructure upgrades, integrated assessment systems, or other new software or hardware purchases. We have a great number of tools that we can use for digital writing and digital teaching. We simply need to respect the voices and professionalism of teachers so that they can use technology in these smart ways.
Let’s hope that we can bring more of these teachers — and their students — to the fore in our celebration of next year’s DLDay.
Update: February 9, 2013: Wording change for clarity.