Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Education Reform in Iowa: Creating a Laser-Like Focus and Rallying Point for All

Two weeks ago I published an entry exposing the ludicrousness of the multiple reform efforts that are being studied and dissected by numerous task forces right now. My hypothesis remains the same: the issues that we are grappling with are far too contentious to have any hope of survival once the Legislature convenes in January. You need to look no further than the strike of the Chicago Public Teachers Union to see how contentious some of these issues are. It appears teacher evaluation is one of the major sticking points in the new contract, something that is currently being discussed in Iowa. How do you think that is going to go over in our state, I mean really? Unless we have single party control in state government, I wouldn't hold my breath that anything substantial is going to be decided on that particular issue.

So anyway, I have an idea, or a thought. Let's stop the spinning plates and create that laser-like focus. How about an idea that we can all get behind and support? I actually have one. Let's start by clearly defining and articulating what it is we are supposed to be teaching in our schools, and develop an assessment system that measures it. You probably think we already have that, don't you? You would say something like this, "We have the Iowa Core Curriculum (which is now the Common Core). Isn't that what you are supposed to teach?" Then you would say something like this, "The measurement that is used is the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (which is now called the Iowa Assessment).

Well, we do have both of those things. The problem is they are not even close to what we need. Let's take the Common Core first. Studies suggests that in order for schools to adequately cover all the standards we would need an educational system that was twenty-three years in length. Consider that for a minute: we currently have an education system that is thirteen years in length (K-12). It is safe to say that it is not feasible to cover material in the Common Core in any way that ensures mastery.

How about that assessment then, you know the ITBS? Well, let's have that discussion. First, tell me what you know about Box and Whisker plots? If you are like me, probably not a lot. I so know a little bit more than I did a week ago. You see, I am finishing my doctorate and am taking a class on quantitative research methodology right now. Last week in class we were looking over a statistical analysis website and low and behold, I saw my first real life reference to the Box and Whisker graph! Why is this important? Because there are questions about Box and Whiskers on the 5th grade Iowa Assessment! Do our kids need to know this? I would argue that they do not.

The other HUGE problem with the Iowa Assessment is that is it a norm referenced test. This means that it doesn't measure whether or not the test taker knows the material, but how well they compare to a sample of their peers. I know, in this country we want to know our ranking, and if we rank higher than our neighbor or the student that sits across from us in science class. Would you rather your child knows how to do a specific task, or would you rather know their ranking? I would argue that what we really need is a criterion referenced test which measures whether or not students know the material.

So at Hudson, we have embraced the PLC at Work Model. That is the Professional Learning Communities. We are committed to clearly articulating what it is our students need to know and be able to do. This is called identifying our Essential Learning's. After that, we are developing formative assessments to help our teachers determine if the students have learned the material.

If we were able to do these two things statewide, and I mean do them well, I think we would be well positioned to tackle some of these tougher issues. 

1 comment:

  1. You are right on the money. Standardized tests were never meant to measure student achievement, only to compare students. Standardized tests remain culturally-biased and include questions that can only be considered trivial, like the box and whisker graph you mentioned. I believe we need to acknowledge that students do not learn at the same pace. If the goal is for students to master a set of standards, moving them through school by age/grade level makes no sense...nor do letter grades. I think we would serve students better by making mastering standards the focus of their learning (once those standards are paired down to a realistic set) and allow students to work at their own pace. That would be real educational reform!