A Collection of Shower Thoughts on Assessment

pablo (1)I stand before you, my fellow congregants of the Church of Pedagogy, to utter unto you a statement that verges on blasphemy.  And please, hold your slings and arrows for a moment and allow me to explain.

I do not hate standardized tests.

Stepping off the imaginary pew in my brain, I recognize that saying I do not hate standardized tests strikes an odd chord.  No teacher actually enjoys standardized testing, but as Ashley Rickards states, “…there is an in-between and I don’t think we’re there, yet.” There is a place for standardized tests because, when well crafted (insert laughs and scoffs), they provide insight and knowledge for students, teachers, schools, and districts. However, as a practitioner, I also recognize that a multiple choice test with culturally irrelevant information does not accurately reflect the whole child.

Shower Thoughts on The History:  How Did We Get Here?

There is no shortage of memes, speeches, and articles outlining the evils of our current testing system.  Starting with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and then continued with Race to the Top, the current testing system creates a culture of competition, not learning.  This fundamentally changes how we do school in this country.  There is a fundamental difference between schooling and education, and unfortunately, I believe we have lost sight of what true education is.  So, in an effort to recapture true education while maintaining the need for standardized testing, how do we rework our current system to better capture the true education, knowledge, and being of a child?

Shower Thoughts on The Shift

I do want to draw attention to the fact that I said “rework” and not “change.”  To rework suggests that the system’s resources are strategically reallocated.  Why create a whole system overhaul if only tweaks are needed?  As we tweak, can we consider the not-so-absurd idea that there can be more than one assessment format? Could students have a voice in the specific type of test (i.e. multiple-selection, product-based assessment, oral exam, etc.) they want to take to maximize their chances of successes?

Bringing it Home: Changing the Dogma of Assessment in the Church of Pedagogy

Sarah (name changed), a former student, and I were speaking during lunch during the first day of state testing.  She began lamenting that while she is smart (side note…REALLY SMART), she struggles with multiple choice tests because they are so limiting.  For a divergent thinker like Sarah, multiple choice tests are stifling.  Her brilliance struck me, so I decided to interview her.

Sarah’s words struck me in two ways.  First, Sarah stated that writing would allow her to express herself more effectively.  Furthermore, if writing is something she loves to do, why shouldn’t she have the opportunity to test in a way that is more engaging for her?  Wouldn’t her increased engagement equate to better scores?  Sarah also addressed the idea of drawing answers to demonstrate her thinking process.  With the rise of visual notetaking, could we not adapt the practice to assessment?  Sherrill Knezel notes that she experienced a juvenile detention center where the students used visual notetaking.  According to Knezel, “Personal expression, demonstration of comprehension, and confident engagement were visible through a dry-erase marker. Students who would have not been able to engage with the text in other ways could still do so through the drawings used to represent concepts.”  Imagine these successes if they were transferred over to a standardized testing system.

“The one size fits all approach of standardized testing is convenient but lazy.”  -James Dyson

Multiple choice tests, even those with limited writing opportunities, are easy.  But as James Dyson said, they are lazy.

I understand the logistical implications of providing different testing formats.  This type of overhaul would take years.  However, in the future, our students will not demonstrate their knowledge and know-how through a one-size-fits-all method.  Why can we not collectively figure out a way to reallocate our resources to meet the needs of the students?  Teachers are nothing if not resourceful and innovative.  Why can we not figure out a way to assess our students’ education instead of their schooling?  To me, it is a no-brainer.  It is possible, we just have to preach the new gospel often enough to make it happen.  We are on the right path when it comes to assessment.  We just aren’t there, yet.  We just need some more converts.

Identity in the Wake of Heartache

pablo (5)When I opened this blog, I stated my intent to share my stories and the stories of others in an attempt to further the practice of instilling teacher identity into education.  I posited that in doing so, our students would become more successful because of a more honest attempt at learning as opposed to just schooling.  However, after the events of the last few days in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, I am at a loss of how to do that.  I believe that I made an honest mistake in my opening.  I expressed the idea that I could help provide answers without leaving room to ask questions.  And now, as I continue my soul searching to understand my identity and its effects on my classroom, I need help.  I have questions I must ask.  I am conflicted.

To start, I need to say that I can empathize with the peoples of color community.  As a Jewish man with family who survived Russian persecution, I get it.  As a member of a “free America,” I have faced antisemitism around me.  I get it.  Because of this, I feel the need to defend the defenseless.  My sense of justice is overactive, but worthwhile.  This is extremely visible in my classroom as I create my community.  I don’t yell at students unless they step across my one line in the sand; they cannot be derogatory towards anyone for anything.  Then I yell, and I yell hard.  I won’t apologize for that.  My understanding of life through my Jewish lens shows up in my class and this makes sense to me.  I have no questions here.  Here is the problem, however.  I am, at the end of the day, white.  When I need to blend in to be safe, I know how because of experience, because of know-how, and most importantly/unfortunately, because I am white.

My family

Look at my family. If ever they came for us, we could “disappear.”  We are as white as white can be.


And here is where my role as a global citizen meets with some dissonance in the classroom.  Who am I to talk when it comes to the #blacklivesmatters movement?  Sure, I consider myself an ally, though I certainly could and should be doing more.  Sure, I say I would step up and defend someone of color if I saw wrongdoing, but I cannot say with certainty as I have never been in that situation.  What credibility do I have?  I am just another white guy hashtagging, or at least one of my students could say that.  I am open to honest discourse, but how do I engage the issues while seeming genuine.  After Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin, my students told me quite forcefully that I had no right to talk about the issue.  While I disagreed with them, their pain was theirs and I gave them the space they clearly needed.  I am a white guy who wants my students safe from cops, from each other, and from the terrible aspects of society.  How do I express this care to them while not being discredited as being just another white guy shouting the latest victim’s name on Facebook from my couch ?

And how do I show them that cops lives’ DO matter as well as black lives?  How do I show them my belief that to separate the issues into mutually exclusive concepts is actually counterproductive?

pablo (4).pngWhich brings me to my last question.  Where does my responsibility end in regards to my classroom environment?  My wife brought a great point to me today.  We walk into the classroom every day and are expected to give them social-emotional educations.  Our schools are expected to feed the kids.  We are social workers, advocates, and at times, more parental than the students’ parents.  Yet, there are moments like this one where there is evidence of a teacher’s personal agenda goes too far.  I am happy to share my beliefs.  I am happy to guide students as they discover their own beliefs.  Yet, how do I bring in my personal beliefs that are present through my own Judaism?  How do I engage students in the hurtful, difficult discussions that they need to process the world around them?  How do I do all of this while not “crossing the line?”

How do we as teachers and citizens engage in this conversation in a balanced, thoughtful, and open way while maintaining our own identities?