After a long, long day on Tuesday – a day of changing weather, of both literal and metaphorical headaches, of the exhaustion that only comes from watching students take tests – all I could do was go home, lie down, and take a long nap. There were other things I needed to do, other things I wanted to do, but they had to wait. I was glad – so glad – when the nap and the caffeine started to make the headache go away … and the dog was happy, too, since one of those needed errands involved buying a new bag of food for him.
I guess that’s a metaphor, too. The ending of the headache was the beginning of a happy, productive evening. But to get there, I had to heed the warnings, requests, and reminders my body was sending me … and I had to step out of some deep-rooted factory-model attitudes.
If you haven’t worked in one – or attended one, or had a child in one recently – you may not know about the odd, contradictory way factory-schools and their workers respond to sickness. We say we want sick students to stay home – “Why are you here? You’ll infect everyone?” Yet we reward perfect attendance, encouraging students to come sick, and sometimes we even threaten them with failure for “missing too many days” for sickness. And of course, when we’re sick, exhausted, or coming down with something, we know it’s “easier” to come to school than to “get sub work ready.”
Especially, of course, on testing days. You have to be there on testing days. Testing is rigorous … and test grades are important, and rigorous, and valid and reliable … as long as Ms. X or Mr. Y is sitting and watching. (Besides, as one Ms. X used to say, “sick days are too important to waste on being sick.”)
“Did you know,” T asked U Tuesday afternoon, “that Mr. Y is giving The Other Class a 20-some-point curve on their exam?” No, not a bell curve, but a 20-something-point upward adjustment. There was much speculation about whether Ms. X would – or wouldn’t – do that, too.
Rigorous, important, valid, and reliable? A former principal once used the words valid and reliable in a faculty meeting, and I saw puzzled expressions on colleagues’ faces.
In an odd, but fundamental way, Ms. X and Mr. Y might agree with the very people they dismiss as “those clueless administrators” and “those out-of-touch politicians” – who also argue that test scores are the goal and purpose of schools, but might just manipulate those numbers along the way and wouldn’t think too deeply about the how or the why. Ms. X and Mr. Y are always complaining about the “inflated” test scores their students bring, both from standardized tests and from prior teachers. But they’re quick with adjustments when they want to make themselves – or their students – feel good or comfortable, to keep the phone calls and questions away.
But Ms. X and Mr. Y – and the folks who develop standardized tests and score reports – are not very good at providing students with meaningful data.
the data … is not made available in ANY useful way to the students. There would be so many great ways for students to configure that environment how they want it: tracking this or that behavior (i.e. closeness to deadline, target grade desired, etc. etc.), setting up this or that type of reminder, and on and on.
But the students are not allowed to do any of that. They can see no data (except their grade), and they can configure no reminders.
The inherent flaws in the system – not technology flaws, but human design flaws – are MIND-BOGGLING.
And Rob added,
Information/analytics in traditional learning platform is generally designed with institutional and class (instructor) needs prioritized, and with the general assumption that the overriding goal of all information is to measure quantitative and comparative performance. In other words, it is not built with the flow moving from the individual student toward the class toward the institution, but rather just the opposite. It’s all about center of gravity and most systems today do not place the student at the center.
I’m intrigued by the school-wide boycott of standardized tests in Seattle that’s been making national news – intrigued, but not entirely sure how I feel about it. How much is concern about lost learning … and how much is fear about evaluations being affected by “bad, lazy students” as Ms. X would say? How much is about students … and how much is about a perceived loss of teachers’ ownership of “their” classrooms and curricula? To what extent is it an angry, visceral response, like my colleagues’ response to that request for clean desk surfaces for the Very Special Visitors?
If you’re firmly inside the system, generally in favor of Things As They Are or Things As You Wish They Used To Be, it’s hard to take a critical stance … and if you do take a critical stance, it’s hard to stay firmly inside the system. My colleagues’ rage – over clean desks, new calculation protocols for exam grades, revised curricula – quickly dissipates into resentful surface-level compliance. I wonder what will happen in Seattle when the media attention goes away, and I wonder how much the protest is about changing the system fundamentally and how much it’s about removing one unpleasant thing.
But somewhere, in the midst of what just looks like the implosion of factory paradigms everywhere, lie seeds of joyful community – seeds that are sprouting unnoticed as we fuss, complain, debate, and fret. What will the full-grown plant look like? And what, if anything, do we need to do to water and fertilize it?