Returning to Life, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  Since it’s been such a long time, I wanted to look back at the questions and issues I left you with at the end of our last “normal” post … back before the crazy period of sickness and ultra-busy times that intervened over the past couple of weeks.  You may recall that we were talking about a distinction between qualitative and quantitative approaches to assessment.  I had been working on how to phrase the distinction more clearly – and it finally came to me as I was responding to something that someone sent me as part of that online staff-development course I teach for my face-to-face school district.  She had made a comment about a set of district-wide benchmark assessments that we formerly used, but have since abandoned for a variety of reasons; her point was that the information from these was often helpful, but the assessments themselves took such a long time to give – and it took such a long time to get the information back – that the usefulness was compromised.  I thought that perfectly encapsulated the distinction between what I’m calling the qualitative and the quantitative approaches to assessment:

  • With a qualitative approach, the focus is on the quality of the learners’ learning.  Numbers may well be involved, but they’re seen as the means to an end of improving learning – for example, if a child consistently misses questions about Objective 3.2 (whatever that may be), she clearly needs help with the knowledge or skills involved.  But there’s not necessarily a focus on the bigger picture.
  • With a quantitative approach, on the other hand, the focus is on the numbers themselves.  One might note that 55% of the learners in a given class struggled with Objective 3.2, or that 73% of 4th-graders were proficient with Objective 3.3.  One might even look at trends over time to see whether these proficiency levels had increased or decreased, and consider how they  compared to the levels in other schools or school districts or nations.  But there’s probably not a focus on how to help the individual children, or on the specific teaching strategies a teacher might employ with a child who struggles with Objective 3.2.

If you’re a long-time lēctor fidēlissimus, you can probably guess that I’ll be arguing for a creative synthesis of these two approaches.  Each, after all, has some strengths that the other lacks, and neither, by itself, will improve both the big picture and the small picture of students’ learning.  You’d be right … but I think the quantitative approach has been significantly over-emphasized in factory model schools!  And it hasn’t been emphasized in a way that led to improvements in “production quality,” either.  I’ll have more to say about that in tomorrow’s (or Saturday’s) post.

Anyway, here are the questions I left us with a couple of weeks ago:

  • What do you think of the redefinition of qualitative and quantitative approaches in this post?
  • What types of information do you want to collect about your students?
  • What are some ways that we can take raw, unprocessed data and transform it into helpful information?
  • And how can we use such information – whether we get it from the Tres Columnae Project or from another source – to help our students grow in specific areas?

I’d also like to add a couple of new questions:

  • How might we work toward a creative synthesis of the qualitative and quantitative approaches to assessment?
  • Do you think it’s even possible for a quantitative approach to help teachers teach – and learners learn – more effectively?  Or do you think a quantitative approach, by its very nature, can only measure, but never improve teaching and learning?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

It’s good to return to life, and I look forward to hearing from you as this conversation develops.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 10:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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