Assessment is . . .
Formal Education is Three Things: Curriculum. Instruction. Assessment. Always, those three components exist within ever-shifting political, social, and economic contexts. And — whew — those contexts have multiple layers which are often in conflict with one another: the classroom, the academic subject, the school, the community, the city/town, the state, American society… Every school day, each learner and teacher implicitly or explicitly negotiates (or not) those three educational ingredients, their contexts and contextual layers;
Curriculum precedes Assessment, in Value to the Learning Process. Assessment is different than curriculum, and subsequent: assessment is the professional judgment of how well the learner understands and engages the forest;
Instruction precedes Assessment. Instruction is the skilled facilitation of the learner’s understanding and engagement of the forest;
The Challenge of Standardized Assessment Today. Much of today’s standardized assessment misvalues the Leaf for the Forest. The least learning occurs when discrete skills are taught and assessed without a larger critical and/or creative thinking framework and project/problem for the young mind and heart to engage. This discrete skills approach to learning, a scientific determinist approach, is devoid of the essential humanism that should fill any classroom. This brand of scientific determinism believes there is a causal relationship between directly teaching a discrete skill, for example, grammatical “adverbials,” and learner’s successful testing on them. A huge pitfall of this approach is that today’s learner, more assertive perhaps than yesterday’s, seeks meaning from that which occurs in the classroom, and, to that learner the meaning needs relevance. So, today, as learners inevitably feel less and less invested in why they should know these discrete skills, like the importance of adverbials, and less and less confident that schools speak to the challenges they face in life, the pressurized adults in these schools become more and more exasperated, even belligerent, trying to enforce learners’ doing well on this discrete skills testing. Much of public education lives this unpleasant journey. That journey offers this blog its name, Hansel and Gretel, for this blog believes that the effect of public education today leads a majority of its learners into the discrete and disconnected dark corners of curriculum without celebrating the transcendent light of interconnected, critical and creative humanist thinking. It must be noted, however, that this blog believes that scientific determinist and humanist approaches are mutually compatible. Much more to come on that in “Light Shines Through”;
Assessment is Important. But only when the larger relevance to the learner is established. Once established, the best assessment not only measures, it also instructs;
First, Assessment must be Important to the Learner’s Learning Process, then to the Adults’. Assessment must assist the learning process, not simply provide adults with measurements;
Learning is Not a Business. Education has important components like its buildings and grounds, buses, materials and equipment, contracts, utilities, food services, salaries, insurance, etc., the management of which requires business expertise. But the essence of education — the learning process — is not a business. For lots of reasons this blog intends to explore, over the last twenty years our society has come to believe that the learning process can be understood in the same way that the quality and quantity of widgets produced at a factory can be understood;
Human Beings as Widgets: For Our Society, Such an Implication is a Slippery Slope toward [fill in the blank];
Make No Mistake, Though: Schools are Accountable to Their Constituents for the Quality of the Learning. To the learners and their futures. To their parents/guardians. To the communities and cities within which those families live. To taxpayers. To our society’s future;
Accountability is a Mutual Contract. The contract between a society and its schools must have essential ingredients:
- Society Agrees to Provide
- Common Forest-level 12th Grade Curricular Endpoints: a fair society agrees upon what the desired K-12 curricular endpoints should be. While these endpoints include discrete skills, the common values of a society are reflected most at the forest-level: critically and creatively, how should a high school graduate be able to think and apply cognitive and social/emotional knowledge? What should that look like?
- Educational Equity: a fair society agrees to fund its schools equitably.
- Society’s Schools Agree to
- Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment based on Common Forest-level 12th Grade Curricular Endpoints
- Responsibly Administer the Equity Society Provides; and
Business Models of Accountability do not Equate to the Assessment of Learning. Business Accountability Models within education, such as “Performance Management,” have co-opted the aforementioned scientific determinism. Within accountability mindsets, numbers are intuitively attractive. Numbers provide a sense of certainty within the uncertain. But, numbers cannot possibly represent the essence of learning; attempts to quantitatively represent the essence of the learning process are simply reductive lenses through which a learner’s understanding of a leaf, even striations within the leaf, are subjectively chosen and measured. This combination of Business Accountability Modeling built upon Scientific Determinism is incapable of apprehending the most important higher-order varieties and complexities of the learning process, the learner’s engagement and application of the forest. The education pendulum during the last twenty years has swung in the direction of this combination; regrettably, so have the results. Much more to come on this topic subsequently within the blog, especially regarding ways in which scientific determinism has a role to play.