Friday, June 13, 2014

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again...

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
- Albert Einstein

This quote seems to pop up quite often these days. For over a decade we have been in the grasp of this top-down mandate, accountability driven education “reform” movement and yet we are consistently told we need more oversight, control, standardization and testing because we are still failing. At what point do we truly begin the discussions about the direction we are headed. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so please take a look at the picture below:

2012-2013 Massachusetts Math Growth Model Data



This graph is taken from Edwin Analytics the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Educations Data collection resource for school systems. It depicts growth model data, in math, for every school district in the state of Massachusetts for Spring 2013 (last year). After over a decade of this current “reform” movement, the overwhelming trend remains that school districts with higher poverty show lower achievement and growth than those with lower poverty. The outliers to that trend tend to be some small charter schools that have the ability to cherry pick their student populations skewing the data, but that is a discussion for another day. Even in the face of data like that displayed above, the assertion remains that schools are still failing our society. I would assert that it is rather our society that is failing our schools.

There is currently a decision facing school districts in Massachusetts; that being whether to stay with the MCAS test for another year or transitions to PARCC. This discussion is creating a controversy in many districts as people advocate for one side or another. After meeting recently with a group of teachers in our district one of them pointed out to me that “I can’t believe that they managed to get me to argue FOR MCAS testing”. The point is a good one as it illustrates that much of the energy of advocates for change is focused narrowly around PARCC and the Common Core. The discussion is, and should be, bigger than that narrow focus.

It is not a matter of which standardized test we are subjected to, but rather the overemphasis on the results of those tests as the primary metric whereby we judge student achievement and teacher effectiveness in our schools. This leads to an atmosphere where valuable instructional time is lost to excessive testing. I am more than willing to concede that scores from standardized testing can be A piece of the overall picture of how a school is doing. However, the amount of time we spend on state mandated testing is detrimental to the overall mission of creating successful schools and students.

I am in favor of reaching a compromise and cutting back on the amount of testing required by the state. If we tested students with a 1 hour session of Math and a 1 hour session of ELA each year rather than the multiple sessions with which we are currently faced, we would be provided with useful data while minimizing lost instructional time. A schedule could then be worked out to test Science and Social Studies as well. We could then involve educators in the discussion of other metrics that would be useful to examine in order to determine the overall success of a school. This would lead to a more collaborative environment where all parties were engaged in the discussion to move us forward and break the trend illustrated by the graph featured above. (The graph for ELA is essentially the same)


It is time to stop and rethink the direction we are headed. We need to stop believing that more of the same will elicit a different result. Imagine an educational system where the billions of dollars pumped into Testing and Evaluation were rather infused into professional development to facilitate necessary change in our instructional practices to meet the needs of today’s students. Imagine professional development for teachers that involved learning new strategies for reaching struggling or disengaged learners rather than merely being trained in how to fill out the appropriate forms or upload the necessary evidence to prove you are doing your job. Currently we do not have either the time or money to realize that dream. The results could be powerful and actually work for positive change in our schools. And don’t get me wrong, change is most definitely needed. The problem is we keep getting handed more of the same.