Sunday, January 13, 2013

Teachers Boycott the MAP: Who Should be in Charge of Formative Assessment?

Earlier this year I opted my son out of the MAP test to demonstrate my respect for his teachers who already know how to assess my son’s growth as a learner.

I am now watching brave teachers in Washington at Garfield High School and Ballard High School refuse to administer the MAP.  They state many reasons for the rejection of this test, but one particular line in the Garfield statement caught my eye – and it is this particular narrative that I find intentionally missing from the debate of high stakes testing.

They state:  We want to be able to identify student growth and determine if our practice supports student learning.

I’d like to take this statement a step further and state the obvious to every teacher reading this post today.

We know how to assess our learners and we demand the autonomy to do so in order to improve student learning and refine our practice.  

This must be a part of the narrative or the general public will believe that a better test, or a low stakes test, created by corporations, is necessary to determine the growth of students; we do not need any of these corporate-created formative assessments.

Formative assessment, when created and completed by teachers, provides detailed and authentic information about learners that can be used to shift instruction in the classroom the next day.  Formative assessment taken out of the hands of teachers is destined to create a classroom in which learning is not progressing as it should. The end result is low level learning which occurs at a slower pace - and this will result in a country void of citizens who can independently problem solve, leading to the end of our democracy.


As public intellectuals and professional decision-makers, we must take this opportunity to shift the narrative and remind the public that teachers know how to assess their learners and it is essential that we be allowed to do so in order to improve our practice and watch our students thrive.

When the corporate reformers high-jacked the term “formative assessment” and coupled it with  mandates which link test scores to student, teacher and school evaluation they solidified the opportunities for the profiteers to swoop in and cash in on public education and transform teacher to technician.

The general public has forgotten that teachers can assess learners because the corporate reformers have intentionally left us out of the story – we are indeed an endangered species if we do not reclaim our profession with head held high.  We must raise our voices. 

When you were in school did you have to take “formative tests” delivered by corporations which cost the schools millions of dollars?  Most adults currently could respond to this question with an emphatic no; however, if we do not act quickly, this question will soon be answered with a yes and the past will be erased and with it our profession.

This is the narrative I, as an educator, tell the public:

I don’t need a corporation to assess my learners. I know how to assess my learners. I spent many years receiving education and many years refining my understandings of educational theory and practice in order to determine the strengths, attempts and next steps of the learners in my classroom. Furthermore, these tests are an insult to the students in my classroom – these tests require my learners to consider only finite answers which keep my students from developing their skills as creative, critical and conceptual thinkers who can problem solve and be active citizens in our democracy. I am a professional and I demand the autonomy to listen to my learners and support them as they reflect on their own learning and as I reflect on my instruction. I know how to do this. I am a professional.  I am a teacher.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Children are NOT Numbers: National Opt Out Day, January 7th

Teachers, as you plan how to resist corporate education reform and rebuild public schools on National Opt Out Day (Jan.7th)  - or any day for that matter - here is one way to do it - do not allow others to refer to children based on their test scores. Children cannot be called "UnSats" or "Partials" or any other label attached to a number.

It is beyond disrespectful and allows teachers to become removed from the actions they are taking, therefore, they/teachers are less likely to wake up to the pain and suffering inflicted on these children from such abusive top down mandates. If children are numbers, rather than individuals with talents, personalities, ideas, heart, pain, and joy, it becomes much easier for corporate education reformers to move forward efficiently with their plan to profit off of these children as they are tallied, divided up and scattered randomly within communities.

When the community reads about the "failing" schools and the large numbers of "unsatistfactories" where does the learner, the person, factor into that message? That story?

The learner does NOT factor into that story. The aftermath of shutting down schools, reshuffling children and destroying communities - routines - consistencies - their feelings of belonging - none of these narratives or feelings exist in those numbers. They don't care about people. People, and the stories people tell, muddy the efficiency of numbers used within the business model being implemented in our public schools

If you hear a teacher call a child an "UnSat" don't allow it, politely ask the teacher to refer to the child by name - that child - that individual - who has a heart - a will - and a desire to grow and thrive as a confident and creative citizen. Ask a question about the child and use the child's name - model the behavior and shift the culture of your school. Teachers have heart and most often will recognize the horror in designating children as numbers, but the harsh truth is that in today's schools it has become part of the culture of schools - it is common place to refer to a group of students as "UnSats." It is a shameful practice, and as a teacher who follows the Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers I believe calling a child by his or her name is one powerful, yet simple step, that can be taken in resisting from within the challenging confines of our teaching profession - currently held hostage by corporate education reform.

Resist from within - don't allow a child to be addressed as a number or label.  I will continue to add additional ways to resist corporate education reform, but the most simple way is to remember that the child is a beautiful being that needs to be nurtured and supported, not divided, subtracted, and slapped on a data wall. Call the child by name, and upon hearing that name, memories and stories of the child will come forth and remind us to protect the child, that beautiful soul,  from those who have no heart.