Sunday, March 30, 2014


Nearly five years into a blissful retirement, I’ve been tapped to serve as in interim principal for the final eight weeks of the current school year.  So much to catch up on!  Working from home – because I’m not officially on site yet – I spent a day reviewing administration instructions for the trial test of the new Common Core Standards which will be given to my students later in April and May.  Recall that the Common Core curriculum was a result of several governors and state superintendents of schools efforts to ensure that kids in Mississippi moving to Oregon would not miss a beat in the transition. 

No Tea Party folks: it is NOT an initiative of the current presidential administration.  But even if it were, it’d still be a good thing.

My take?  The new assessment gets an undeserved black eye probably because it tries to accomplish too much.  Many of the test items are far better than the old fill in the bubble assessments of my day.  The new ones are an honest effort to measure student learning at a level on Blooms Taxonomy above simple knowledge.  After all, if we are to produce citizens capable of problem solving and creative thinking, we have to focus on understanding, application, analysis – all those higher-level cognitive skills.

The test is an attempt to measure those.  But it is probably asking too much, too soon for a couple of reasons: 

1) While many public schools have made major strides toward equipping all students with higher cognitive skills, until just the other day, we assessed kids (and ourselves) using the old spit-back-the-info assessment, largely because it is easy to score.  The sheer difference in the new assessment’s protocols is daunting, and

2) The use of computers to gather student responses may make the assimilation of performance data more efficient, but the means by which students interact with the assessment on line will be a stumbling block.  A teacher could take hours just to train kids how to take the test – and that’s time taken away from providing experience and exercise with the curriculum.  Add to that the fallibility of many school’s tech systems and we come to understand staff trepidation about the whole process.

So while we’re moving in the right direction, a meaningful assessment will take time to arrive.  We will have to endure the pain of this new model, hopefully only for as long as it takes for the education community to hone a revised one.

How might that revised assessment look?  How about fewer questions?  How about having questions be project-based in nature where students would have to access their knowledge-based learning and apply it to a scenario or circumstance?  How about an examination limited to ten (yep, only 10) in-depth questions or problems – five in English language arts/fine arts and five in math/science and allowing the student pick only three (at least one from ELA/FA and one from M/S – the third one being from either area)? How about providing the student with a time block to read about or research the problem (reading comprehension) and a time block to compose or construct a solution (written language)?  The quality of response would inherently indicate the student’s success with knowledge-based factoids like spelling, grammar, and computation.  By the way: Let’s allow kids access to the same tools they’d use in the real world: calculators, maps, charts, graphs, dictionaries…

While the results of such an assessment might be more difficult to get one’s political arms about – especially if one is bent on exposing the failure of the schools to teach students things like “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” – they’d certainly give a clearer picture of how students are progressing toward productive, thoughtful, creative citizenship.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to an improved test rests with many of our political decision makers who may lack the skills upon which we’d hope to assess our kids using such a test.  Just perhaps…

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

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