Friday, November 18, 2005

Assessing Student Learning

After reading chapter eight of the constructivist Bible, I was intrigued by the thoughts of right vs. Wrong. I have seen this happen in my class. where I am searching for the right answer from students and not getting it. I can see that the students are confused about the answer and exactly how to get that answer, and reassurance from me. I would love to take the time to pick their brains and see how they are coming to their own conclusions and "right" answers.

The problem lies in time. We are on such a tight schedule: to have x material covered in y amount of days. We are dictated to cover a certain amount of material in our classes and leave the lost students behind in our wake. The CSAP's just reinforce the type of learning that we do not want, rote memorization and regurgitation; loss of identity and failure to learn the process of learning. Does standardized testing really assess the student's learning? Or does it force teachers to teach in a way that benefits no one?


  1. It's the random student again. I'm going to agree with you here. I would love to actually be able to delve into the material in classes and learn about how they relate to the real world, but due to time and CSAP demands, classes are forced to move form one concept to another so quickly that the students miss out on what could potentially be so interesting and beneficial. The way most classes work now, it is mere memorization and test taking. Then the material is entirely forgotten about a week after the test. It's a waaste of both teacher and student time, CSAP doesn't assess learning, it merely finds out how effectively students can copy our teachers' words exactly onto a new piece of paper.

  2. There is something to be said for getting to all topics in the curriculum, but it is definitely a shame that it often causes us to move on rather than linger. This idea certainly ties in with the emphasis on grades rather than on learning.

  3. I get frustrated by the argument that if we're teaching what we should be teaching, then students should do well on standardized tests. This idea fails so many students, and I have sophomores and juniors who beg me to prepare them more directly for the SAT and ACT. Yet when I start teaching them how to take standardized tests, I wonder what the point is. My focus is on higher learning, not how to eliminate tricky choices on multiple choice tests. I appreciate the idea behind the standardized test, but I think that learning by nature is not standardized--it's individual. Consequently, molding my students to fit a test's hazy and subjective vision of a "proficient student" is problematic.

  4. This is one area where the struggle between curriculum and time will never cease. It seems as though there is increasingly more placed on our teaching plates but there is never an increase in the amount of time to cover that material. Like Kristin commented, if we don't teach to the test, we are not meeting the "wants" of our kids (Notice I said "wants" not needs). I think more of my time becomes devoted to teaching my students how to do well on standardized tests and less time for discussion. I would love for the test to measure their interpretation and questioning levels rather than the regurgitation of information.

  5. Great points. I have thought the same things. The ideas that we all have discussed in the meetings are great but then you start to thing reality which boils down to 2 things; time and CSAP. Can we still pick kids brains and teach to a test? I don't know the answer to that.

  6. Melissa brings up a good question and I'm not sure how to respond. One of hte great things about being a new teacher, is I typically make upa test at the very end of the unit, and so I find a am creating a test off what I know my students know. I do not teach to a test because i do not have a test to really teach to.
    Fortunately, I do not have to teach to the content of the CSAP, cause social studies is not required ( which could bring about another arguement) but I do find that time is a major issue. For example I had to add another day that i do not really have so that I could fishbowl on a reading. I could have skipped this and moved on to meet my planned deadline, however, I wanted the students to construct their own interpreation, and realized that in this case, the learning process was more important then meeting a deadline.

  7. I think I will follow Amanda's lead here and assume the role of the devil's advocate...

    I understand and respect everyone's thoughts on quality versus quantity and the negatives of standardized testing. In a perfect educational world, we could taylor individual lessons and learnings to the specific needs of every student and create assessments that allow students to express understanding in their own unique way.

    And yet, that doesn't sound very much like reality. I have a very limited knowledge of the corporate world, but it seems like there would be rushed deadlines, time crunches, and meeting expectations in order to be successful. That may be a harsh comparison, but don't we always say that one of our jobs as teachers is to prepare students for the real world?

    As far as the CSAP's go, I definitely see problems with determining a school's success based on scores. But, I don't agree that the test is strictly memorization and regurgitation. The science questions we looked at as a department are general knowledge questions that ask students to read, comprehend, and offer well-written responses. And don't multiple choice--a "bad word" in education, teach students to weigh their options and choose the answer they feel is best? I think those are skills that are very important for students to learn.

    I think it all goes back to what Karl said a few weeks ago in class. I don't think that the curriculum/time battle is going to change any time soon. So, if we really want to spend more time going in depth and discussing topics in detail (both of which I feel are also important!), then the basic, general stuff we are covering now should be put on kids to do at home in preparation for class. They need to take responsibility for the concepts on their own, so class time could be spent taking those concepts further.

  8. Cara, thanks for being the devil’s advocate. It’s exactly this kind of spirited give and take that I was hoping would arise in our class and in our blogs. I think it’s through discussion and sometimes disagreement that we can all move forward to becoming better teachers (even if we don’t always agree).

    Having said that, I think I’m going to disagree (umm, offer an “alternative viewpoint”) to a couple of things you said. (Hmm, does that make me an “angel’s advocate” – I’m polishing my halo as we speak.)

    I guess I’ve always had mixed feeling about the “real world” argument. While I agree that part of our mission (but only part) is to prepare our students for their future world of work, wouldn’t helping them become thoughtful, reasoned, competent, caring, knowledgeable adults prepare them well for that? Why is it an either/or proposition? Why can’t we (to the best of our ability) try to meet the needs of every student and explore issues in depth instead of skimming over them? Do we really think that by offering a “mile wide inch deep” curriculum we’re preparing them well for the “corporate world?” If so, maybe that’s what’s wrong with the corporate world. After all, the “real world” is also filled with corporate scandals, ethically challenged executives and companies, and a “bottom line” mentality that doesn’t always mesh with my view of what humanity can become. Should we prepare them for this as well? Or should we strive for a higher purpose? Should we try to prepare them to be the best human beings they can be – which still involves a whole lot of the learning that takes place in the “traditional” curriculum, maybe just presented differently. If they are truly critical thinkers who are actively engaged in the learning process, I think they will do well both in the “real world” as it may be now as well as the “real world” as I envision it. I just don’t want to settle for less than we’re capable of . . .

    And I guess I still am not convinced of the value of multiple choice tests. While they may be a “bad word” in education, I certainly haven’t seen a decrease in their use. While I think a well-constructed multiple choice test (which are few and far between in my personal experience) can be a good critical thinking exercise in and of itself, I think their value as an assessment is minimal. The “real world” we were talking about above is not multiple choice. You are not presented with a set of four possible answers, only one of which is correct. You are usually presented with a very complicated situation with multiple answers and usually most of the answers are imperfect. How is a multiple choice test where they “weigh their options and choose the answer they feel is best” better than the same question where they have to generate and support their answer? If we’re really trying to assess what the student knows and can demonstrate – so that we can therefore help them learn what they don’t know – wouldn’t a free response help us do that better? As far as I can tell, the only person that a multiple choice test is better for is the teacher (or the testing company). And I don’t mean that in a negative, “teachers who give multiple choice tests are horrible human beings” kind of way. I just mean that they were developed to make grading, recording, reporting and statistically analyzing responses easier. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone argue that a multiple choice question is the best way to assess student learning, only a convenient way. And I know that the reality of having time to grade and provide feedback on 150 or more assessments that are not multiple choice is a problem, but I don’t think that means that we can argue multiple choice is a good assessment. For me, it goes back to what I said in the discussion that, looking back, I think I “graded” too many things when I was in the classroom. If I could spend more time teaching and providing feedback to students, and then only “grade” the critical things, then maybe the assessments I used for those critical things could be more authentic. And then maybe students would really start buying into learning for learning, not learning for the grade.

    I’m probably “tilting at windmills” here with all my ideas that generated this staff development effort, but I guess I’m not willing to settle anymore for a “reality” that doesn’t allow us to teach students the way we know is best (or at least better than what we do now). Why can’t we strive for a “perfect educational world?”

  9. I started this discussion with my 6th hour class on Friday, and because we ran out of time, I posted the question to my class blog. If you have a moment, it might be worth your time to take a look at my students' reactions. My students, like our technology team, are pretty heated in their responses. I've noticed in both the Fischbowl and my class blog that many comments draw a thick line between "school" and the "real world." Perhaps this is a key part of the problem.

  10. Wow Mr. Fisch, and I thought I got quoted a lot in newspaper articles for volleyball!

    First off, I totally agree with you that a major goal and priority as educators should be to help our students become "thoughtful, reasoned, competent, caring, and knowledgeable adults." My hope is that we are doing that no matter how fast, slow, in depth, or surface-level we are teaching our curriculum. The behaviors we model and the attitudes and expectations we foster in our classrooms should serve as an example to students of how to interact with and treat each other. And that's a nice quality to have in the "real world."

    Going back to the quantity versus quality debate, I see two big issues. I think it's important to give kids a snapshot of the big picture. A large part of high school and college for me was getting an idea of what was out there in order to intelligently decide on an area of focus. Once a focus was decided however, it was awesome to dive into the details. I think that could definitely start to happen in high school classrooms--covering less but covering it better--as long as there are common "essential learnings" from one teacher to the next.

    Lastly, I really appreciate what you have to say about multiple choice and grading authentically. I am challenged to process the how, why, and what of assessments. The main reason I stood up for multiple choice is the idea of creating versatility in our students. Multiple choice--in combination with free response, essay, etc.--can challenge students to be able to share what they know in a variety of ways.

    Kristin, I read what your students had to say on your class blog. It was interesting to read their thoughts. You did a great job of validating their opinions yet teaching them boundaries. Just one example of the kind of role model you are to your students, regardless of what you are teaching!

  11. In case you're not sure how to find it, the post that Kristin is talking about and Cara commented on is at I think it would be well worth your time to take a look - and maybe even contribute to the conversation.

  12. Wow, Kristin. How exciting to see such dialogue with your students. It is interesting to see how they agree with what the research portrays in relation to grades; they feel they do not represent what they know, yet they are necessary to get to where they want to be.

    I found a professor that discusses what his grades mean; I like his analogy he discusses of what a university education means:

    Meaning of letter grades in Dr. Willner's classes:
    A = Student has demonstrated a level of knowledge of material (specific information, methods, models, etc.) relevant to the course and ability to use the same in unfamiliar situations. Said knowledge and ability is well beyond that expected. Student will have no difficultly using and extending this knowledge to most new situations nor in continuing to learn in this direction.
    B = Student has demonstrated a level of knowledge of material relevant to the course that is beyond expectations. Student will be able to use and extend this knowledge in some situations.
    C = Student has demonstrated an acceptable level of knowledge relevant to the course and should be able to continue learning in this field of study.
    D = Student has demonstrated a barely adequate level of knowledge relevant to the course. Student is unlikely to be able to apply this knowledge at any level nor continue studies in this direction.
    F = Student has not learned sufficiently to be given credit for learning.
    Thoughts on a University Education:
    1) University education is a great deal like a heath club. Paying membership fees(tuition) does not grant anything but admittance. To get healthy (educated) you must apply the appropriate level of effort (study). The doctor (professor) will declare you healthy (knowledgeable) when you meet certain goals. It is your decision how healthy you wish to be. Many people spend a fortune to be a member of a fitness center and then are surprised when the physician informs them that they are in poor condition. You have a choice to exercise your mind or not exercise it. I will evaluate your condition not on your effort, but on what I deem to be your actual ability in the relevant Economics course.

    I am thrilled to see where we will go with grades and how we can change what they mean to better reflect their knowledge.

  13. Wow! That professor's set of descriptions is very good. I really like the description of using and extending knowledge. The health club analogy is great! I think that I will draw on that the next time that a student says, "But I don't understand why I have a D. I come to class every day."

    I applaud Cara for playing the devil's advocate. Personally, I have absolutely no problem with multiple choice questions as part of an exam. I do think that a well constructed multiple choice question asks students to weigh their options. If you don't believe this, check out an AP US History exam sometime. I personally try to use a variety of questions on exams (multiple choice, true-false with corrections, matching, short answer, essay, etc.) because I think that students should have the chance to practice answering all types of questions. Written responses in my class are saved for questions that require analysis. For example, the students might receive a quote and a political cartoon, and be asked to use both in responding to a question about how the industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries should be viewed: as "captains of industry," as "robber barons," or both. That is the type of question that requires the students to apply their knowledge and acknowledge complexity.

    I really don't think that objective tests are really just about making teachers' lives easier. The problem I have discovered when giving purely written exams is that the time it takes me to grade the exams is delayed feedback time. When I give an exam that is partly written and partly objective, I can usually return it within 1-2 class periods, and the students ask many questions about the items that they missed. However, if it takes me 3-5 class periods to return a long written test, I find that they are less willing to ask questions. Besides, we're not going to ever see the SAT / ACT college admissions exams turn into purely written response exams, and I think that we do a disservice to our students if we don't have them practice answering different types of questions.

  14. I forgot to say one other thing. I agree with Cara's argument that in high school they should get a very broad view of many topics. I don't think that it is really an argument about EITHER an inch-deep / mile-wide OR a mile-deep / inch-wide scope of study. One of the things that I have enjoyed with the rewritten US curriculum is that we have a schedule that keeps us on track to teach what the district and state require that we teach, but there is room to really delve into topics in which the students show extra interest.

    For example, one topic that continually presents itself in a study of US History between the Civil War and WWII is a debate about the benefits and drawbacks of capitalistic economic systems. The students in my 2nd hour class got into a heated debate about those benefits and drawbacks when we studied industrialism, but my 3rd period class wasn't much interested. Then, when we studied the post-WWI period and the 1920s Red Scare, my 3rd period class started debating the merits of various economic systems. I can only imagine that all of this will come together in the next two weeks as we finish reading about the 1920s and start discussing the onset and problems of the Great Depression. So, I guess my point is that if we help students access knowledge / facts, and we pose interesting questions that relate the knowledge / facts to their life experiences, they will find and start asking questions about topics that interest them. And if one class really wants to delve into a subject and one doesn't, that's fine. The second class will find something else interesting. And finally, let's face it, regardless of how much we enjoy teaching in our subject areas, there are some topics that just aren't as interesting as others, even for us! Yet, we can't just ignore those topics so that we can get to "cooler" stuff. We have to do our best to make the not-so-interesting topics more interesting.

  15. I really do like reading your guys thoughts. The part that I am having a struggle with is how to make the tests authentic when there are 30+ students in a section where we teach 4-5 sections. I see the multiple choice test as a simple tool to measure the simple recall of information but it is very difficult to use as a tool to measure the application of most forms of knowledge. In chemistry we even go as far as to have math problems in a multiple choice format.

    I find it very interesting that we all seem troubled by the amount of time in class that we have to cover the necessary material and still prepare students for test so that we "look good." I think that the main issue with educational reform is that it does not come from educators but politicians and curriculm developers.

    Standardized tests might have their place but I do not think that they should be used to compare schools. Even the simpilist thinker should understand that education comes from many parts of life. If all students and schools are the same then all communities and businesses should be the same. Right?

    Adam's question about asking students how they reach a conclusion is very interseting. I wonder about that all the time. I think that there are ways to ask students to elaboate on their understanding but giving them the time to answer is the hard part. The purpose of education should be to get people to question their understanding and to continue asking questions. Is that not what we are trying to do?

    "If you study to remember, you will forget, but, If you study to understand, you will remember."

    Author Unknown

  16. Finally! Thanks, Amanda, I was worried that nobody was going to respond to my rantings. Thanks for taking the time to think about and respond to this. Let me continue the conversation (rant?) in the hopes that I can drag a few more 21c folks into this discussion . . .

    “a well constructed multiple choice question ask students to weigh their options.” – I disagree. A well constructed multiple choice question asks students to weigh your options, not their options. I think that distinction is critical. You’re not asking them to consider all of their options, but a pre-determined list of options that you deem to be acceptable. Even though people refer to these questions as “objective” questions, they really are not. There is always biased introduced based on the teacher’s decision of which questions to include, which answer options to include, and which option is the “right” answer according to the teacher. For that matter, it’s biased based on what topics are originally chosen to cover in class. So I don’t think multiple choice questions are any less biased than free response.

    Also, I’m curious about how everyone who gives multiple choice tests grades them? Because, of course, if you have the typical four choices for answers, 25% of the students who get the answer correct might not really know the answer. And, if at least one of your choices is pretty obviously wrong, that bumps up to 33%. Do you make some kind of adjustment in your gradebook to account for this? If you really want to assess what students know – and accurately give them a grade based on that – wouldn’t a free response question accomplish that better?

    “students should have the chance to practice answering all types of questions.” – why? How many true-false or matching questions have you had to answer this week?

    “Written responses in my class are saved for questions that require analysis.” – why are we asking any questions that don’t require analysis? When we’re in an age where we can Google any factual knowledge and have the answer in a matter of minutes (at the most), why are we continually asking them to memorize factual knowledge and spit it back to us on a test? And remember, we’re still in the very early stages of the Internet and Google (Google left beta status in September 1999 – only 6 years ago). Searching and information retrieval is only going to get better, faster, and more accurate. Access to the network is only going to get better and easier (MIT’s $100 laptop project has a prototype and is expected to launch next year). The world has changed – let’s stop preparing our students for an industrial society that doesn’t exist anymore.

    “The problem I have discovered when giving purely written exams is that the time it takes me to grade the exams is delayed feedback time.” – agreed, but it seems to me that you’re really arguing that multiple choice exams are inferior to written exams, but there’s just no way to get written exams back in a timely manner. In other words, multiple choice exams “make teachers’ lives easier”. Now, I understand the reality of the situation, but that still doesn’t end up as a good argument for multiple choice exams. It’s an argument for figuring out how to give them feedback on authentic assessments faster.

    “Besides, we’re not going to ever see the SAT/ACT college admissions exams turn into purely written response exams, and I think we do a disservice to our students if we don’t have them practice answering different types of questions.” – well, there’s really two things to discuss here. The first is who cares about the SAT/ACT? Numerous research studies have shown that they have very little predictive power, at most having a slight correlation with college grades, particularly during freshmen year, but no correlation with overall college success or, more importantly, career and life success. What is our goal as teachers, to prepare them for meaningless tests?

    Second, the pragmatists who are reading this are now going to say, “Whether you think they are useful or not, students still have to take them to get into college.” True, although not all colleges. But that’s still not an argument for offering multiple choice, matching and true-false questions in our classes. There’s a huge assumption being made – that by offering these in our classes our students will do better on the SAT and ACT. Can somebody please point me to the research that proves this? It certainly sounds plausible, if students are exposed to these types of questions over and over and over again, they will do better when they see them on the SAT/ACT. But sounding plausible and being true are two different things. I think this is another example of unexamined assumptions in education. But let’s assume for a minute that it is true, that exposing students to these different types of questions will help them when they take the SAT/ACT. How many times exactly do they need to be exposed to these questions in order to improve their scores? Twice a semester? Once a week? Daily? And in how many classes/subject areas? If we’re going to tailor our curriculum to this unproven assumption, we at least ought to clarify exactly how much we need to do this in order to achieve the results we’re assuming are happening.

    Again, assuming that this assumption is true, I would make a modest proposal that it doesn’t need to be done in our classes. If the only reason we are asking these types of questions is to prepare students for college admissions tests, then I don’t think we really need to include them in our classes. Instead, I propose a two day a week class that all AHS students have to take sometime in their sophomore or junior year. This class, called College Required Assessments Preparation, would simply focus on test taking skills. Every AHS student would then get 36 hours of C.R.A.P. With that amount of time dedicated to test preparation, I would bet that scores would go up at the same time as freeing all of our other classes not to have to focus on C.R.A.P. This would also eliminate duplication of C.R.A.P. that is currently occurring in multiple classes because we don’t have a coordinated approach to teaching C.R.A.P.

    “we have a schedule that keeps us on track to teach what the district and state require that we teach, but there is room to really delve into topics in which the students show extra interest.” – I’m not familiar with the new U.S. History curriculum, but this does sound good. But I wonder in practice how realistic it is. For example, since Amanda graced our halls as a student, here are just a few of the things that have happened in the world:
    -widespread use of the Internet, Google, E-bay, ubiquitous computing, broadband, wireless computing, ubiquitous cell phones
    -disintegration of Soviet Empire (started before she left here, but finished after), rise of India, China and former Soviet countries into various forms of capitalism, outsourcing
    -September 11, Iraq War II, disputed 2000 U.S. election, Patriot Act, continuing genocide in various countries
    -Stem cell research, mapping of human genome, cloning, agreement that global warming is occurring
    -and much, much more
    So, since none of these things could possibly have been touched on in Amanda’s social studies classes when she was here, how is there possibly time to “cover” them now? How do you decide between “covering” robber barons and “covering” September 11th? How do you decide between reconstruction after the civil war and the rise of India/China/Soviet Republics? How do you decide between World War I and Iraq War I and II? How do you decide between the Holocaust and Darfur? The answer is, of course, that you don’t. You don’t choose between all these things, you try to identify the major themes and issues in history – what is going to be relevant for your students going into the future – and you spend a lot of time talking about these. Do our curricula address this? And even if they do, once written, they are static. The world is changing too fast to rely on a written document that is only revised once every 7 years. And, I think a really key question is, is there one curriculum that’s going to be “right” for all students? I’m not talking about tracking or lowering expectations for certain groups of students. I’m talking about each of the students that walk into our classrooms is unique and have individual needs and interests. Can you really “deliver” a pre-defined curriculum to them that is going to meet their needs? Can you really “push” all this information onto them in case they need it later (and we’re about to push more information with CCHE requirements), and then they’ll miraculously retrieve it fifteen years from now when they might need a piece of it? (I’m still waiting to use calculus. Anybody?) Shouldn’t we be trying to meet the needs of the students that are currently walking through our doors, not some generic, pre-defined, unchanging idea of a student?

    We live in a world now where knowledge is distributed. Where there is almost instant access to more information than we know what do with. What is learning in a world like this? I’m not sure I have an answer, but I’m starting to lean toward those who state that learning is conversation.
    “It is the connections that we form with other people. It is reaching out through technology and touching people.”
    “Learning is social networks and communities. It is as much about the connections your students can make with those who know, and each other, and the community in social networks and communities, where they have and can control their own identity, their own meaning, their own place in society. Where they work with the freely accessible materials, and instead of just consuming them they bring them together, they remix them, they repurpose them, they build their own meaning, their own learning, and indeed their own life and their own identities.”
    “We're now in an environment where the knowledge and our lives depend on the connections we create between people.”

    And I really worry about our emphasis on “tests.” So I’ll close with this thought – Why do we give tests? What’s their purpose? Are they assessments? Are they to provide feedback to students to help them learn more/better? Are they simply for grading purposes? I think part of the solution to the time question (not being able to provide timely feedback on written tests) may be to get rid of tests as we know them. Why do we have to give a “test” that takes a class period to complete, then takes a teacher 3-5 days to grade? Is there maybe a better way to assess students’ knowledge while at the same time providing them timely feedback?

    Finally (you thought I’d never type that), I’d like to request that I get to be the “devil’s advocate,” not Cara. It just seems to be that if I’m proposing all these radical changes to the status quo, I at least ought to be able to get a cool title like “devil’s advocate.” Please, please, pretty please?

  17. I read through all of Kristin's students posting on her class blog. Wow, is all I can say. What a great dialog they have going. I was especially interested to hear what they had to say about CSAP and it being a possible equalizer. My comment to that (I am commenting here rather than their blog, so I don't look too stupid to a bunch of honors kids, who are definitely smarter than I am!)is-An equalizer to what???? Colleges don't see the CSAP scores so how does it help us (the students) in the end? It gets published in the paper, a few school can brag but most schools see poor scores that aren't improving. Maybe even feeling downtrodden and giving up (reminds me of an article I just read, Ch. 8 of the Constructivist Bible. Remember Greg?). I don't really know if I have a point except to say that grading and CSAP do nothing to prepare us for life. Do any of you know what kinds of grades any of us had in h.s? Doubt it. Do any of us care? However, are we responsible caring individuals who are passionate about our lives and jobs? Yes, I can see that we are! Isn't that more important? Where did we learn that????

  18. Wow, that's a lot of dialogue. I am in a situation similar to what Alison posted. I don't teach a subject content tested on CSAP and I'm new to teaching and developing tests. I feel fortunate that I don't have to teach to a test. I rarely give tests in my class and let the students learn class material through class projects. Everyone's comments about types of test questions really makes me think about what type of questions I have on the tests that I do use.

  19. In response to Karl's diatribe on testing and the world: I agree on some levels. I do think that times are changing so rapidly that you have to have make decisions on what exactly you would like to cover in class based on what the students are interested in, but again, like Brian said, it is up to politicians and legislators to determine what we have to teach and to tell us what students should be interested in. On the multiple choice tests versus the free response: I think that the free response is even more biased than that of the multiple choice. Aren't we grading the free response as what we want the students to say, and how can we not be biased in that. Should we give students points for an essay even if they are way off mark, but they still did the essay? But then again aren't we being biased as to what is right or not? In that sense, aren't textbooks also biased? Is there anyway to get around the biasness of teaching?

  20. "Diatribe? - A thunderous verbal attack." Cool, I though it was just a rant.

    So, are you saying that we shouldn't give free response questions because teachers aren't smart enough or ethical enough to grade them accurately? That we should give multiple choice questions because that's the only way to "teacher-proof" our assessments? (Not trying to put words in your mouth, just trying to clarify. And, of course, incite more comment.)

    This will be no surprise to any of you but, yes, get rid of textbooks. Today.

    Politicians and legislators determine what we teach? No. I refuse. There are good ones and not so good ones, and they can - and should - certainly be part of the debate. But they aren't in the classroom with your students, are they Adam? Who knows your 5th period Biology class better - you, or Governor Owens? I'm putting my money - and my faith - on you.

    "Is there a way to get around the biasness of teaching?" - Yes. It takes a village . . . sorry, channeling Hillary there. It takes a classroom - everyone in that classroom - to openly discuss, argue, debate, inquire, research, postulate, prove, disprove, etc. - and then take that conversation out to the world at large and expand it, modify it, solidify it.

  21. The problem that I seem is that evey parent does not think the same way that you do Karl. I have parents that are complaining about grades even when there is a right and wrong answer that you can see. How much will these parents complain when the entire grading scale is left up to the teacher. What about the students who thinks that you do not like them? They will think that every time they get a bad grade it is a personal issue even though no teacher would do that, the perception will be there.

  22. Some parents are going to complain no matter what we do. The question is - do we design our system around those parents? My answer is - drum roll please - no. Let's design our system around what's best for student learning. I think the vast majority of parents will respond to that.

  23. I'm trying to be brave here, and respond even though I realize I am exposing myself to another Fischrant (can we add this word to the dictionary?). First of all, I do think that we want students to know factual details, even if they will not remember them beyond the semester. If they know the details, rather than merely access whichever ones they choose to, they are more equipped to use that information in a meaningful way. As long as they get the opportunity to do this, I think they can buy into learning details, as opposed to spitting back information.
    Secondly, in defense of multiple choice tests, our students live in a world where they get much of their information from the Internet, a lot of which is unreliable. I believe it is a useful skill to apply your knowledge against various options to see which match - it is a real-life skill. The situation might be different, but it is still a skill that can be used.
    So go ahead Karl - give me your best shot!

  24. Do you not agree that current educational change is driven by the legislation and the test makers? I know that they are suppossed to be part of a committee but it seems like after the test is written they actually have no idea what the real world is about. The learning of other people's discoveries are fascinating but is that what education is? I thought we were trying to help students become life long learners. If we are doing that then they should be excited about coming to school not wishing for a snow day.

    I think that the current use of tests is to bring a level of closure to a unit of study. I am not sure if this is right or wrong but I do know that there should be a connection of one unit to another and they should not stand alone. Most of society uses tests to measure the level of knowledge for individuals. It is a way to compare one person to another. My current struggle is with the fact that "school" should not be just a building and a "test" is not just a written document. I am trying to reshape my thinking and I would like to take some of the students along. I am trying to figure out how to do that.

    As for the parents, I agree that there will always be people (parents) that complain about grades. There are even people who complain about having nothing to complain about. I wish we could convince parents that education is an attempt to do what is best for the student's learning. However, if parents cannot agree on the best way to raise a child how can they possible agree on a way to educate them? I think there is also a problem with too many ideas in one pot. If we are asking for feedback from multiple people about education then there are going to be a lot of people who think they have the best ideas. How do we filter through all of that information?

  25. In addition to what I said above, many of us (who actually talk to our students) find that our multiple-choice test results correspond to what we find when we actually discuss content with individual students. Are they 100% accurate? Of course not, but they do give a fairly good representation of a student's knowledge. At the same time, multiple-choice tests should not be the only means of assessing knowledge - we should use a variety of assessments.

  26. I agree with Adam that it is tough to grade free response questions. Our department is set up in teams and part of our responsibility on our team is to make sure that we are all on the same page. We need to be consistent! Our administration has made it clear to me that we must discuss as a team what our assignment expectations are before we grade them. If we are grading free reponse questions on a test it is very difficult for us to be consistent when grading. For example Adam gives his student a 20/25 and I give my student a 15/25. When the students talk to one another they find that their answers are basically the same. Consistency is tough! Administration is forcing us to be consistent! A combination of question types on our tests would be ideal, but I don't think that the system is set up that way.

    I agree with Cara that the science CSAP example problems are good questions that force students to problem solve. I don't know what the actually test will look like but the questions we have received require the students to know more than a regurgitation of facts. I am not a proponent of CSAP's but think that the science sample questions are fairly good.

    If we were to cut back and only teach what the students were interested in, what will happen when our CSAP scores are awful? I will tell you! We will have to change what we do based on CSAP results not based on what the students understand. The hammer will drop and the only thing driving the change will be the improvement of CSAP scores.

    One final comment, diatribe is a cool word! Good job Adam!

  27. Roger – I’m not arguing against students knowing factual details, I’m arguing against knowing factual details out of context and instead of learning higher-level concepts. I agree that they can’t discuss the higher-level stuff without the factual content. My concern is that “they” keep piling more on more factual content into the curriculum, without providing any more time, so the end result is that teachers have to focus only on the factual content. The only way to “cover” all the facts that students have to know on the CSAP/SAT/ACT is to cover the material in more and more superficial ways. I would rather we spend more time teaching them how to analyze the information that is available to them and less time teaching the facts. If that means we don’t “cover” as much material, so be it. After all, when they leave here, won’t they all be “merely access[ing] whichever [facts] they choose”? Shouldn’t we be preparing them for this “real world” you guys keep talking about, where they don’t have a teacher spoon-feeding them facts and telling them which facts are important and which are not? Where they are going to get much of their information from the Internet – which does indeed contain unreliable information (as opposed to teachers and textbooks, which are infallible). Isn’t that even more reason to teach them how to deal with evaluating the information and deciding for themselves whether it is reliable?

    (And I do think we all need to add Fischrant to our dictionaries.)

    Brian’s quote – “Most of society uses tests to measure the level of knowledge for individuals. It is a way to compare one person to anther.” Why are we so fixated on comparing one individual to another? I think that’s one of the huge intrinsic problems with grades. It shouldn’t be about comparing students, it should be about educating students. It should be about helping each and every student learn as much as they can and achieve their full potential. Comparison should never enter into the equation. If Brian is learning as much as he possibly can, and Roger is learning as much as he can, does it matter whether Brian is learning more (or less) than Roger?

    Jesse – “For example, Adam gives his student a 20/25 and I give my student a 15/25. When the students talk to one another they find that their answers are basically the same.” To which I say – great! What a teachable moment. Students are talking about their work (your curriculum), then they come talk to you and Adam and you guys talk about your work (your curriculum and the student’s learning), and in the end doesn’t everyone come out ahead? No, it’s not easy, but who said it was going to be easy? It sounds like the argument is that the system sucks, so oh well. Umm, aren’t we the system? Are we going to settle for less than our best? Do we allow that from our students? From our athletes? Should we allow it from ourselves?

    I’m not arguing that we only teach what students are interested in. But I am arguing that we take their interests into account, and that especially we take their needs into account. If our curriculum doesn’t match up fairly well with both of those, what good is it? If it only takes into account our interests and our needs, then I think it needs to be reexamined. And if we refuse to reexamine it because it’s not easy or too much work or somebody won’t like it, then I think we’re failing our students – and ourselves.

  28. Karl, I willingly offer up the title of "Devil's Advocate." You have earned it!

  29. Now that I’ve thought about this some more, I want to amend my previous comments about Adam giving a student 20/25 and Jesse giving them 15/25. (Yes, Roger, I am now ranting in response to one of my own rants. I believe that’s called meta-ranting.)

    It’s not so much that I disagree with my argument about it being a teachable moment; it’s that as I think about it more I’m focusing on the wrong issue. While the difference between 20/25 and 15/25 is a teachable moment, the bigger problem is that we’re focusing on the grade itself. Let’s reframe this question and pretend that Adam and Jesse hadn’t given them numeric scores on this assignment, but written feedback. If the goal is fostering student learning, wouldn’t that be more helpful than 15/25? And wouldn’t their written feedback have been more “consistent” than a 20 or a 15? And, if it wasn’t, doesn’t that indicate a larger issue if we don’t agree as teachers on what is a good answer to an important question? And wouldn’t that then be a teachable moment as Adam, Jesse and their students discuss the responses and come to consensus on what a good answer is?

    So it seems to me that we’re falling into the same trap we’ve been talking about in our discussions – focusing on the grade and not the learning. How can we change our practices to focus more on the learning, and less on the grade (while still acknowledging that – at least for now - we need a system for grading)?

  30. I agree with what you are saying, but we must first change our administration's views!!! Currently we are being told that we must be consistent with one another! For us to be consistent, it is tough to give free response questions.

  31. Let me take this in a different direction. Jesse brings up a good point about the administration's role in all of this. I will take that to an even broader issue. Throughout this conversation I keep seeing comments about not liking CSAP or testing or grades etc. We are talking about getting educators to change the way they teach but this seems like a completely unrealistic conversation in our current political climate. To think that we are going to test less is going against the current trend in our school, our district, our state, and the country. It is a nice conversation to have but at a certain point the conversation will have to concentrate on how educators can be more effective politically. There is nothing indicating that the current political trend will change and I am not sure that there are any indications that educators are operating more effectively polically than they have in the past. It is easy to say that politicians or parents should not drive education but they do control the money and until we operate more effectively in the politcal world I am not sure that these ideas being discussed will materialize. We can change in our own little world but the major changes being discussed will remain just an idealistic conversation.

  32. So let's be more effective politically. If we truly believe this is what's best for kids, how can we not try to make the change? And I would remind you that district administration is who just gave us $216,000 in support of this vision. I would argue that that is a pretty clear indicator of support . . .

  33. I'll admit-I have procrastinated and I have no excuses. Anywho, I will admit that reading through everyone's responses is overwhelming and I need to take some time; there is lots of goood stuff that I have read. I'll be back to give my insight soon. Sorry everyone-Thanks for pointing out my action of slacking!

  34. What a terrific conversation! This has obviously struck a chord with all of us.As i reflect on our conversation,I didn't hear anyone advocating kids learn less info because that is a huge piece of our responsiblity to our kids and community. What may begin to look different is how we deliver that info.( See the Newsweek article you just received.) I remember at the beginning of my career, the prediction was that televisions would replace us all, and we are still here. It is difficult to replace human interaction. And yet I could see us hiring someone to teach Chinese in the near future who could deliver that service only via a tv feed/podcast/online program.
    As to the concerns about administration buy-in, we have to invite them in to that conversation at some point. I have already invited 2 of our new Board members to visit us and engage in our conversations.
    The most challenging thing we face is charting a new path with no clear direction, but it allows to stuggle with our belief systems and create something that is truly ours.


  35. Another student:

    I think the purpose of school should be educating the next generation. It's as simple as that. I hate the term "molding the minds of the students" and it is exactly what textbooks and standardized tests attempt to do. They cramp creativity and innovation and turn school into a torture-chamber of facts and turn us students into statistics.

    As far as I can tell, the best way to learn would be to learn the basics from our teachers and then have discussions. Whether they are on blogs, or in the classroom, discussions are the best way to induce creativity and pure, unadultered original thinking. Of course, this is easier said than done.

    I would approach this topic like politics. To truly change the school system, one must start at a grassroots level. These blogs are an awesome start! As for getting the administration involved, I agree that the members must get involved with the discussions. And that isn't enough! Perhaps if we show them the thoughts (and rants) of my fellow students (Miss Kakos's blog) they will understand that discussions are the best way we learn, not having facts drilled into our heads by textbooks and CSAP. Like it is the government's responsibilty to help/support/protect the people, I believe that it is the administration's responsibility to educate us in the best way possible for us to learn and lead.

    A school in Arkansas or somewhere divided its classes by gender and is teaching each gender differently, to cater to each sex's needs for learning...and it's working! Test scores went up there! Whey not toss out the textbooks and the CSAP?

    I think the dialogue that you all have going here is great! It is obvious that we, the students, have some great, innovative-thinking teachers fighting for us.