Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The True Cost of Testing: Part 2

My last post on The True Cost of Testing generated a couple of follow-up questions I thought I might address.

One of those questions was what would we do to replace final exams? Don't we need some kind of assessment at the end of a semester/year? Maybe, maybe not, but if you do believe we need some kind of assessment at that point, I suggest an alternative. I wrote about this a while back, I think we should replace final exams with conferencing with students. Meeting with them individually and actually talking with them to see what they know, what they are still struggling with, and what they would like to do next would be much more valuable for the student than a final exam.

Another question focused on what should we do with that freed up time? We have about 175 instructional days with students but, as discussed in the last post, we lose about 17 or so to testing, which means we really have something more like 158. So one possibility is simply to give those days back to instruction. That effectively adds 11% (17/158) more days to our school year without actually increasing the number of days or spending any more money. That's an idea that everyone from Bernie to Donald could presumably support.

Alternatively, we could stick with 158 days. That would save us about 10% of our current budget, so that means we could hire 10% more teachers. At my school, that equates to about 11 more teachers, which could either translate to lower class sizes or additional offerings (or both). Which is better for students, 17 days of testing, or 158 days of instruction with 11 more teachers in the building?

Or perhaps we don't spend that saved money on additional teachers. Since we currently have 158 days of instruction that we're clearly satisfied with, then perhaps we use those 17 days differently. I'd suggest that the 2,150 students and 150 staff members participate in various forms of community service. Think what we could accomplish in our community with 2300 people, 17 days, and $2 million. Think also what the students could learn.

This undoubtedly would take many, many forms, some of them costing no money just donated time, and others taking both time and some money, but let me give just one example. What if we worked with Habitat For Humanity? With $2 million, 17 days, and that many volunteers, I think we could easily build 10 houses for families in need in our community. That's per year. Just from my school. Now only would it provide desperately needed affordable housing, but think of all the students would learn in that process. It could very much be an apprenticeship model, with students doing good while learning.

Even with 10 simultaneous houses going up, and even if students and teachers were split into 3 shifts a day at 6 hours each, that still wouldn't take all 2300 of us, so there still would be plenty of other volunteer opportunities going on at the same time for those 17 days. Maybe reading with students in elementary schools, maybe tending a community garden, maybe visiting seniors living in assisted living. And, obviously, we're only limited by our imagination in terms of finding activities that benefit the community while simultaneously teaching our students valuable skills. Part of the learning process would presumably be the students researching what the best use of that time might be.

So, once again, what would be the impact on the culture of learning in our schools? What would be the message we send to students (and teachers) of what we value and who we are serving?

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