More people are reading the blog--THANK YOU! This is wonderful incentive for me to write, and I hope it will give parents in my class a different perspective on their primate's learning experience in my room. Additionally, I hope following the posts will develop deeper understanding of the translation of MI theory to practice for all readers--and even myself!
My student teacher is taking over this week, which gives me some time to catch up on documentation that has piled up, and do some much needed, thoughtful planning for the weaving project. I will meet with my documentation team on Friday so I want to be prepared. Another team is working on a video of MI at our school in the upper grades. They are using a script, which I think is a wonderful idea. I'd like to develop something that outlines the major points of what I'm trying to do with this project, where I expect MI to be visible, and how I hope to accomplish these goals.
Today, though, I am thinking about assessment and where all this data-craziness is bringing us. I have always held the belief that there is a stark difference between "high standards" and "standardization". Holding primates to high standards requires individualizing learning, encouraging personal responsibility for learning, and illustrating growth and effort through actual primate work. Standardizing, (ie, everyone taking the same test on the same information, regurgitating select facts, comparing individuals, and setting arbitrary benchmarks--(and I say arbitrary because most benchmarks do not consider developmental expectations in a broad enough range), is the lowest form of expectation. Reducing a primate's growth, effort, and potential to a number or letter is lowering standards. In our current system of "holding schools accountable", there HAS to be a bottom group. If everyone was scoring proficient and/or advanced on the MCAS, we wouldn't consider it a valid form of assessment. If everyone's passing, it's too easy. Someone has to fail in order to show that others are succeeding. Success for all is not a viable option.
So what kind of data would better suit high standards?
Work that illustrates growth over time. Work that shows effort to solve problems and create products. The processes primates utilize as they solve problems and create products. We need to stop spending money on "assessment programs" and tests, and put that money into smaller class sizes, resources, supplies, programs from the community (field experiences, visiting professionals, etc), and study what primates are producing over a period of time. Set benchmarks for individuals and for learning groups--the work they do together as a group is as powerful as their individual achievements--based on individual strengths and challenges. Learning is not a competition, because in a competition someone ALWAYS loses. We shouldn't be willing to allow any learners to lose, and we most certainly should not promote assessment methods that necessitate failures.
In an earlier post about entry points, I highlighted a project on the poem, "The Spider and the Fly", where students made retelling sets based on the characters, and were asked to retell the story. The activities offered multiple entry points for primates to connect to the story. As primates used their sets, I assessed how they retold the story--did they use vocabulary from the poem? did they follow chronological order? did they use intonation? did they add something of their own? what did they leave out? Retelling is an important skill for beginning readers because it shows comprehension of the text. A traditional intelligence view would be satisfied with the teacher reading the story and asking primates to write a retell. Yes, that would show comprehension, but only for some primates. While reading and writing are intertwined skills, one's acquisition of these skills is not always at the same pace. In other words, primates can possess strong comprehension skills long before they develop writing skills. Adding the task of writing dilutes a teacher's ability to assess comprehension because the primate may shift his/her focus from comprehension to the task of putting letters together to make words, words together to make sentences, even just forming letters appropriately. Allowing primates to perform the actual skill I am assessing offers an undiluted look at their ability to perform that skill.
This type of data is far more difficult and time-consuming to collect and analyze than just collecting writing samples, grading them, and incorporating that data into a graph to analyze. However, the latter offers false information, while the former--based on the primates' abilities to actually "do" what I am hoping to assess......well, need I really say more?