Transcript: Live Chat on Testing and Education Reform
Comment from Kris Alman: How do low-income kids afford the IB tests?
Tara Brancato: Actually, New York City provides funds for low-income IB students—it's part of IB's new focus. They're working on embracing urban and low-income students, who aren't traditionally what were thought of as IB.
Mark Anderson: Dana and Tara, the Common Core tests coming along are supposed to be more akin to the IB and AP tests (higher order, open ended questions). Do you think these will remove some of the current issues with testing?
Tara Brancato: The move toward performance tasks in Common Core is key to improving the current assessment system. Genuine performance tasks are never multiple choice, and focus on assessing skills that require a lot of higher level thinking and development.
Dana Goldstein: Tara, this is so interesting about how IB looks at student performance skills. I agree we should be asking students to show what they know in many different ways, not just through writing words or through multiple choice. I think the Common Core will be a major improvement, but it won't get us all the way there because it still needs to mass-graded, and because it is only in English and math.
Mark Anderson: Tara, I would agree with that. One thing I am skeptical of with the new tests, however, is that these performance tasks will still be testing skills isolated from the actual curriculum taught.
Dana, yes, I agree that it won't take us all the way there, for the reasons you gave, but also for the reason I just stated above.
Tara Brancato: That's true, but schools and Networks like New Visions for Public Schools are really pushing for Performance Tasks and CCLS across the board. My department uses performance tasks to assess every unit, regardless of testing. We all support our students—and as they grow in every subject area, they're naturally growing in English and Math as well.
Tara Brancato: Mark, do you think that if there were time allowed for planning and curriculum development, that skills could be embedded into the content of courses?
Mark Anderson: Tara, I don't think we should attempt to isolate the skills from content—they are necessarily coupled with what is learned. I believe that ELA exams should be based upon real literature, the literature that students have engaged with during the year. A great article that forwards this perspective at the New York Timesis "Teach the Books, Touch the Heart" by Claire Hollander.
Dana Goldstein: Agree strongly with Mark that tests should be related to REAL assignments kids have had!
Tara Brancato: Absolutely, Mark. From what I've seen of Common Core as my school is embracing it wholeheartedly, content and skill go hand in hand in their philosophy. It is about real assessment.
Comment from Morna McDermott: How can we escape the trap that high stakes testing both serves corporate interest like Pearson at the expense of children's real learning while acknowledging that tests are being used to shut down public community schools for corporate model charter schools that have proven to be no better than the schools they replaced?
Dana Goldstein: Morna: It is true that the testing industry is highly involved in education policy-making, including in creating the Common Core and the tests that will go along with it. We need to make sure that politically, we are advocating for the idea that test scores alone do not define whether a school or teacher is a success or failure. School closings are a VERY tough issue. Polls of low income parents show they would rather their local schools were "turned around" rather than re-opened as charters. But charters are also a very popular, over-subscribed option among parents.
Mark Anderson: Dana, thanks for your point that test scores alone should not determine success or failure—of either students nor teachers.
Comment from Guest: Do you see that new leaders, private and/or publicly funded, are bringing positive change for more collaborative learning among teachers and more collaborative learning among students?
Mark Anderson: It seems like other nations are way ahead of us in talking about collaboration rather than a tunnel vision upon accountability based on value added measures.
Dana Goldstein: Lots of organizations are working on bringing teachers together to share best practices. The Gates Foundation, for example, is putting resources toward video-taping excellent teachers and someday perhaps creating an online database so other teachers can watch their lessons. Politically, we haven't put enough funding toward this in the way Canada and South Korea have, for example. Instead we spend more money on more data-driven approaches.
Also, teachers need to come together inside schools, in real life, not just virtually.
Tara Brancato: I agree, Dana—and teacher led, student focused leadership is vital to that process. As we collaborate virtually at this moment, I'm listening to a group of teachers meeting outside the office door, discussing the elevation of the teaching profession. E4E and its philosophy of teacher conversation and collaboration is a vehicle many teachers around the country are beginning to take the reigns of leadership.
Mark Anderson: Teacher voice is beginning to be recognized as fundamental. We're in the birthing stages of this. Teacher voice organizations are developing platforms for advocacy and injecting teacher voice directly into the process of policy making, such as The VIVA Project. As Dana notes, teachers need to collaborate inside schools, not simply online. We need a systemic approach to developing structures of physical collaboration within and across.
Dana Goldstein: This systemic approach does require local and federal government funding.
Comment from Margaret Yaukey: Can someone address the effect of big money donations, such as the Gates Foundation, in terms of the increasingly corporate environment and free market ethic that drives the red-lining of low performing populations.
Dana Goldstein: Gates, Broad, and other philanthropists have a huge influence on both federal and local policies. I think these donors are well intentioned, but sometimes the growth of the charter school sector, which they have funded, has led to traditional neighborhood schools actually becoming worse as students with more engaged parents flee them. It is a VERY tough problem. We want educational options, but we don't want the kids who are "left behind" from "school choice" to be forgotten. Not all kids have families who are well equipped to help them navigate the school choice maze. In NYC, the high school choice book is nearly 600 pages long.
Mark Anderson: I believe we must keep the focus on transparency. Funding information should be publicly accessible.
Dana brings up a critical point about school choice. It's not an elixir for high performing schools. We must be cautious about making quick fixes to giant and complex systems.
Sarah Arnold: We're going to wrap things up. Here's one last comment from a reader. Dana, Mark and Tara, anything else you want to add?
Comment from Smith: Maybe we need to ask some of the big questions...like who benefits from the way things are now (standardized tests and other pressures of accountability that make good teachers and schools vulnerable to poor practices). That helps explain why things don't change very fast. Those that benefit the most may have something to lose. Education is political, and whoever brought up the idea of getting involved with policy is right. Pockets of wonderful things help, but usually remain pockets of good things—unless and until we make it clear that public schooling is a priority value, and that thoughtful and talented teachers are the key. Policy makers need to get the message. Nothing about us without us. Too often, folks who sit outside education are making decisions about education. We need our voices to count.
Dana Goldstein: I love this comment. In my book, I'm going to be looking at why, throughout American history, teachers voices have been left out of the education policy debate. The good news is, that is really beginning to change over last few years and I think will improve even more going forward.
Mark Anderson: Great comment, Smith! Yes! Teachers, students, and parents should be at the center of policy making, not at the bottom.
Tara Brancato: I agree. Teaching is a vocation—we need to reach out to each other, and improve our practices, and celebrate our collaborations. Because ultimately, we're fighting for our students' success, not just our own profession. By elevating what we do, and holding ourselves to the highest standards, we are working to make generations of students who will be prepared, confident and analytical. This is the essence of what we do and why it is so important.
Mark Anderson: In closing, I would like to thank The Nation for giving me this opportunity to share my perspective and listen to others perspectives. Thanks to everyone who is here, listening, and involved. I would just like to say that we must remember what education is all about: nurturing, developing, and serving our children and our nation's future. We can best do this in our public schools by focusing on creating positive learning environments that nurture the whole child and provide access to enriching and coherent curriculum—not on shallow tests designed to evaluate individual teachers and students.
Sarah Arnold: Thank you Dana, Mark and Tara and thanks to everyone who participated. I'm going to open up the comment section at the bottom of this post, so feel free to continue the conversation there.
Dana Goldstein: Thanks Sarah and everyone who participated!
Tara Brancato: Yes, thank you so much for this opportunity! This was a great virtual collaboration.