On May 17, 2012, The Nation hosted a live chat on testing and education reform, our first using the platform CoveritLive. The discussion attracted over two-hundred readers, many of them educators themselves. Below is an edited transcript of the chat, which featured Nation writer Dana Goldstein, teacher and Schools as Ecosystems contributor Mark Anderson and teacher and Educators4Excellence member Tara Brancato. You can read a replay of the chat here.
Sarah Arnold: Hello everyone! This is Sarah, your moderator. Readers, you should begin submitting your questions and comments. In the meantime, I’m going to ask Dana, Mark and Tara to each introduce themselves and to say a word or two about what brings them to this conversation.
Mark Anderson: Hello all. Glad to be here. My name is Mark Anderson, and I am a 5th grade special education teacher in an elementary school in the Bronx. I am also a VIVA Teacher Leader and have worked with the VIVA Project to make policy recommendations for implementing teacher evaluations in New York State.
Dana Goldstein: Hey there! I am an education reporter based here in New York. I write for The Nation and Slate, and I’m working on a book about the history of public school teaching.
Tara Brancato: Good afternoon! My name is Tara Brancato, and I am a teacher at an Educators4Excellence School Captain and a teacher fellow with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It’s a pleasure to be here!
Sarah Arnold: Thanks, everyone. I’m going to start with a question: Dana, from your experience reporting on education and Mark and Tara, from your teaching and other work, what changes regarding the use of standardized testing have you noticed during the last few years?
Dana Goldstein: The biggest change underway right now is the adoption of the Common Core curriculum standards by 45 states. The states have formed two consortia to create more sophisticated exams in English and math. But simultaneously, states want to use student achievement data to evaluate teachers. So districts are creating a lot more tests in every subject, including science, social studies, even art and music. And these are subjects that haven’t usually been traditionally "tested" in the past.
Mark Anderson: What I’ve noticed is that it appears that the tests are attempting to move to "higher order" thinking questions, most likely to attempt to move closer to the Common Core. Problem is, higher order questions don’t square with multiple-choice assessments. By nature, multiple-choice questions are shallower. Also, it has become quite clear that the primary purpose of testing is to evaluate teachers, not simply to diagnose children’s abilities.
Tara Brancato: One recent trend in my own school is a change in the way we’re using our testing data. Our testing practices themselves have changed very little since our inception as a school, but we’ve begun to use the data in a more meaningful way, restructuring our grade teams to become inquiry teams focused on the growth of students across all subject areas. We’ve also begun making a ‘horizontal map’ of our Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) goals and performance tasks across departments.