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An argument for testing: Does opting out matter?

As an educational leader, I have been asked why I choose not to opt my son out of high-stakes testing. It’s because I don’t care about the tests nor his scores. In fact, I don’t really care about any of the assessments nor grades he’s given in school, high-stakes or otherwise. I care much more about the skills my son is developing and the knowledge he is constructing; and that learning takes place within every aspect of his life (home, school, play, etc.). It simply cannot be measured through any sort of test.

Our students waste a lot of time in school (and with homework) complying with compulsory tasks that do nothing to develop within them the skills they’ll need as they make their way in this ever-shrinking world – testing included. Opting out of a few high-stakes tests won’t change that.

As educators, we need to be in the business of facilitating students’ construction of knowledge.

This can be done by modeling, guiding, mentoring, and purposively facilitating learning opportunities around critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, perseverance, exploration, reflection, and other soft skills WITHIN and THROUGH disciplinary content (e.g. social studies, science, health, math, language).

Unfortunately, our schools have devolved into places where information memorization is valued over knowledge construction, simply because while students’ retained information can be tested and quantified, their knowledge cannot.

Manifesto 15: Evolving learning

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From John Moravec:

Like many of us, I did some reflecting over the New Year. It seemed it was time to re-center, and get back to basics. It’s too easy to get distracted and lose track of our principles and where we want to go with them. It was time to write a manifesto on what we’ve learned so far.

Read Manifesto 15 at manifesto15.org.

All of the manifestos that have inspired me are strongly associated with a date. The U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. Charter 77 emerged in January 1977. Dogme 95 was crafted in 1995. Also, as ideas transform and develop over time, Manifesto 15 represents a snapshot of our ideas, visions, and what we have learned to date on January 1, 2015. It serves as a reference point to help us understand how we’ve done so far, and what actions we need to take next.

As I wrote Manifesto 15 at the beginning of last week, I opened it for public edits, contributions, and comments via Google Docs as soon as the first draft was completed. The response has been phenomenal. In just the first few days since being released on January 1, it has received thousands of views and offers for translation into various languages. As I receive the translated (and proofread) documents, I will post them as well.

Please give Manifesto 15 a read. If you would like to sign or have thoughts to share on our principles for education as we move forward, please do share. Let’s see what conversations we can spark and what initiatives we can inspire.

To my collaborators on the project, and to our supporters, thank you!

States rely on determinist tests, genes to track kids to prison

Several U.S. states plan future prison build-outs based on second or third-grade reading scores. But now this trend of tracking young children for a career in crime is spreading to other nations? The Guardian reports that Scotland Yard’s most senior forensics expert, Gary Pugh, want elementary school kids to be “eligible for the [national] DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain’s most senior police forensics expert.” From the article:

‘If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,’ said Pugh. ‘You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won’t. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.’

[…]

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers’ Association, said most teachers and parents would find the suggestion an ‘anathema’ and potentially very dangerous. ‘It could be seen as a step towards a police state,’ he said. ‘It is condemning them at a very young age to something they have not yet done. They may have the potential to do something, but we all have the potential to do things. To label children at that stage and put them on a register is going too far.’

What’s next? Requiring DNA samples from second graders who underperform in a reading test so they can be easily identified by future forensic criminologists?

These trends seem like a variation of a theme derived from the dystopias of Minority Report‘s pre-crime and Gattaca‘s eugenics and genetic discrimination, with an added element of the growing omniscience of the state. Because of the threat of discrimination, any embrace of genetic determinism by the state could have tremendous negative impacts. What would it take to expand GINA to protect U.S. students in educational settings?