Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Educational Ruses

Maybe such language ("Ruses") is a bit strong, but it's that frustrating time of year...testing season.  I like tests, I think tests are important "events."  They focus the mind, motivate the hands (so to speak), raise the academic intensity...when done right.

I don't enjoy tests for what we've made of them.  They have come to serve too many purposes--the annual state test measures whether a student is "getting an education" by determining whether s/he is keeping up with the norms for his/her age; serves as an instrument of whether a teacher is functioning adequately; shows whether a whole school is providing education to its students.  One test, three different jobs.

The analogy is a bit strained (cancer is not education), but that's like using one annual cancer screening to determine how well the patient is doing with/about cancer, how well the doctor is treating the patient and how effective the hospital is at combating cancer.  You can be sure that multiple measures of performance are taken in this case, following multiple tests--over time, rather than at one time--of the patients.

But I digress.  The ruse comes in the form of our in-gathering of the so-called bubble students (kids with test scores just below the passing mark) and giving them some test support classes after school.  The goal is to squeeze the last 3 or 4 or 5 points out of them, so they can get to passing.

This is primarily for external consumption.  Higher pass rate, we'll be heroes--we'll have shown that we're doing a better job educating our students.

Mind you, they won't necessarily be any better readers.  In fact, they likely will not be.  We'll look good, but they won't be any better at their academic skills.  The only benefit I can see for the students is that "passing" would be rewarding, encouraging an uplifting.  And those are good.

The point...we should think clearly about the incentives and behaviors that institutional and practical arrangements and institutions generate.  If teachers and schools are going to be evaluated and rewarded based on how many students reach the mystical pass/fail bar, we will get practices like this.

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