Sunday, December 12, 2010

Data is fabulous

In defense of the teachers in this video, someone might wish to blame the system. Some might say "teachers have to do what they have to do with state, provincial or federal regulations." To this, I say "what about the kids?" An educator who dismisses what is in the best interest of the kids in the name of self-perseverance isn't much of an educator at all.

If you can see why we should teach children to be mindful of the consequences of their actions, then you have to see why teachers too must be mindful of their own actions.

When I relate this to education, I see teachers taking orders from all kinds of authority figures (politicians, superintendents, principals) as if the teacher was simply an agent of the state.

After all, they are just following orders.

After administrating a standardized test, the follow-up interview with a compliant teacher might go something like this:

Q: It looks like you were under some stress?

A: I found it quite stressful. Yeah I did.

Q: But you went on.

A: I did. Yeah. Because my principal said that these tests wouldn't damage the kids long term. So...

Q: So if by chance these tests do hurt the kids, whose responsibility would that have been?

A: Well, in the eye's of the Lord it would be my fault. Morally, it would be my fault. And I could argue that I was following procedure layed out by my government, superintendent or principal. Perhaps I could blame them. But in reality it would be me prepping and administring the test.

Q: And even with the burden of the knowledge, that morally you are responsible - you went on?

A: Hmm. I'm not entirely pleased about that, but I did. Yeah.

Q: How do you interpret the kid's reactions to these tests seeing that the bulk of a student's intelligence evades the clutches of these kinds of tests?

A: I didn't... I don't know... I didn't actually think about it - maybe I probably should have - but I didn't think about it that much. So... my job was to teach the curriculum and prepare them for the test. So...

And the interview with a non-compliant teacher might go like this:

Q: You were involved in an important exercise in educational accountability and the principal told you to go prep and administer the test. Why did you disobey?

A: It sounded a little bit like the Nazis in the Second World War Germany. It wasn't my fault - it wasn't me, I was told to do it.

Q: The majority of teachers go along with this testing - they prep their kids and administer the test.

A: I find that scary. I find that very scary.


  1. Channeling our friend, Jon Becker...

    Data ARE fabulous.

    So the people praising data are undereducated. Could this example of grammatical faux pas be the difference between preparing for a test and being properly educated? No wonder teachers get bashed so much.

  2. I find that video profoundly depressing. I bet if even one of those targets hadn’t been met the video would never have been posted on YouTube. To think that teachers are still so misinformed about how to engage learners in learning. You’d think it was a teacher’s first priority to be informed about what they do.

    But then perhaps their defence would run slightly differently from the one you proposed. Perhaps they’d argue that they’re using best practice and the results speak for themselves. Perhaps they’d argue that, in any case, they’re preparing kids for the real world of incentive driven work and extrinsic rewards.

    The problem that too many people still fail to recognise is that extrinsic rewards do actually work to improve performance but the longer term consequences create a widening gap between high achievers and low and ruin intrinsic motivation and creativity.

    In that lesson that has so little to do with Maths and everything to do with compliance, the brainwashing is almost palpable.


  3. I am not a fan of high stakes testing; but...

    Likening teachers to NAZI's is not quite fair. You beg the question that what the teachers are doing is actually bad for the kids. While this belief is popular, it is not a forgone conclusion. Perhaps the people doing things like this have actually observed positive results BEYOND the scores.

    You presume that because the scores are celebrated, that the scores are the only things that mattered. I would suggest that this video clip doesn't support that conclusion either.

    Did you notice how many of the kids were excited and were "tuned in" for the boring discussion about statistics that they don't understand? That kind of buy-in doesn't come from test scores alone. There's more... way more... that's going on in that classroom and with those kids than meets the eye in this one video clip.

    Perhaps the people who support this kind of thing have, in their long careers as educators (long than either you or me), finally stumbled upon something that has motivated their students to think collectively about "each other" and about academics at all.

    Again, I am not saying that I approve of high stakes testing and the culture that grows around it. But I am saying that those educators, about whom you are writing, may be joining in for good reasons rather than simply following in line.

  4. I don't care how you slice it, there's nothing good about that video.

  5. I don't like the video either and I come here for new ideas. But Joe, you lose all credibility as an intelligent thinker when you liken the administration of standardized tests to the gassing of Jews at Auschwitz.

    The attempt to shock your readers by comparing educational practice to genocide smacks of rhetorical cheap points, and it disgusts me. It'll be very hard for me to take your writing seriously after this, Joe. You can - and should- know better.


  6. Interesting. I wonder what the conversation and mood will be like in May if they don't meet their targets.

  7. Joanne, who said anything about gassing of Jews?

    While it is true that the Holocaust involved such a thing, I hope that is not the only thing you take from learning about the Holocaust.

    Very young children can learn valuable lessons about history without ever being exposed to the murder and the death. Those lessons involve thinking for yourself and standing up for what is right...

    There are some very important lessons to be learned from all history – including the Holocaust. If we waited to apply those lessons learned to equally horrific situations, we would rarely, if ever, be able to enact what we learned.

    Little Red Riding Hood is perhaps a little over the top or a tad harsh for a child’s bedtime story, but I would hope we could all focus on the task at hand.

  8. Joe,

    You stated in your mock interview that the noncompliant teacher would refuse to administer these tests because "It sounded a little like the Nazis in Second World War Germany." You implied that administering a standardized test was akin to - well, the tasks of Nazis.

    Are you saying that you don't understand your own rhetorical low blow? Do you deny your attempt to make this connection?

    There are many Jews who find such haphazardly made comparisons exploitive and offensive.

    What's sad is that I agree with much of what you say in terms of educational theory, but sometimes the way you say it cheapens its effect. That you would seem to want to deny your rhetorical slapdashery lessens its credibility even more.

    I'm not sure what you meant by bringing in Little Red Riding Hood or the sidebar about historical lessons. But if it's analogies you're looking for, I suggest choosing comparisons that enhance rather than detract from the message.


  9. Joanne, please watch these three YouTube videos to gain some context. It will take you 15 minutes.

  10. Joe,

    I commend you for your post. It obviously stops to make people think and provides a forum for educators to share their opinions and views.

    After viewing the video and reading the comments I have been able to come to my own conclusions.

    Working within a district that believes very much in the success of the MAP test, it is exciting to see a classroom (with a high student ratio I might add) that is excited about their achievements/reaching their goals.
    I agree with what J. Hamlyn said above in regards to goal setting (or has he called it, incentive driven work) being a life skill and something that students should be exposed to in school. Joe, do you set goals for yourself? When you reach your goals do you celebrate? Do you ever fall short of attaining a goal? If so, do you work harder to reach that goal in the future? I assume that you answered "yes" to each of the questions above.

    What the video fails to show is the instruction that took place in order to achieve those results. I would say is a very important piece! I will argue that it is even more important than the results. It is hard to come to a final conclusion without knowing what the instruction looks like in the classroom.

    I would like to think the instruction is student centered, requires higher level thinking, is differentiated to meet students needs, which can be data driven based upon MAP results, and is rich in the integration of technology.

    On the other hand, I know there are classrooms where the instruction is just the opposite! These are the classrooms that give educators a jaded opinion on assessments such as these. These are the classrooms that lack direction from administrators and lead to the high stresses of needing to perform to meet a certain score.

    If a teacher teaches to meet the individual needs of students and does so in a manner that allows students to explore, create, and prepare themselves for the unknown, the goals WILL be met and celebrations will occur!

    Who is to say that is not what happened in the video clip above?

    In the off chance that a goal is not met, teachers/students reflect and continue to learn. The idea of MAP testing is to improve over time...big picture! Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if a student out performed their last assessment, whatever type of assessment it may be?

  11. Joe,

    One valuable piece that is missing from this video is the instruction students receive on a daily basis. I would like to think that it is instruction rich in technology, creativity, and allows students to create based on their individual needs. The data collected from the MAP tests can assist in driving the instruction for individual students. What you are seeing in the video, could be a direct result from superb instruction. The work of the students coupled with the instruction from the teacher led to students attaining a goal, which is a tremendous life skill. Do you set goals for yourself? When you meet that goal to you celebrate? Have you ever failed to meet a goal? If so, do you work harder the next time so it does not happen again? I would assume you answered "yes" to all of the above questions. Why is it not ok for students to do the same?

    Of course there are the classrooms that use this assessment or this type of assessment the wrong way. We can thank them for creating this jaded thinking when it comes to assessments. Some teachers do feel added pressure to meet a certain number or else. In those cases, the administrator may be to blame, or possibly the system it self.

    In the real world adults and students are assessed daily. What a utopia it would be if each time I was assessed I outperformed my last assessment. The example shared in the video clip can measure growth over the a K-12 period. Are you more interested in the growth from administration to administration or over the long haul knowing that their may be a day when the student was not at their best? Maybe very much like a day when you have to call in sick for work.

    If the instruction is rich in technology, creativity, and allows students to create based on their individual needs the results of the assessments or the attainment of a goal is going to take care of itself! In the off chance it does not, and you do not meet your goal, you reflect and continue to educate children based on your data and the goal of preparing students for the future.

    Joe, thank you for your post. It provides a forum for educators to share their thoughts, grow professionally, and connect with others to continue our learning. Out of curiosity how familiar are you with the MAP test?

  12. Joe,

    Do you set goals either personally or professionally? Do you celebrate when you achieve those goals? Have you ever not achieved a goal? If so, do you work hard to achieve it in the future?

    If the instruction is rich in technology, creativity, and allows to students to create based on their individual needs what is the problem?

    The problem exists when the instruction is focused on a test. If you focus on student needs and instruction that is data driven then the assessment piece takes care of itself. Jaded perspectives exist because of the school districts, administrators & teachers who focus on the score instead of the student.

    In order to come to a educated opinion about the clip above, we have to know what the instruction in the classroom looks like.

    Thank you for your post. Out of curiosity, how familiar are you with the MAP test?

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. I had a much longer post prior to the one above, so if you need me to elaborate on anything please let me know. It was not accepted due to length.


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