Tag Archives: Corporate High-Stakes Testing

Hope: The Two Biggest Anti-Teaching Forces Also Hate Each Other

Education is the most ridiculed department on any college campus. Its professors are generally not practitioners. Its subject-matter consists of hand-me-down theories from psychology and sociology. Its literature cloaks itself in clumsy jargon in a laughable attempt to sound scientific and, therefore, legitimate.

Graduates fully realize the joke once they start their teaching careers. Faced for the first time with a room full of students to teach, all of the neat theories they spent thousands of dollars learning melt away into oblivion. At the same time, those education professors never quite go away. There will always be a new method or curriculum that some educationist somewhere cooked up and successfully foisted upon some unsuspecting school district. This requires endless hours of professional development sessions accompanied by the requisite drumroll of empty jargon.

It is a never-ending cycle. The new program that took hundreds of hours to learn will eventually be scrapped in favor of a brand new program. The educationists will claim that this is because there have been new and exciting developments in the field of pedagogy. However, teachers know that educationists are merely throwing darts; their programs nothing more than jargonized guesswork.

Despite the general perception of educationists as bumblers and incompetents unfit to compete in the more respected fields of study, they are actually pretty smart. As teachers, from our first moments in the education program up until the last days of our careers, we are never fully out of the orbit of educationists. They will always be around, first as our professors and then as the faceless people whose names grace the latest pedagogical fads. (How is Charlotte Danielson doing, by the way?)

That is because they have successfully established a system where they are considered the experts and we are merely practitioners. Part of this is due to the unique historical circumstances out of which our current system of schooling arose. The late 1800s not only saw the genesis of compulsory public schooling, but also the modern social sciences: psychology, sociology and economics. Compulsory schooling created a need for trained teachers. Those teachers would be trained at the nation’s colleges by professors who took on the trappings of social scientists. It was at that moment that teaching became pedagogy.

So now we have a two-tiered system of pedagogical experts and pedagogical practitioners. It is a system designed to disempower teachers by keeping any semblance of professional autonomy out of our reach. The educationists have a monopoly on research and theory. Those things have always trumped experience. Teachers are told that they have nothing to contribute to the field of pedagogy while, at the same time, the field of pedagogy is able to dictate the way teachers do their jobs. It is a patriarchal system where the teaching workforce, overwhelmingly female since its inception, is expected to be mute so that the experts can talk amongst themselves in the proverbial smoke-filled parlors of academia. They often take time from their bull sessions to order us around. “Today you’re doing whole language.” “Ok, now do balanced literacy.” “Hey, serve up some fuzzy math, will you?” “Don’t forget to differentiate your instruction. There are multiple intelligences out there!”

This is why a recent study of schools of education conducted by the National Counsel for Teacher Quality promises to have interesting implications. Teachers (the practitioners of pedagogy) have been accustomed to being bossed around by outsiders in the current age of education reform. Politicians, businesspeople, celebrities and assorted self-promoters have taken up the cause of public schooling. No matter their particular recommendations, they are in agreement that teachers are the problem. We are the ones that need to change so that education can be saved. It is easy for them to order us around in this way, since the pedagogical experts have been doing as much for a hundred years.

But now, with this NCTQ study, the reformers have found the pedagogical experts lacking. Apparently, the experts have been falling down on the job by not preparing prospective teachers to analyze education data. In the age of the standardized exam, worshipped by reformer outfits like the NCTQ, there promises to be no shortage of education data to be mined. Data training will be one of the most important criteria when the NTCQ releases the rankings for education schools in U.S. News and World Report.

Yet, the NTCQ is meeting resistance from the education experts. Many schools of education refused to share with the NTCQ their syllabi, forcing the NTCQ to obtain them via Freedom of Information Law requests. Apparently, it is easy for reformers to tell teachers what to do, but the pedagogical PhDs are having none of it. This is their field. They are the experts and they do not take kindly to uninitiated outsiders telling them what they have to do. They are tired of hearing that testing is the future of education. After all, it is the educationists who direct education.  The NTCQ telling the educationists that testing is the future of education is like Kim Kardashian telling Stephen Hawking that string theory is the future of physics.

In short, the two biggest forces that have sought to disempower teachers (educationists and reformers) are at each other’s throats.

The other interesting implication is seen in the following excerpt:

“A lot of schools of education continue to become quite oppositional to the notion of standardized tests, even though they have very much become a reality in K-12 schools,” said Kate Walsh, NCTQ president. “The ideological resistance is critical.”

This is the type of reptilian discourse that defines everything education reformers say. It is the reformers who justify their high-stakes testing, union busting agenda with “research”. Yet, educational research is conducted by educationists. If the educationists oppose standardized testing, would it not stand to reason that the research does not support the notion of testing?

Oh, but Kate Walsh calls the resistance of educationists “ideological”.

It makes one wonder if the educationists do not support testing and the teachers do not support testing, what justification do the reformers have for supporting testing?

Could it be their own dogmatic ideology?

We can only hope that the NCTQ and the educationists continue to duke it out on the issue of data. Not only will it fan the flames of dissension between the two biggest enemies of teacher autonomy, it will expose the fact that education reformers have absolutely zero justification in educational research to push for more testing.

This does not mean that I am a fan of education research. It means that, from time to time, it is worthwhile to club your opponents with the same bludgeon with which they usually club you.

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My Take on the Pineapple Passage (More Pineapplegate)

Personal life has prevented me from chiming in on Pearson’s pineapple passage debacle, otherwise known as Pineapplegate, up until now. As I read the questions associated with the passage, I was horrified that the likes of Andrew Rotherham actually defended this pile of garbage. Horrified but not surprised, of course.

Diane Ravitch is right: the questions on this passage are tantamount to child abuse.

The passage itself is not bad. It is a play on Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare fable, a cute variation that ventures into the nonsensical. The passage’s author, Daniel Pinkwater, has said as much and has let it be known that he was not happy with multiple choice questions that tried to make sense out of nonsense.

The students had to answer 6 questions about the passage. Only the first one made any sense. Questions 7 through 11, however, were just cruel and unusual punishment for eighth graders. All of them, every single one, were subjective. They are a great snapshot of the underlying problems with testing in general, not to mention judging students and teachers based off the results of these tests.

Question 7

The animals ate the pineapple most likely because they were:

a) hungry b) excited c) annoyed d) amused

Essentially, a pineapple challenged a hare to a race. Other animals were looking on, speculating as to who would win. The animals concluded that the pineapple, an inanimate object, must have some trick up its sleeve in order to be confident enough to challenge the hare. They guessed that the pineapple would win. Yet, the pineapple did not do anything, remaining in its original position well after the hare had crossed the finish line. The story ends with the sentence “the animals ate the pineapple”.

The thing is, the sentence about the animals eating the pineapple was a throwaway ending, a slapsticky image that highlighted the absurd nature of the entire passage. In other words, there was no point or motivation behind the animals eating the pineapple.

Now, one might conclude that they did so because they were “annoyed”. After all, the pineapple had made liars out of all of them. However, nothing anywhere in this passage suggests that the animals were so emotionally invested in this race that they would literally consume the loser.

A holistic reading of the passage suggests that this was a nonsense ending to a nonsense scene. Any of the choices could have literally been a correct answer, especially since there were several animals who probably each had their own motivation for eating the pineapple, or no motivation.

To make this question the basis of a score that a kid will receive on a high-stakes exam is the height of cruelty. They must choose a flimsy, one-word emotion that explains why these animals ate the pineapple. It is a simplification of the idea of an inner life, not to mention highly subjective.

Question 8

Which animals spoke the wisest words?

a) The hare b) The moose c) The crow d) The owl

I literally do not know what the answer to this question is. There is absolutely zero basis to decide which animal said the wisest words.

In my opinion, the owl uttered the dumbest words in the entire passage: “pineapples don’t have sleeves.” This was said in response to the moose who said the pineapple must have a trick up its sleeve. First off, no fruit or animal “has” sleeves, not even humans. Humans might, from time to time, wear sleeves, but sleeves are not part of our anatomy and, therefore, we do not strictly “have” them. Furthermore, as the moose says, we know what he was getting at with the whole “trick up his sleeve” phrase. It was a saying, a metaphor, and not meant to be taken literally. The owl demonstrates the type of know-it-allish stupidity that passes for intelligence in this day and age, the type that passes for intelligence according to Pearson as well.

The moose and the crow each speculated that the pineapple’s confidence meant that it had some grand scheme planned. An obvious nod to the original Aesop fable, they banked their proverbial dollars on the pineapple because they might have heard how these situations have turned out before. In that case, they demonstrated a healthier dose of critical thought than the owl, albeit based on faulty deductive reasoning.

The wisest words were probably uttered by the hare. Not only did he discount the idea that a pineapple can beat him in a race, he proved it by soundly beating the pineapple to the finish line. The philosopher William James said that truth is discovered through living. The hare proved the truth of his words by living them out.

It all depends on what one considers wisdom to be. Philosophers have not even agreed on this matter, yet Pearson is arrogant enough to ask a multiple choice question about it. Heavens forbid if the 8th grader ever read William James’ Pragmatism, he might bubble in choice “a” and get left back. There is no room for dissent or original thought in the corporate world that education deformers hope to build.

Question 9

Before the race, how did the animals feel towards the pineapple?

a) Suspicious b) Kindly c) Sympathetic d) Envious  

I think the answer they are looking for is “a”, although I do not know. Is this to say all of the animals, even the hare, felt the same way towards the pineapple? The hare certainly took on the challenge with gusto. The owl, captain obvious, also did not betray any suspicion of the pineapple.

Is it fair to assume that the moose and the crow were “suspicious” of the pineapple? Maybe they were, but does this mean that they were suspicious to the exclusion of the other emotions on here? That is the key. Again, does anybody ever have one emotion that can be boiled down into one word, or are we swirling galaxies of emotions in a constant state of balance or imbalance? To assume that the animals felt suspicious of the pineapple, yet not envious that they had not thought of a scheme to embarrass the arrogant hare themselves, is just too much. Pearson, however, believes that emotions are one-word things that are felt one at a time. If it was up to them, the children who are reared on their exams certainly will turn out this way.

Question 9 is proof positive that the aim of testing in the United States is to turn the workers and consumers of tomorrow into intellectually dull and emotionally barren robots.

Question 10

What would have happened if the animals decided to have cheered for the hare?

a) The pineapple would have won the race

b) They would have been mad at the hare for winning

c) The hare would have just sat there and not moved

d) They would have been happy to have cheered for a winner

The answer is: who the hell knows? I assume the answer is “d”. Does this mean they would have been happy even if the hare cheated to win? After all, the fact that the animals would be cheering for him might cause him to get an edge, like tripping or kicking the pineapple as the race starts. In that case, it is unclear whether the animals would have been happy. The answer could very well end up being “b”.

Of course, if Pearson and the reptilian ed deformers like Andrew Rotherham really wanted to foster creativity and independent thought in children, they would have opened it up and asked kids to write an alternative scenario of the story, one where a slight adaptation in one area might cause changes in another area. It would have allowed children to work out concepts of causality and possibilities. It would be an exercise that engages both the left and right brains.

But that is not their goal. This question exercises no part of the brain. The message here is that corporate masters know everything. Shut up and give the answer we want to hear. You are the workers of tomorrow. We are merely training you for all of the shutting up and obsequiousness that will be required of you as an underpaid corporate functionary.

Question 11   

When the moose said that the pineapple has some trick up its sleeve, he means that the pineapple

a) is wearing a disguise

b) wants to show the animals a trick

c) has a plan to fool the animals

d) is going to pull something out of its sleeve

Huh? Where is the choice that says “has a plan to win the race”? Is that not what the moose meant?

Did the moose ever infer that the pineapple was going to try to fool him? It seems that he and the crow wanted to see the trick the pineapple surely had to win the race. They did not want to be fooled and they did not count on being fooled either. They wanted to see the pineapple’s master plan unfold before their eyes. In that case, the answer could very well be “b”.

Yet, if a kid thinks along these lines, they will probably be marked wrong. It does not matter if they had a good reason to think along these lines, so good that they might even be able to defend their line of thinking. All that matters is bubbling in the right choice as deemed by Pearson.

Andrew Rotherham derided Pearson and NY State as cowards for retreating in the face of widespread criticism of these questions. Apparently, these questions will not be counted towards the test grades and Andrew Rotherham thinks that is a tragedy.

The real tragedy is the fact that we allow Pearson and Andrew Rotherham anywhere near our education system. In a country that actually values a child’s education, the likes of these people would be considered child abusers.