Saturday, February 9, 2013

Garfield High's Protest Fizzles

This past week, the protests in Garfield High surrounding the MAP came to a rather undramatic conclusion.

We shouldn't be surprised, for if we were allowed to credence the claims leveled against the test, we wouldn't be able to help but deconstruct the entire testing industry that currently runs public education.

So, in my despair, I'd like to focus on the question of educational growth and the current structure of public Ed.

One of the most salient (read: measurable) points brought up by Garfield High teachers was the fact that the margin of error was larger than the expected growth, rendering results essentially meaningless.

To clarify, one of the strengths of the MAP test, at least in relation to other state and national standardized tests, is that it's based on growth. Students test in the fall, and their score is compared to a rather huge norm group. Based on that comparison and their current grade level, growth goals are set. The test is the administered again in the spring. One of the challenges is just how to deal with high-performing students, whose growth goals are both rather narrow and at the same time almost unattainable.

What I would like to question now, with an uncharacteristic lack of finger-pointing, is why our expected growth would narrow and shrink at the high school level.

The standard answer to that question is easy to infer. Elementary is a time of huge growth. Nowhere else will students be expected to process such large amounts of brand new information. Therefore, we should expect that once students have reached high school, that they are settling into a mere application of skills and knowledge.

We'll set aside a whole school of thought that argues against this set-up on the grounds that teaching later rather than earlier is preferable, especially math skills. Instead, let's just ask if this is what we want American education to look like.

Let me propose a different model: elementary education is dedicated to the building of basic skills. Middle school-as it ever shall be-becomes the gentle transition, shifting the focus toward the metagonitive, toward the reflective, toward application of knowledge. High school then become a place where years of skills can be brought to bear on an inexhaustible amount of content.

Essentially, elementary becomes the place where students learn how to learn (as schooling implies they need to do), and high school then becomes the locus for what should be a fairly explosive amount of learning.

I find this model at least as "obvious" as the one described earlier, but I don't believe this is how schools operate.

Of course, even if they did, this is precisely the kind of learning that is most difficult to measure on a standardized test, so we've really come full circle.

Nonetheless, i still have one question that I'll leave you with: Is it not possible that one reason learning slows to a crawl at the high school level is because teaching itself tends to vanish at that level?

There, I knew I could point a finger before I was done.

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