Sure, When Pigs Fly – A Few Thoughts on Assessments

2 Oct

We spent some time in our high school ELA meeting today talking about standardized test results and how they show how much the kids are struggling, but I had to ask myself – do we believe that this test is testing what we think it is important for kids to know? What a fundamental but excruciatingly difficult question to ask or answer. I came away from this meeting with notably more questions than answers. Namely,

  • Do we really have the leisure to be this concerned about grammar? I mean, if kids can’t understand what they’re reading and don’t (overall) know how to think critically, is it responsible of us to teach them editing? In my mind, I always think of this in baking terms – if your cake is wet or grainy or gross, is there really a point in icing it? (I speak from experience when I say that bad things can happen if you do.) I mean, not to belabor a point, but really, we all know that kids are mostly unwilling to go back to a piece if they’re already “done with it” (read: they’ve fixed the grammatical errors). The last time I made a gross cake and iced it, I really didn’t want to go back and remake the cake (which I definitely should have done) because, I mean, it was already finished. Whether it’s undigestible cake or text, should we really be polishing a half-baked idea?
  • Also, yeah, the culture question – Kids seem to be missing a fair number of questions due to lack of cultural capital. What do we do about that? You can’t teach a kid every idiom in the English language – Wikipedia estimates that there are more than 25,000 – so what then? In my mind, we just keep reading and digesting and reading and thinking and reading and writing and asking them difficult questions and engaging them in conversations that matter. What would you do?

I’m no assessment expert, but I do know that it’s important for us to learn what our kids know how to do and what they’re learning. If you could wave the magic assessment wand over your school, what would this picture look like for your kids?

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