For a long time, a very long time, we determined the success, or lack thereof, of children, their schools and school districts through the results on standardized tests. The dispute over the reason we require students to take standardized tests is cacophonous; read some arguments here and here.
The bottom line: federal law requires annual grades 3-8 tests in English and Mathematics and English, Math and Science in Grades 10-12 and the law is not going to change; the major civil rights organizations support annual testing. Education Trust NY supports continuing the Regents diploma (See petition here) and the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, a coalition of over 150 organizations loudly opposes the “anti-testing” folks. (See position paper here).
We are caught up in a continuous eddy of testing and, sadly meaningless testing, the testing models have little or no impact on outcomes and New York City has been caught up in the tides of testing.
City and State is an online organization that reports on New York State news and hosts an education event in August; the state and local education leaders roll out plans for the upcoming years with hundreds in the audience, I usually attend. At the 2019 event New York City School Chancellor Carranza rolled out his plan, (See here): reading and math tests with instant results a number of times a year, close monitoring of results through an undefined analysis of the data, school Instructional Leadership Teams driving instruction to address the deficits unearthed by the exams, unfortunately the newly revised state tests, the Next Generation Standards are not aligned with the Carranza testing.
Carranza left and the testing continued.
Maybe it’s time for the wars to subside.
The new leadership replaced 1/3 of the superintendents (15 out of 45) and hopefully is changing the role of the superintendents.
The superintendents, retained and new, are spending the summer “getting acquainted” with the new educational leadership team, and, maybe taking a fresh look at their own role.
The New Teacher Project, formerly led by the current Deputy Chancellor has just released a prescient report, Instructional Coherence: a Key to High Quality Learning Acceleration for All Students, ,
The report begins, “… every component of the student academic experience should be tightly aligned and designed to advance core grade-level instruction. But too often, we see well-intentioned learning acceleration efforts that lack this coherence keeping students from seeing the full benefit of the extra support educators are working so hard to provide.”
And goes on to define: What is Instructional Program Coherence?
Instructional program coherence means ensuring that every element of an instructional program and its strategies— from core instruction to interventions to extended time—works together to advance the same set of grade-level student experiences. It encourages educators and leaders to align their multitiered systems of support in ways that will accelerate learning for all students.
Educators within instructionally coherent systems continually examine the alignment and coherence of their program and recognize that “when faced with incoherent activities, students are more likely to feel that they are targets of apparently random events and that they have less knowledge of what should be done to succeed.” Researchers have found that reform and intervention efforts that work to strengthen coherence are more likely to advance student achievement than those that work to improve schools “through the adoption of a wide variety of programs that are often uncoordinated or limited in scope or duration.”
Instead of “throwing” programs at students, filling their days with incoherence, by the way, often for the teacher as well as the student, a targeted, coherent approach.
Coupled with coherence is collaboration, teachers working together, learning together; Bob Hughes, the former leader of New Visions for Public Schools and now the K-12 leader at the Gates Foundation writes,
Earlier this month, I had a chance to spend time with Baltimore teachers at a site visit. These teachers, all involved in continuous improvement work sponsored by their district, brought persistence, innovation, and joy to the work. This week, I visited ISTE and saw hundreds of teachers reconnecting with the broader education community, collaborating with and learning from each other, and sharing plans and dreams for how they will use experience with technology to reinvent parts of their practice. It was incredibly energizing!
The mechanical and deadening testing and response to testing is deadening for teachers as well as students. A school-wide coherent, teacher to teacher driven collaborative approach can revitalize both staffs and students. It should never be about “Finding the Main Idea,” a typical question on a test; it should be about the excitement in the text, excitement in the activity.
I hope superintendents and their staffs will be in schools, not with checklists, in schools collaborating and interacting with staffs.
I was facilitating common planning time in a high school and asked if I could sit in on a class, the class was an Advanced Placement history class, all Afro-American students in an inner city high school. The teacher flashed on the screen, “God is Dead,” asked for responses from students and facilitated a discussion of Frederick Nietzsche. Later I passed one of the students in the hall and asked, “What do you think of Mr. K’s class?” The student responded, “I can’t wait to get there every day,”