In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Zongyi Deng and S. Gopinathan shine a spotlight on the success of Singapore’s school system and argue th…
I (Clare) read this article on testing. We have had many posts about assessment on this blog and thought this one might be more “food for thought.”
In order to learn about what’s happened with testing and assessment in Norway in recent years, we had a conversation with Sverre Tveit. Tveit is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo. He will join the University of Agder in southern Norway as University Lecturer in August. In addition to his comparative research related to assessment policy, Tveit has also worked on education and assessment issues at the municipal level (the equivalent of the district level in the US) and was a board member of the Norwegian School Student Union (which organized protests against the initial implementation of the national tests in 2005). He talked with us about how the national tests seem to have been integrated into the Norwegian education system but also pointed to the ways in which local and national politics reflect continuing debates over issues and tensions of testing, assessment…
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At last someone has linked the problems of inappropriate use of testing in education with those of the prestigious profession of medicine. Robert Wachter, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, has written a book titled The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age in which he argues that measurement has gotten out of hand. In a New York Times article “How Measurement Fails Us” (Sunday Review, Jan 17, 2016, p. 5) he states:
“Two of the most vital industries, health care and education, have become increasingly subjected to metrics and measurements. Of course, we need to hold professionals accountable. But the focus on numbers has gone too far.”
In the article Wachter notes that “burnout rates for doctors top 50 percent” and he says recent research has shown that “the electronic health record was a dominant culprit.” He then draws a parallel with teaching.
“Education is experiencing its own version of measurement fatigue. Educators complain that the focus on student test performance comes at the expense of learning.”
Wachter maintains that what is needed is “thoughtful and limited assessment.” “Measurement cannot go away, but it needs to be scaled back and allowed to mature. We need more targeted measures, ones that have been vetted to ensure that they really matter.” We also need to take account of the harm excessive measurement does. Again he compares the two professions: research has shown that
“In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.”
With this welcome support, we in education need to consider how we can keep measurement within limits and focused on key matters, so it does not undermine our profession. When is measurement useful, and when does it do more harm than good?
I (Clare) thought you might find this blog interesting about high performing schools. Not sure I agree with all of it but food for thought
The National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking has released two reports on professional learning environments in top performing systems: Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems and Developing Shanghai’s Teachers. To explore and share the findings of these reports, the NCEE held a conference last week featuring presentations and panel conversations with the leading voices in education from around the world. This conference was also streamed live and can be viewed online. Moderated by Marc Tucker, president and CEO of NCEE, speakers included Ben Jensen (author of Beyond PD) and Minxuan Zhang (author of Developing Shanghai’s Teachers).
Ben Jensen began his presentation with the questions, “What is at the core of high performing professional learning systems? What is the strategy to ensure effectiveness?”
Jensen argued that we need to move past the idea that there is a single answer…
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In the New York Times on January 3, I (Clive) came across a fascinating column by Vicki Abeles (Sunday Review section) about the negative impact current school “reforms” are having on children. According to her, they are undermining the health of students, both rich and poor and from kindergarten to high school.
Abeles has written a book (which I plan to get asap) aptly titled “Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation,” and has produced documentaries “Race to Nowhere” (as distinct from Race to the Top) and “Beyond Measure.” But in the column her focus is on research conducted by Stuart Slavin at Irvington High School in Fremont, California, “a once-working-class city that is increasingly in Silicon Valley’s orbit.” In cooperation with the school, he anonymously surveyed two-thirds of Irvington’s 2,100 students and found that “54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression [and] 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.” The school is trying to address the problem, for example by re-examining homework demands and counseling students on achieving a manageable course load.
Based on her own inquiries and reflections, Abeles attributes much of this anxiety and depression to the enormous pressure young people are under today to climb the ladder of schooling, with a view to getting into a good college and/or job. “Even those not bound for college are ground down by the constant measurement in schools under pressure to push through mountains of rote, impersonal material as early as preschool.” Apart from opposing this general approach to schooling, Abeles sees practical lessons that can be learned from Irvington’s approach. Toward the end of the article she suggests:
“Working together, parents, educators and students can make small but important changes: instituting everyday homework limits and weekend and holiday homework bans, adding advisory periods for student support, and providing students opportunities to show their growth in creative ways beyond conventional tests.”
The Washington Post recently reported on a survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) of approximately 30,000 teachers. Survey results reported teachers felt high levels of stress and low levels of autonomy. The rise of government initiatives such as the Common Core Standards were identified as a source of stress for teachers. The article reported: “Teachers said they feel particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives — such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards — without being given adequate training, according to the survey. “
The AFT website reports some key findings from the survey:
- Only 1 in 5 educators feel respected by government officials or the media.
- Only 14% strongly agree with the statement that they trust their administrator or supervisor.
- More than 75 % say they do not have enough staff to get the work done.
- 78% percent say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
- 87% percent say the demands of their job are at least sometimes interfering with their family life.
- Among the greatest workplace stressors were the adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development, mandated curriculum and standardized tests.
Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, noted stress could be a result of teachers wearing multiple hats in the classroom:
“We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr….We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are incredibly stressed out.”
Read more about this issue at: http://www.aft.org/news/survey-shows-need-national-focus-workplace-stress#sthash.mryeqegY.dpuf
We thought you might find these excerpts from two scholarly papers on PISA interesting. Clare
Professor Gemma Moss and colleagues, London Institute of Education
Some features of [high PISA performing] education systems are not suitable for borrowing; for instance, pupils in Korea and Japan also spend substantially more time being privately tutored outside of school hours. This would not be acceptable to parents in the UK. Education systems are deeply linked to local political as well as educational cultures. No one would want to import an authoritarian one-party system of government from China, yet that may be a key ingredient in how their education system runs. [Further] it is not clear whether or how performance in PISA relates to the economy. China’s economic growth has not been driven by uniform access to high quality education; rather high quality education in Shanghai has followed economic growth. Britain remains amongst the top-performing economies, out-performing our PISA rankings in education.
(Excerpt from a brief for UK politicians)
Professor Paul Morris, London Institute of Education (formerly Dean of Education, Hong Kong University, and President, Hong Kong Institute of Education)
[In Hong Kong] reforms have been both developed and implemented over long time periods [and] the direction of reform has been developed through fairly nonpartisan discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, including school principals, local and overseas academics, and draws upon a range of sources of evidence…. [Further] in Hong Kong the good Math’s results in PISA 2012 have been attributed by their Government to teachers using ‘project work and exploratory activities’ and the good science results to the promotion of ‘scientific literacy and generic skills (e.g. critical thinking and problem-solving skills)’. Not exactly an endorsement of [UK Education Secretary] Gove’s direction of travel!
(Excerpt from: PISA 2012: What can we learn from East Asia?)
Our blog post on the PISA scores generated a lot of feedback. Here are some of the comments we have received:
- We can add the lack of time for collaborative planning in schools and the lack of professional development opportunities that are job-embedded are factors that must be considered.
- Is it just my idea or is PISA becoming a ruler for our educational systems? Even telling the way we need to teach? PISA results make even Finnish feel nervous because they dropped some points 🙂
- I have not read anything by anyone else that remotely comes close to what Clive has said. I will share this with my teacher candidates.
- The gap between the rich and poor in my country is great. This affects education in all ways.
- When people use words like “failure”, “crisis’, and “floundering” they are being silly.
- Clive’s piece has motivated me to write an op-ed for our newspaper.
- The news about PISA scores have been a new in Peru too… beyond our low position in the ranking compared with the other countries, one salient topic is the huge inequality gaps.
The recently released PISA results have many Asian countries scoring substantially higher than the US, UK, and Canada on math, reading, and science. Some people are saying this shows that the latter countries need to place more emphasis on “the basics” (such as times tables, formulas, spelling, etc.) rather than problem solving and relevance. My response is threefold:
· Part of the disparity in scores is due to typical features of Asian schooling that I don’t think are desirable: high-stakes national exams, cram schools, and enormous pressure on students to learn the basics at any cost. I rarely meet people from Asia who are glad they experienced this kind of schooling.
· Part of it is because we’ve asked teachers to teach for meaning and relevance without showing them how. In math, for example, we give them an 36 hour math methods course in teacher education and send them out to reverse a lifetime of experience and cultural initiation.
· Clearly, teachers need to do BOTH – teach the basics AND meaning, relevance, etc. And I believe this is entirely possible. But we need to figure out how to do it and systematically teach and model it in pre-service and in-service (in the context of the various subjects), rather than just making general pronouncements about constructivism, discovery learning, and teaching for understanding.
As the PISA results are released there is the usual flurry of commentary and criticism of teachers. Chris Hayes’ show, All In (on MSNBC) had an excellent panel discussion on education. Although most journalists do not seem to “get” education, the panel was excellent because all members are deeply connected to schooling. They understand the importance of teacher morale, impact of poverty on children, the effect of inequity in school funding, and limitations of test scores. Here is the link for the segment: