The Three Question Challenge

This is the shortest piece I’ve ever placed on this site.  In some ways it’s a lead-in to a larger piece that I’ve been working on for a while now.  In that piece I’ll explore in greater detail the benefits of using this incredibly challenging time to ask three critical questions based on our experiences as school leaders, teachers and parents and to find a safe way to educate our children: 

  1. What should we keep doing?
  2. What should we stop doing?
  3. What should we start doing?

One of the things we should stop doing and stop doing right now is the administration of large scale annual assessments across grade levels as a means of gauging student learning. This is wrong on two counts.  From a purely mechanical perspective, there is no way to administer these assessments fairly to kids who are in school, kids who aren’t in school, kids who have functioning internet access, kids who don’t have such access, etc.  But more importantly this time gives us the chance to look at what we wish to measure and what we actually measure with such assessments. What I’ll repeat here is what many of us know… Make no mistake, this is only marginally related to concern for student learning.  This is, rather, a continuation of the “reformer mindset” that seeks to bring business practices described as efficient (read less expensive) and free-market (read for-profit privatization and “charterization” of our system of public education) into the fabric of our educational system.

In her blog today, Jan Resseger reports on the pressure being applied by various educational organizations on the federal Department of Education to once again release states from the obligation to administer the annual large scale assessments.   Jan, as noted in earlier pieces, is a meticulous researcher and tireless advocate for the commitment to a system of public education.  Rather they are intended to call attention to the folly of US DE policy that equates the results of large scale assessments with desired student learning. 

Make no mistake, this is textbook example of Ackoff’s assertion about the difference between trying to do things right and doing the right thing.  The right thing involves finding ways to assess not student memorization or test-prep enhanced scores but genuine student learning… an outcome which has never been measured in the history of large-scale, standardized testing.Trying to do large scale assessment right in this time of pandemic only serves to highlight the problems that have been evident pre-COVID. It’s time to stop doing this!  It’s time to stop raising the ugly specter of “learning loss”. It’s time to keep building the relationships that many teachers and their kids have worked so hard to enhance when their contact is largely limited to Zoom calls.  It’s time to recognize that, as much as any time in our history, this is a time when kids are constantly learning. We and our kids are learning how to make sense of isolation, learning how to maintain relationships, learning how to process and understand why their lives have changed so much, learning how to understand how government works or why it doesn’t.  It’s time for us to start recognizing that these are legitimate (and critical) outcomes for education.  It’s time we stop thinking in terms of achievement and achievement gaps and start thinking and acting on opportunity and opportunity gaps.

Since the beginning of the so-called reform movement the engagement level of our kids has steadily declined while during this same time the reported rates of stress, anxiety and depression have dramatically risen.  The pandemic has opened a portal to new possibilities.  Many teachers and students have had experiences never before imagined.  We need to keep these!  Many of us long for the comfort of what was.  We need to recognize that ‘what was’ was not serving our kids all that well.  We need to stop wishing for the past.  We need to stop thinking of education as a way we pour measurable (and largely disconnected from life) knowledge (think Algebra II) into the heads of students. We need to start following our hearts and start focusing more intensely on the love of kids that brought us to teaching.

If you were to start a 3 question list based on learning from the pandemic experience, what would be the most important ones in each category?

Be well