Saturday, April 21, 2012

How State Testing Mandates Inhibit 21st Century Progress

The post below originated from a post-grad assignment I was working on.  Work's been busy, so I haven't posted in a while.  However, this kind of sums up what I spend my days trying to figure out.

A quandary I spend a fair amount of time dealing with during the day is the impact of the new OTES model.  Specifically, I am concerned that the measures will produce unintended results.  Tying 50% of a teacher’s evaluation to student performance on a single or dual metric has a potential chilling effect that could derail the move towards 21st century teaching and learning skills that are essential for workers in the interconnected, digital era in which we exist.
HB 153 is an attempt to take private sector measurement tools and impose them on public sector employees.  It is rooted in a belief that teachers and principals will do nothing to raise student accountability unless they are coerced through measurement tools that tie compensation and employment status directly to results.  It assumes that the minimum competency of Ohio students is rooted solely in teacher actions, and it further assumes that a bigger stick is the answer in order to improve student performance.
An attribution error on the part of education critics lies in blaming teachers for the approach they currently take to teaching students, when in fact they should blame the design of the current accountability system.  Under the OAA and OGT system, teachers place themselves in the best position for their students to achieve when they act as educational directors.  This is the traditional sage on the stage model of delivering a standard educational message six times per day to groups of passive students.  Since teachers never know exactly what will be on the selected response test, they operate on the cover everything mentality out of fear that the one thing fail to say will assuredly show up on the test.
On the surface all of this is supposed to change with the advent of the Common Core and the development of the new PARCC assessments.  Specifically, the promise of a performance assessment, coupled with ‘innovated computer adapted items’ (as the PARCC folks are fond of saying) is supposed to move teachers from a teacher director role to a teacher facilitator role.  Stan Heffner specializes at touting the 4 C’s in his stump speech and urging Ohio educators to adapt a student directed approach to learning.  Adding fuels to the fire of change talk are technology infusion groups such as P-21, virtual learning organizations, and B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device) advocates.  The message of personalized, on-demand, any-time learning appears to be the panacea to the disengagement and general dissatisfaction that students and parents vocalize about the current educational delivery system. 
The challenge I find as the Director of Secondary Programs in my district is how do I help teachers bridge the gap between where they know education should head (the latter description) while moving away from what seems to be a safe delivery model (the former description).  The popular argument is that if you focus on high quality, authentic, engaging lessons that capture the interests and talents of individual students, the test questions will take care of themselves.  Student choice, flipped-instruction, and on-demand learning experiences are all hallmarks of 21st century learning.  These all require the skills of an educational facilitator who can design these types of experiences while simultaneously understanding how the learning will be measured by the State.  It requires fearlessness on the part of the teacher as well.  Giving up control with the idea that the richness of the experience will provide the necessary knowledge in order to perform well on the State test is scary when the evaluation system stakes are so high.
            This is why I believe that the mandate of HB 153 will have the effect of failing to move education in the direction that is so necessary for the students as they are prepared for the workforce they will enter.  Students need to be flexible, adaptable thinkers, with the capacity to analyze and synthesize information and create knowledge independently.  They need to be able to learn, unlearn, and re-learn quickly in order to adapt and thrive in an economy where the majority of well paying, sustaining jobs have not been developed or identified yet.  These are the types of experiences that I believe will continue to be lacking for the majority of Ohio students under the OTES model.  By tying 50% of a teacher’s evaluation to performance on State accountability tests, the teacher as director model will continue to be reinforced.  In this age of economic uncertainty, teachers will behave in the manner that is most likely to protect their economic self-interest.  As long as the State continues to place their reform emphasis on high stakes measures that are derived primarily from selected response items, educational progress and change will continue to be stunted, and students will continue to be ill-equipped to meet the demands of the current age.