Yesterday’s PISA results will be the subject of a lot of debate and analysis but one exchange illustrates how rich the discussion can become when it goes beyond positional warfare: Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish education guru, Alan C. Jones, a commenter on a blog, and New Hampshire teachers all go beyond the usual debates about the evils of testing to talk about meaningful learning for students.
When perennial education leader Finland lost its top spot in the PISA scores this year, Pasi Sahlberg, said (quoted here on Diane Ravitch’s blog),
Finland should not do what many other countries have done when they have looked for a cure to their ill-performing school systems. Common solutions have included market-based reforms, such as increasing competition between schools, standardization of teaching and learning, tougher test-based accountability and privatization of public schools. Instead, Finns must protect their schools from the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) that has failed to help schools to get better in other countries.
The better way for Finland is to ensure that schools are able to cope with increasing inequality, that teachers have tools to help students with individual needs, and that all schools get support to succeed.PISA results are too often presented as a simple league table of education systems. But there is much more that the data reveal.
….see the full post here.
That led to this very interesting comment by Alan C. Jones:
What Mr. Sahlberg is pointing out is the distinction between what Fenstermacher & Richardson (2005) have named “successful schools” and “good schools.” Successful schools require a quantifiable outcome that is evidence of student learning. Good schools focus on the process of education —balanced curriculum, ambitious teaching, inclusive environments—and let the test scores take care of themselves.W. Edwards Deming, the father of TQM, (who incidentally warned that his methods should never be applied to education), warned of the danger of end point measurement systems. Even in the private sector, Deming noted, the focus on quantifiable outcomes can distort the processes designed to produce quality. The shame of the accountability movement is taking away from children the opportunity to learn in a joyful and meaningful school environment — a good school. In the pursuit of successful schooling, administrators and law makers have been victimized by end point thinking. We will never be able to link what teachers do in classrooms with some quantifiable outcome. What we can do in schools is make every effort to make a child’s experience in school a meaningful one—the processes that teachers are pursuing in Finland.
New Hampshire teachers make the same point. Angela Manning, 5th grade teacher at Portsmouth’s New Franklin Elementary School, said,
“Our teachers are saying, “Ok. This is a standard that we have to teach and we’re going to make it applicable to our students so it’s meaningful. How can we make it best for kids’ learning? The bigger things that are coming out of Common Core are that the thinking required will benefit these kids.
When it comes to testing, that will take care of itself.”
Sue Hannan, Manchester middle school teachers, says,
“You can’t teach to these tests anyway….But we’re teaching all year long to the standards. By the time the test comes along in April or May, we should have accomplished those standards and the students will be prepared for the test.
And reviewing the test results when they come back is going to enhance our performances as teachers and allow our students to see what they can do.”
Manchester fourth grade teacher Debbie Villiard, says,
“I took the sample Smarter Balanced test and it was scary. There were real-world problems. You needed the skills to be able to get there to figure them out. The reading test was very specific: “Look at these two paragraphs and find the two sentences that both mean ‘this’.”
Very specific. But it was definitely within the kids’ reach.
After that, when I went back to teaching, I took a copy of whatever book we were reading and circled, highlighted and wrote questions in the margin. If I found a passage that I knew would be tricky for them, that’s what I’d focus in on.
These kids are ten and eleven so sometimes it’s a little too much for them. But they would rise to the challenge – especially if you make it, “Okay, you need to find three things. Who’s going to find it first?” And then they’re all diving in and finding it and I would say, “Okay, jot it down on a piece of paper. Let me see what the three things are.”
Really, you could say I was teaching to the test…but in the best way.”
Melissa Keenan, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, White Mountains Regional School District, says,
“…we know that if the students can take the knowledge, skills and understandings that they are learning and apply it to new situations, inevitably they are going to do well on the tests.
Our NECAP test pushes kids to take knowledge and skills and apply it to a new situation but the Smarter Balance is going to take it to another level. Our teachers value the importance of engaging kids in meaningful learning and in the process of doing that, they are pushing kids to think and apply what they are learning to new situations. That that’s going to have a positive impact on the test.”