Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Learning, assessment, and what matters in school

There was a National Data Summit today (January 18,2012) in Washington DC. The website announcing this one-day event boasts, "The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) will host a national summit of local, state, and national leaders to address the power of data to improve student achievement."

Some are not all impressed with the data summit.

Governor Jerry Brown of California is not all that impressed with the focus on data, as noted in his letter vetoing a bill that would have changed the California school accountability system. He makes a good point when he says,  "Adding more speedometers to a broken car won't turn it into a high performance machine."

Yet, data is important. Being able to demonstrate that students are learning is important. At some point we do need a speedometer to show us how fast we are going. Arguing that we don't need any assessment or any measurement doesn't seem very helpful.

I believe that the parents in my community expect our school district to be able to show that students are learning. 

I believe that reading, writing, math, science, history, and government are subjects that my parents expect their children to learn about in the schools in my district. We should be able to show that students are learning these subjects in some meaningful and appropriate way.

However, I also think that my parents expect that our students will learn how to think, create, communicate, and plan. Working together, developing skills in leadership, being able to reflect and solve problems, and a host of other skills are also important for us to help students learn. Can and should we measure these skills on a test? Those skills and attributes seem like they would be harder skills to assess in meaningful and appropriate ways with a paper and pencil test.

But art, music, choir, drama are important. How about learning to use technology? What about health? Can and should we try to find a way to assess everything we do in schools?

I believe my responsibility is to ensure that our district has a robust system to measure learning and communicate the results with students and parents. I also need to help students, parents, and our community understand what good assessment looks like and to know what can and what can't be measured. But I also need students and parents to see that some of the things we do in school help students develop, engage them in meaningful ways, and can't - and shouldn't - be assessed with a paper and pencil test.

Students come to school to learn. Parents send their children to us to learn. My responsibility is to make sure that our district - our teachers and administrators - know what can and should be measured and what appropriate measurement should look like. I also need to ensure that the things that can't be measured are not forgotten.

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