• John D'Anieri

Could "Just Teach" Mean "Just Assess?" The Choice – Part 2 of 2

The Choice – Part 2 of 2

Last week, I wrote about Paul Zavitkovsky’s challenge from an article in Catalyst Chicago “Now we have a choice. Do we double down again, or do we let go of some comfortable intuitions and start putting our money on a different horse?” I left off with the idea that treating standardized testing as either the enemy or the end goal misses the point. JumpRope can help schools use data they are required to collect in service of their actual mission—educate each child well.

Let's say a standardized test tells us that a particular 6th grader struggles to meet the Common Core standard, “cites textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.” Assuming we could parse that standard in a way that would actually make sense to a student, let alone a teacher, such information can and should be an encouraging starting point rather than a damning end point—in a school that values formative over summative assessment. Did the student comprehend some, all, or none of what he read? Does he know what evidence is? Has he seen models of what showing evidence looks like? Is he perhaps perfectly capable of comprehending challenging texts and citing evidence, but didn't really make an attempt because he was bored to tears by the completely decontextualized reading sample he was given to demonstrate this skill?

We'll need to be able to ask and answer those questions on a student-by-student basis. We’ll need to be able to adapt our teaching constantly based on what we discover. Among the “intuitions” Zavitovsky does not question is our hunch that the best way for kids to learn is to put them in a room with one adult and 20-40 peers. While JumpRope can track that approach better than a typical gradebook, it can also help us see whole class, age-based instruction as only one way among many to engage with students. Imagine a JumpRope school that gets really good at tracking learning across grade levels and subject matters, where well-thought out Common Core-based information travels with the student to many kinds of learning experiences.

In my case, I don't have to imagine it; I've seen it in practice in schools where I've coached. The aforementioned "cites textual evidence standard" can be made to show up on JumpRope not just in Language Arts, but in Social Studies and Science. This school can not only focus on that standard for a defined period of time across disciplines, but special educators, tutors, and others have access to data collected from ALL of the learning experiences where that skill has been taught/assessed.

What might it tell us if a student is meeting that standard consistently in science but never in Language Arts? Is is that the standard is being assessed differently (which should then have implications for the teachers)? Or is it that the student really "gets it" when reading a scientific text, but struggles to transfer the conceptual understanding to literary, history or generic decontextualized standardized testing texts? If so, we now have a way to link successful work with one teacher—the science teacher who, traditionally, will NOT be responsible for certifying that student can meet the "cites textual evidence" standard—to the teacher who IS responsible for certifying that.

That is only one example of the way that having such data available in a common (core) language enables schools to compile, analyze and share information in ways that shift practice and create results. It is NOT something that's going to work if all that data is stuck in a gradebook—paper or electronic—as a number that means something only to the teacher who put it there.

Zavitkovsky writes that by “failing to let go of what we already know,” we’ll “kill the Common Core.” He's right, but the fact is that some of what we already know can work, if we're just willing to go where our new knowledge takes us.

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