It Takes Courage To Educate Children Beyond A ‘Test Score’

The following two articles both need to be read in order to understand the following blog.  It does not matter which order they are read in so I chose to put them in order by date of appearance in print/publication.

Over the years of testing being the formidable mandate to ‘demonstrate’ what anyone knows, there has always been the counter intuitive path (which takes far more time, energy and skill to develop) called  evidence which is usually based on anecdotal observations,  portfolio evidence, history/observations and skillful, nuanced exploration of higher levels of Bloom’s Taxononmy.

For years, everyone subscribed to the IQ test as the standard bearer of potential, even though people in the field of education realized it was a predictive indicator at best and not the finite description of ones ability. Educators have long known the ability to learn is malleable, as long as a child is not feral and has no underlying organic disorder to interrupt the process. 

Tests, in the same way a doctor uses them, are an indicator.  When the value/score/number is interpreted, it gives the person studying it a set piece of information within a range of possibility.  There is no ‘test’ a doctor uses that states specifically you have/don’t have disease X, rather the test delineates the range/zone you are in for disease X.   Example: Genetic testing – we can rule in/out specific anomolies of the known genes for Down’s Syndrome, however, there are gradients of Down’s Syndrome – it is not all or none.  There are so many underlying genes related that we don’t know all of them just yet, just the ones which seem to clearly indicate /determine the the syndrome at a level that is observable both physically and cognitively.  There are yet to be discovered anomolies which may mirror Down’s Syndrome in its least – which means it is not noticeable physically in appearance or cognitively and yet there is some underlying genes which we have not studied thoroughly enough to know if it is related to the overall syndrome.  Doctors can tell from amniocentisis when there is a genetic combination which indicates Down’s Syndrome so parents can determine if they want to continue the pregnancy.  While this is one ‘rule out’, there are many others doctors/scientists are not yet capable of determining by a genetic test.  Theoretically, the gene test for Down’s Syndrome could come back normal – child does not have Down’s Syndrome, however, there could be something else the child does have and we don’t yet have the test for it.  A doctor can only rule down the known genetic markers.

In the same ways doctors use test results as a guage, testing results in student learning are a guage. We have the quick ‘blood test/amniocentisis’ known as spring testing and then we have the much more involved, time consuming, costly version called longitudinal observation with anecdotal notations of environment (nurturing) over time.  There are certain things educators know through observation that are crucial – languagedevelopment by age 3. Languagedevelopment could be ASL for a deaf child, strictly verbal language for a blind child, etc. By 8-10 years of age, certain cognitive developments need to occur for the child to continue learning/developing along life.  There is no set ‘date’ when these things must occur, rather it is upon a continuoum and different for each child.  Some children make milestones very early (and one might be inclined to say they are advanced) and some more slowly (whereby one might be inclined to say the child is delayed) and in either case, it is a continuoum. 

Spring testing literally ‘pulls the carrot out of the farm furrow’ examines a child at one singular point in time, when there are 365 days in a year and makes a determination of a childs success/failure.  Much as a farmer could say the field needs more water, more fertilizer, less sunshine (drought), more worm activity in and around the carrot to aerate it, etc., all of this could change in a week. It is the same for children. The test score from the spring could be distinctly different a week later when the child is rested, had a good breakfast, wasn’t being shuttled between mom and dads house, didn’t have to deal with a younger sibling crying all not with colic, etc.

So, to really evaluate one childs ability, the child must be OBSERVED (not tested) over time in a variety of situations. The child needs to be given various challenges which demonstrate achievement on the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.   When there is long range data, both numerical and anecdotal, an educator can better determine where a child is at academically in the same way a doctor can analyze a blood test for how well the kidney(s) work over the years or within 6 months or when some one is being treated for cancer or after an illness which caused gross dehydration.  It takes many pieces of data being tracked over long periods of time to form an adequate picture.

Sadly, we in America lack the courage to do what is necessary to educate children appropriately. We do not expect parents to read to children from birth so they develop language skills and go through the formative stages of development (Read “The Scientist in the Crib” by Alison Gopnik ISBN-13: 978-0688177881) – rather we would like to institute a program call First Five (in California at least) to give parents the resources to do something which is a normal part of child raising.  We do not expect parents to interact with their child rather than be involved with their cell phone and TV.  We do not expect parents to be involved in school both as a volunteer (PTA or its equivalent) or room parent or attend school board meetings because we have allowed them to abdicate to the ‘educators’.  We do not expect parents to take children to doctors for regular health check ups until they attend school and need to get ‘shots’. We do not expect parents to get a library card and take the time to create an environment of literacy.  We don’t expect parents to learn English and speak it at home so their children are prepared to speak and learn in English (amazingly, most other countries around the world have kids which are bilingual in the national language and English – including the parents).

In fact, the only thing we as a community do encourage parents to do is blame teachers and indicate that teachers are the whipping boys and girls of the nation based on test scores.  It is much easier to blame education on teachers based on once a year testing rather than long term evaluations which include what the child came to school with cognitively and emotionally in the first place.   It is much easier as a culture to place blame on teachers for not accomplishing enough and letting the community down when all children do not pass the ‘hurdles’ mandated by government, even when the hurdles mandated by government are often in direct contradiction to all we know about best practices in education.  We have figured out how to try a variety of mangled and manipulated tests (various languages and cultural nuances) to measure a childs cognitive growth/development as a way to subvert reality.

It is not dissimilar to asking a doctor to perform a blood test once a year and prevent a patient from getting diabetes in 11 months.  When the blood test was done, things seemed in the range of normal and good, however, the patient subsequently stopped eating and exercising appropriately – so, it must be the doctors fault because the ‘test’ shows one thing and something else happened.

Testing once a year in the classroom is not the answer to overall improvement in education.  It is one piece of a much larger picture that involves everything from prenatal development up.  We don’t ask doctors to make a diagnosis on one test and why would we expect teachers to be judged on one piece of information.  We expect doctors to run a panel of tests and get a second opinion to make a diagnosis and yet we use one annual test score to determine so much more. It seems there is a schism of our own understanding.

It takes courage to expect parents to start parenting and possibly have less children so the ones they have can be successful and be educated.

 It takes courage (and money) to provide the services necessary for adequate growth and development of children.  It takes parents who are more interested in their offspring than their own self interest.

It takes courage to own up to the part (everyone else in the community, even if they are not a parent) of what we don’t do, but need to in order for children to learn. 

It takes courage to tell government they need to create a reasonable and rational way to measure student growth and development even though it costs more and takes more time.  Simple and easy is not always best and surely, as we are now seeing with years of data behind us, simple and easy is not nearly enough.

Most of all, it takes courage to get up off our butts and make it happen rather than complaining.  I would love to see more people involved in education – volunteering in classrooms, being involved in local and state government, taking an active role in helping others parent – it does take a village.   I would like to see more parents admit they need help and seek it out – the services exist, in spite of the economy. 

Courage is the will and determination to go up against something difficult and challenging.  Courage requires conviction to the matter at hand.