A Dichotomous Approach to Assessment & School Reform

Many pathways could be taken in traveling from coast to coast.  Oh, the rich stories we might convey given an opportunity to do so.  It is likely that many of us would choose a well worn path in planning our journey.  Some individuals would be a bit more adventurous, while others may seek a route that aligns with their unique interests.  In so doing, we may expect a diverse population of travelers to enrich our lives with colorful accounts of their experiences.

Now, imagine an alternative scenario!  A bus tour that all must endure regardless of interests or previous travel experience(s).  Furthermore, travelers in your “group” must complete a mandatory survey (at periodic intervals) to verify what they have learned.  If you have not been attentive–consequences may be expected.  You will have little interaction with your peer group as they will likely be fixated on the tour guide and the events unfolding. 

Given a choice, which scenario would you choose?  Both of these learning experiences are acceptable to me.  However, I prefer the richness of diversity when contrasted with conformity.  Unfortunately, the majority of students (in our schools) are not given the freedom to choose what they will study.  They must learn X and record their accumulated knowledge via standardized measures.  If “we” desire all students to make the transition from school to a productive life after graduation (i.e. to journey from coast to coast); we must compliment the implementation of standardized testing with the widespread utilization of formative assessment mechanisms.  We must provide students with multiple pathways to success.

Efforts to move beyond traditional forms of assessment continue to gain support.  However, norm referenced summative assessments remain the key component in satisfying our public desire for accountability.  Although standardized tests have evolved to include written essays, explanations, and descriptions of procedures that were utilized to solve problems; such evaluations are not directly related to the curriculum or instructional methods employed by teachers (and that remains the primary problem that must be addressed in education).  Therefore, standardized testing ought to be “coupled” with performance-based (i.e. formative) experiences such as portfolios so employers and college admission specialists can verify the unique qualifications of each applicant.  If the future unfolds as described, we shall witness changes in public policy; changes in the professional development programs that are provided to pre-service and in-service practitioners; and changes in the nature of student learning.  In the wake of competing philosophical positions (about student learning); the time has come to establish a participatory (communal) dialog that is based on a recognition of the need to employ more aggregated combinations of instructional practices (i.e. methodologies) in our schools.  Moving beyond traditional approaches to teaching and learning requires a periodic examination of the transactions that are occurring between teachers, students, materials, and tasks.

Want to learn more about examining your use of resources, teaching methods, and assessment tools?  My comprehensive manuscripts (i.e. Becoming a Reflective Practitioner; and The Dichotomy of Instructional Design) are published at: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/kennethfetterman


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Filed under Education, School Reform Initiatives & Professional Development Strategies

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