Tuesday, October 1, 2013

#RavitchStanford

Last night I had the opportunity to go hear Diane Ravitch give a talk about her new book Reign of Error. So what’s the deal with the title of this post? It’s the Twitter hashtag for the event. After the talk, there was a panel discussion with Ravitch, Eric Hanushek, and Linda Darling-Hammond (hereafter known as LDH). It was, well, interesting.

First, the good parts. I love, love, love listening to LDH talk about assessment. Not about assessment data, but about assessment. Her points about the importance of the new Common Core assessments being used to learn from and improve practice and NOT as another measure used to punish teachers and schools really resonated with me. Assessment for learning, not assessment of learning. Additionally, LDH’s push to have more higher order thinking skills on standardized tests is something I’d love to see. Why are we asking kids to bubble in answers that they could Google? (LDH’s line, not mine. But she’s right.)

Basically what this comes down to is that I’d love to have an external accountability measure that I actually cared about the results of. STAR? Please. Ridiculousness. This two pronged sea change proposed by LDH would be awesome. More higher order, open-ended questions on standardized tests? Yes please. Using these test results to inform my teaching, not judge me or my school punitively? Even better. But those are two ENORMOUS changes in the way standardized testing is done. I absolutely agree with LDH. And I’m hopeful these changes happen. Man, imagine if she had been named secretary of education...

Both Ravitch and LDH talked extensively about solving societal ills - particularly children living under the poverty line. Yes. That. Needs. To. Happen. Like 30 years ago. LDH made the point that we are the only economically powerful country that allows this sort of inequality to not only persist but grow. Yes. Agree 1,000 times over.

But now the bad. The first 25 minutes of the panel discussion was spent parsing standardized test scores. Does being an educational policy leader and researcher really involve being able to explain why Texas NAEP scores are inflated because of an unrepresentative sample who took the test? Or being able to, from the tip of your tongue, toss out the latest minutiae on why Shanghai test scores are so high? Look, I get that test scores are the language that education is spoken in. BUT FOR REALZ. I don’t need to listen to smart people dissect test scores THAT THEY DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN THE AUTHENTICITY OF!

Was the conversation interesting? In parts. Is that a shot at Ravitch or LDH? Absolutely not. That’s the game that they are forced to play. They are fighting the battle to make my classroom and classrooms across the US better places. Unfortunately they can’t choose the battlefield.

My biggest takeaway from the evening: when is the context of the conversation about education going to change in this country?

Better question: what am I doing to change the context of the conversation about education in this country?