All we will have left, that which can't be changed.......are our "Memories"
Logic is dead.
Excellence is punished.
Mediocrity is rewarded.
And dependency is to be revered.
This is present day America.
When people rob banks they go to prison.
When they rob the taxpayer they get re-elected.
Without a frame of reference this makes no sense whatsoever. However, I have thought long and hard about the statement, "Mediocrity is rewarded." I'm fairly confident that this statement is meant to apply to both the workplace (think U.S. Postal Service) and the educational system. As a teacher, I do not accept mediocrity from my students. In my world, doing so implies that the person has accepted the fact that he/she is not capable of more, whatever more may be. The bar in my class is high. And, gosh darn if kids don't stretch to reach it! Is there frustration? Yep. Is there failure? Yep. Are there setbacks? Yep. But we also have PERSISTENCE!
It is the journey. It is the journey. It is the journey.
I am constantly whispering in many ways, "Yes, you can. I know you can. I believe you can. Take the first step."
The negative messages we are barraged with from social media, home, parents, and even "friends" and spouses seep through to each of us. Combating them is a daily battle. I readily admit my own escapes and self-soothing methods. Fight we must, if we are all to remain mentally healthy and successful in our socio-emotional lives. Consider then, how our young middle schoolers soldier on daily in the most difficult years of their growth. The environment is even more important than methods of curriculum delivery, confirmation of content knowledge, or foundation of skills that we claim as the goals in school.
Fortunately, I work in a school culture that supports the human being first, not the knowledge. The content delivery is secondary only to helping our parent community raise morally conscious, socially aware, self-driven young people who will take away with their diplomas the ability to make the right choices in their lives...every single time. Still, as educators we must balance experiences with evaluation. Back to this idea of mediocrity; how does it or does it not correlate with brain development? The measurement that defines mediocrity is standardized assessment, yet not all children develop at the same rate. Teachers know this. The expectation that some statistical percentage of the classroom population "should" be able to document understanding of specific concepts by a certain time defeats the opportunity for teachers to meet the students' individual needs. Consider the growth from birth to age four. The pediatrics profession has a range of developmental benchmarks. Some children are able to walk at age eight months (imagine my shock when my son crawled for merely a few days before walking unaided at 8 months) while others take longer to reach this kinesthetic milestone - even TEN MONTHS later! (see milestones) Yet our current educational system does not account for this huge variance in "normal" when it comes to academics.
The more important question in the field is not, "Are standards and NCLB eliminating opportunities for excellence?" The more appropriate question is "What are the benchmark and standards assessment truly measuring?"
This has long been my torch to bear. Assessment, especially standardization of delivery for that assessment in schools, does not measure ability longitudinally. Schools, generally, do not evaluate students' incremental growth on testing year-over-year. Measurement is a snapshot in time. So what if a student experiences significant growth and understanding 30-45 days AFTER the test? Doesn't matter. This is an issue from pre-K through university level. Standardized testing measures whether students meet a specific benchmark AT A SPECIFIC TIME. This is ludicrous! The benchmarks being measured do not give us a real picture of whether there is potential mastery of a concept. Imagine if, when you had taken your baby for his one-year visit, your doctor said, "Well, he's not walking now. You'd better get some specialized help here." Imagine that your baby STILL wasn't walking four months later? Would you assume that this child would never be able to effectively use his legs? Of course not. So, why do we make these assumptions in the educational realm? What do these tests truly measure?
1) Executive functioning.
Students who naturally excel in organizational abilities are able to succeed in school because the institution rewards such skill sets. These people turn work in on time, can find the papers and books to study when needed, can plan ahead, and can categorize information in their heads with ease. The most creative students are often weak in or lack this skill. Does that mean they do not understand the material? Not necessarily. Does it mean they cannot think through complex problems and processes? No, it does not. It means organizing, categorizing, and understanding time and planning do not come naturally to them. Processes can be learned over time.
2) Logical thinking, not creative thinking.
Remember being taught how to use the process of elimination on a multiple choice test? Many standardized tests are designed specifically to test the student's ability to narrow down to two options and then choose the "correct" answer. I contend that often more than one answer is correct, depending on how the question is interpreted. "It depends" is often a valid answer. But standardized tests don't provide an answer with a caveat. Problems are designed to determine whether a student can follow a logical sequence of reasoning while applying a set of rules, mainly to make scoring efficient. This is a specific ability that is not as critical as creative, divergent thinking if we are to survive our future.
3) Rapid processing.
Tests are timed. Why? Time is money. The business world seeks efficiencies in the form of more powerful computer algorithms, logistics for movement and delivery of goods and products, stronger accuracy at the cash register. The volume of tiny efficiencies adds to the bottom line of any business, including the testing industry. But education, originally designed as an industrial format, is not in the 'business' of generating income. Or, I should say, it shouldn't be. Money now dictates decision making in education, too. Logically, I understand this. The institution is caught between the need to run without a deficit, and the need to attend to its 'customers' as individuals.
But as a teacher, I also acknowledge that our human productivity has peaks and valleys. We are not machines who can maintain output at a specific level. Some days we are able to shutter the noise around us and plow through a mountain of work. Are we more intelligent on these days? No. Our intelligence has not changed - the socio-emotional environment has changed. What might happen if students who process information more slowly were permitted to take as long as they need to complete an assessment, even over the course of a few days? I'm willing to bet that in some cases, not all, the scores would increase. Some people's brains literally shut down with anxiety when faced with a ticking clock. Why do we equate processing speed with intelligence or ability? Creative people know that the PROCESS of establishing success via a series of setbacks and opportunities for learning cannot occur within a timeframe measured in sixty-minute chunks. It occurs over longer periods of time, when the chance to learn from process is more important than the product. I contend that the popularity of the maker movement and the hack-a-thons are the result of the human need to simply engage in individualized production which cannot be assessed. There is more than one way to create a closed circuit. There is more than one energy source to create the electricity in that circuit. There is more than one use for the energy. A test on circuits, however, would only permit one correct answer to questions related to this information, and would likely have a time limit.
4) Factual recall (facts, rules, trivia).
Tests do not engage the ability to process new information, integrate it, and utilize it to problem solve. If our schools are measuring readiness for the coming centuries, counting how many automatic math facts can be accurately regurgitated utilizing a plethora of rules will not get us there. The new necessary is the ability to utilize resources and tease out verifiable data. Specifically with language (which I have discussed on this blog before) testing grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling is obsolete. The language, along with its rules, is changing. Grammar books will need to add a section on transforming nouns into verbs, now a commonplace occurrence. Think texting, messaging, and the like.
Are students who score in a mediocre range on standardized testing truly mediocre learners? Perhaps the problem is not the learner. To be fair, tests do provide pertinent information, although I'm not exactly sure what that information is. Fortunately, my school looks at a wide variety of evaluative tools when making decisions about student learning, including instructors' observation over a long period of time. Potential and motivation are equally pertinent. Let's try some edumath:
Which equation will generate the greatest value for X?
1. X = student + ability + motivation (intrinsic)
2. X = student + (ability - emotional deficits) + motivation (extrinsic/negative reinforcement)
3. X = student + (ability - insignificant brain development delay) + motivation (extrinsic/positive)
4. None of the above, because a class of 35 students is impossible to manage successfully if our goal is to touch each child.
The truth is, of course, that testing is a poor predictor of LIFE success. The school environment does not mirror life outside of education. What needs our focus is our EXPECTATIONS, not our assessment. EXPECT mediocrity, and that is exactly what we will have. Teach to the middle stanine, and you will have a spread of average results.
Excellence + genuine (care+concern) + (environment*safety) + tools(traditional+technological) = Productive member
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- of society
Go ahead - try and put THAT in your test scanning device!