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Testing to the Teach

April 22, 2013

Superintendent Barresi posted her occasional newspaper column this morning with the headline “Teaching to the Test.” In it, she claims to sympathize with parents, teachers, and administrators frustrated with our test-obsessed public education culture. She writes:

The time has come to have a serious discussion about this. I want teachers to know I am committed to working with them and the rest of the education community. This summer and in the fall, together with these groups, we will conduct an audit of all the different assessments given across the state, including federal, state and district level assessments.

I am proposing this study to help identify the best assessments that will provide feedback regarding instructional strategies so teachers can better meet the needs of their students. As we move to new assessments in the next few years, educators will use some familiar tools, including data, technology and texts. They will also use new instructional strategies that are a critical component of all our new Oklahoma C3 Standards. These include strategies to promote critical thinking and problem solving as well as practical application of securely held foundational knowledge. Working together, we can identify areas of duplication and unproductive assessments. Perhaps, we may even find places where we can save money and put dollars back into the classroom.

I would argue we’re past time. Still, it’s refreshing to know that the conversation will happen. Maybe this would be a good time to discuss what Oklahoma’s current tests measure. The column also included this tidbit:

Through my advocacy and policy work over the past 17 years, and now serving as your state superintendent, there is one thing I know for sure. Our current state tests are by and large memory tests. Every educator knows that tests that rely more on rote memory of facts yield very little in retained knowledge. Our current OCCT tests are aligned to the Oklahoma PASS standards. The state is currently transitioning to the new Oklahoma C3 Standards through the rewrite, revision or replacement process. The PASS Standards are a “mile wide and an inch deep.” The new Oklahoma C3 Standards are characterized as “narrower, deeper, higher.” They are narrower in focus to allow teachers to develop foundational knowledge in their students.

I’ve heard the mile wide and inch deep spiel for years, but never have I heard someone who is supposed to be over public instruction for the whole state misidentify the nature of our tests. There is, in fact, very little a student can demonstrate through memorization. Not the reading passages. Not the math. Not the science and social studies. That’s not how the tests are designed. To criticize the assessments and say that they often test understanding at a low level might be accurate, at times. To criticize PASS for being all over the place is also fair.

Her column concludes with these two paragraphs:

We have engaged teachers and principals in a comprehensive effort of professional development to prepare educators for the new system. Our goal is to create an environment of continuous learning spurred on by innovations in instructional strategies that are student centered, research based and data driven.

My next column will be about how we’re communicating with educators and the public and the training we’re providing to support educators throughout the state.

I would hardly describe the effort at providing training for educators as comprehensive. It has consisted of: expensive keynote speakers; invitation-only conferences at irregular intervals and with disconnected content; a summer conference when most teachers are working second jobs or on vacation; well-intended REAC3H Coaches with too much territory and an evolving assignment of duties; and a handful of regional half-day workshops by the SDE’s curriculum team. Hopefully, as Barresi collects feedback about testing, she’ll also accept constructive input about the dearth of training happening around Oklahoma.

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  1. April 30, 2013 at 7:06 am
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