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why I’m opting IN to testing my kids

It feels hypocritical. Because the current testing regime makes me angry. Angry for students who are stressed by hours and hours of high stakes testing. Angry for teachers whose value has been discounted as anything other than test-prep machines. Angry for anyone who suffers the misguided consequences of using test results in ways that they were never intended – to prevent graduation and to fire capable teachers. Angry.

But the baby is far too precious to send the way of the bath water. I would be up in arms protesting and boycotting testing if it weren’t for one unassailable truth: state testing is how we know if our students are being educated to the same levels as those in other demographic and socio-economic groups. No Child Left Behind, amid all the horrific and counterproductive side effects, accomplished this one thing too important to ever give up: it shone a light on the disparity between the outcomes for kids of privilege versus kids of poverty and between white kids and kids of color.

As a mom, I cannot, will not, be a part of extinguishing this light.
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testing: why we need more of it – lots more.

This article was first published on Getting Smart on February 10, 2014

student girl playing with tablet pc
I worry about testing in the way I worry about alcohol abuse. On a societal scale, addiction is a tragic waste of human potential but in the privacy of my own home a glass of Tempranillo before dinner is at worst relatively harmless. Similarly, on a national scale student testing is a complex issue bound up in a Gordian knot of interrelated concerns from equity to test anxiety to teacher accountability to the appropriateness of assessing against standards that cross state lines, while in the haven of pursuing academics in my home it is not merely benign but essential – it is feedback.

As a math mom I’ve been asking (and asking and asking for the past decade) “ How do I know whether my math kid really understands the math?” For that matter, how do I know whether I understand it myself? Or if we are both merely engaging in the equivalent of “just invert and multiply” to get correct answers without much depth. What I’ve been asking for are tests. Read more

a new breed of apps puts joy back in math learning

This article was first published at Getting Smart on September 6, 2013


em8Math should be fun – even when it’s stupidly hard.  Instead it feels grueling – even when it’s fundamentally a delightful puzzle.  This has nothing to do with our smarts or math aptitude and everything to do with how we approach it.  I’ve written previously about the dearth of excellent math apps and how disappointed I’ve been that the promise of achieving computational and mathematical fluency as a side effect of truly engaging work has been left unfulfilled.  Until recently, that is. Read more

the metaphor of disruptive innovation

This article was first published at Getting Smart on May 27, 2013

generic5Is “disruptive innovation” a myth – in the rich sense used by folklorists as a culture’s sacred story?  Audrey Watters tells a beautiful and compelling truth about the cultural (particularly high tech culture) entanglement with the disruptive innovation story in arecent blog post.   Watters illustrates how the story about disruptive innovation connects with our deep collective millennial stories about the end of the world. To quote: “The structure to this sort of narrative is certainly a well-known and oft-told one in folklore — in tales of both a religious and secular sort. Doom. Suffering. Change. Then paradise.”  The piece suggests that the nature of the stories we already hold as a culture are what make the ideas of disruptive innovation seem so “unassailably” true to us, and yet, as is the case with such prophecies, when things don’t unfold as foretold they inevitably require revision (or perhaps as Watters notes, refinement) of the sort found in the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation’s recently publishedreport on hybrid innovation and its role in education. Read more

what are teachers responsible for?

This article was first published at Getting Smart on April 30, 2013

generic12Where does the current emphasis on accountability come from?  I think it comes from a desperate need for equity and justice – from the awareness that has been raised by the national high-stakes testing of students that there is a very real and tragic difference in the outcomes of poor students versus those that are more affluent.  The No Child Left Behind legislation has caused data to be collected for the first time that measures achievement according to race, economic status, English learner status, and so on.

The results are grim.  According to this blog from the National Education Policy Center, a think-tank based at the University of Colorado:

“In 2012, white and Asian students had a 71 percent probability of a higher English Language Arts score than Black and Latino students, and a 75 percent probability of a higher math score.”

There is widespread agreement that the achievement gap is real and persistent and that this sort of social inequity is unconscionable.  Something must be done, and an obvious place to start is by ensuring that every child, regardless of race, has access to a quality school with quality teachers and quality leadership. Read more

education standardization – essential or harmful?

This article was first published at Getting Smart on April 26, 2013

em25In my previous post, I described how much of the standardization that exists in our current system of schooling is harmful to students and should be eliminated, but made the argument that not all standardization is harmful – that, in fact, in some cases it is essential to enable innovation and transformation.  Today I will discuss some areas where standardization is possible, some advantages and disadvantages of each of these, and my rationale for whether standardization at this level is helpful or harmful. Read more

to innovate in education, first standardize

This article was first published at Getting Smart on April 24, 2013

em24Standardization harms students.  The much-maligned industrial model of education trulyis flawed in countless ways that flow from the assumption that children are like interchangeable parts on an assembly line: Read more