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Next Year State needs to design different tests (or cancel them again)

May 7, 2020 pm31 2:03 pm

Reimagine this: remote learning goes slower, less effectively, than real teaching and learning.

And there is a real chance that this mode of “school” will continue into the next school year.

Ramifications? They abound. Vision for what this looks like? Andrew Cuomo brought in Bill Gates. Mistake. Gates has never gotten anything in education right. (Sign this survey; and read this for more background).

Teacher Tests

I want to focus on tests. Some teachers are still giving them. Others have stopped.

Me? I stopped giving tests two years ago, but I was giving one class quizzes right through early March. I stopped.

Most teachers stopped testing and quizzing. Some teachers shifted to take-home tests. When I was a student I preferred tests, which were actually tests, to take-home tests, which were homework assignments that got graded like tests. But that was me.

Teachers are trying to figure things out. Actual tests on one or another of those on-line platforms. Take-home tests. Papers instead of tests. Other graded assignments. Projects.

“Sit in rows and keep your eyes on your own paper” tests can’t be done, so we will muddle through with something else. And if we had to figure it out for next year, we would keep muddling through, probably a little better, because most of us goof, learn, and adjust.

State Tests

But that’s teachers. How about the state? New York State gives lots of tests. Poorly-constructed, high-stakes, mandatory tests. What’s going to happen to them?

This year, they are canceled. ELA and Math. Science. Grades 3 – 8. The Regents (high school exams). Lots of them. All canceled.

But what if this crisis continues into the next school year? Could New York State, one of the slowest in the country to order the school buildings closed for the term, New York State which has struggled to make bad tests worse, New York State whose governor didn’t even bother putting a K-12 educator on the reopening panel, could this state design tests that kids could take at home?  Clearly not.

But they could copy a smarter state. Let’s just suppose they do that, that Andrew Cuomo says “we are not smart enough to design state tests that could be taken at home, but we will wait for Kansas or Oregon and copy them.” They could do that.

But getting a test-taking platform is probably the easy part. Say they get it. What will they test?

Standards vs Content

For those of you who haven’t been paying close attention, or are not from New York, this has become a tricky question. New York State does not have required content, it has “standards” – nebulously defined lists of skills kids should possess.

New York State teachers often look at sample exams or previous exams to figure out what the content should be – we want the content we should teach. New York State does not oblige.

They do not even offer us curricula – claiming that curriculum is a local decision. (Actually, I don’t think they are good enough to put together curriculum, so we may be catching a break there; there’s sometimes benefit to ignoring a lie).

Remote Teaching ≠ Real Teaching

One obvious difference is that we “cover” less material. Just. No. Way. To go at the same speed. If you are teaching 75% of what you normally teach, wow, I’m impressed. If you are teaching 100% of what you normally teach, stop sneaking into school – you’re putting yourself and your students at risk. Me, I’m teaching around 50-60% – and it’s more like I’m guiding my students through self-teaching.

In any case, if we were to do this next year, for a full year, we would be teaching less content than we normally teach. That’s clear and obvious.

So what do we teach?

In September, as we lay out our units for the year, what should we teach? Part of our calculation will be based on what the State intends to test in March or April or May or June. It is reasonable for us to want to know what the Board of Regents wants us to do. It is reasonable for us to want the NYS Education Department to tell us what they will test. And it is reasonable for us to expect the answers.

So what will they test?

I love living in a state where there are lots of smart people, but where they are massively outnumbered by decision makers. If New York State tests kids next Spring, and if remote learning has been the norm for a large chunk of the year, most kids will not have learned what kids normally learn by test time. Will New York State’s Education Department revise the tests?  I think they’d have to. Will they tell us in September?

At least we have the Oneida Lake approach to content in New York. (here’s where I would normally say a mile wide and an inch deep, but New York State has this great lake – huge, freezes over every winter – 21 miles long, 22 feet deep – that’s as close as you are going to get in the real world, and no mistake, it’s in New York State). It’s probably possible to chop off parts of each course without doing massive damage.

Are the people at SED clever enough to remove content (or standards) from each of our courses, and leave the remainder at least a slightly coherent whole? I am asking the question, because it has to be asked. I am not holding my breath waiting for an answer.

One option that bears consideration – maybe remote teaching does not lend itself to standardized testing? Maybe we should continue this year’s “pause” indefinitely? I think I’d be ok with that.

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