Yesterday was a tough day for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for education secretary. There were many notable moments during her contentious Senate confirmation hearing, but one exchange was particularly shocking. When asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) how she preferred to measure student progress—by using either proficiency or growth standards she had no answer. It’s one of the most basic issues related to education policy and she clearly didn’t understand the question.

 Kelly Wickham Hurst does. She’s the executive director of 216 Being Black At School, an advocacy organization that uses demographic data, cultural competency training, and other evidence-based approaches to fight racism in education. .  .  . Today, she posted a blog that does a remarkable job of illuminating what it means to navigate the growth-versus-proficiency divide on the ground.

 Here’s the setup: A recent widower had come into her public middle school to register four of his sixteen children. Without their mother, some of the children had been living with a relative. All had been “home-schooled,” a term she used lightly. .  .  . While using a standard reading test I learned that of the four children, three boys and one girl, only two of them could read words. The youngest boy (in age) couldn’t identify the 26 letters of the alphabet. The only one who read the 4th grade level text I showed them was the girl and I asked her why that was. ‘Because I have to cook so I read recipes,’ she told me.

 “When the state assessment was given our school would be considered FAILING because they couldn’t read at grade level PROFICIENCY,” she wrote, through no fault of their own. (Remember, one of the pre-teens didn’t even recognize the letters of the alphabet.) Curriculum would need to be revised to accommodate them; even with extraordinary measures, their test scores would be humiliating for them, and disastrous for the school. “We wanted to be able to measure them for GROWTH… not the arbitrary proficiency levels we were given,” she says. “You need someone in charge who at least understands this basic debate.”   (FORTUNE MAGAZINE, “The Real Growth v Proficiency Debate” by Ellen McGirt)

Regurgitation of facts and information against a proficiency standard has become the almost-exclusionary emphasis of our standardized testing and the value of our public schools is judged almost exclusively by those standardized test scores. 

And, our children lose.

As do our teachers and our public schools.

Education, rightfully, should be about thinking and questioning.  It’s the questions that should be sought and not just the answers.

Premises need to be questioned before acceptance.  And, acceptance needs not be a group reaction.  Society loses when we all begin to think alike.  Our future dims.

Too many of us embrace proficiency testing because we are entranced with objectivity – or, at least, we’re entranced by the appearance of it.

Asking the questions is the key to learning.  The answers are the easy part.

Knowing the “Whats” and “Wheres” is not always better than knowing the “Hows” and “Whys.”

And testing-for-growth is the more valid measure.

More on Wednesday  –  –  –

      — Bill Walton, co-Founder, ITC Learning

      January 30, 2017  (Mondays & Wednesdays)



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