I didn’t get very far in to reading “Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World” edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs before I found a paragraph or two that really resonated with me. On page 7 Jacobs writes, “…we (educators) need to become strategic learners ourselves…we are restricted by ‘what we know’ and ‘what we are able to do.'” I have attempted to make this point throughout the years – the first job requirement of an educator must be to be a lifelong learner. It seems this is the premise of Jacobs’ book as well.
If educators were lifelong learners, would we hear, “Because we have always done it this way” or “Because the state says we have to” nearly as much as we do? Learners constantly revisit what they are doing, how they are doing it, all in the context of constantly questioning why they are doing it in the first place. Learners thrive on context and don’t just do something “because” but attempt to connect the mandates to reality. A lifelong learner would say something like, “We are being required to do mass testing of all students because there is ample evidence that when left to our own devices, we were not educating all children to meet basic standards. I would love to see us make these tests more authentic, though.” What we hear too often instead is, “We have to give this stupid test that doesn’t tell us anything about the kids because the state says we have to.”
Don’t get me wrong, I am not in favor of the regurgitation fests that occur each spring in our schools or the force feeding that leads up to them. However, I am strongly in favor of ensuring all of our students have access to a stream of high quality learning experiences over time. I have issues with how we test (multiple choice) and what we test (content and skills that can be easily assessed via multiple choice). I don’t have issue with the fact that we test, I just want the tests to be better. I have seen the state-mandated tests be an excuse for doing low-level work when seen as a ceiling. I have also seen teachers and schools that view the state-mandated tests as being just another way for kids to show what they know and not the basis for what happens the rest of the year.
Can a lifelong learner educator contextualize and even inform the mandated testing from the state and school division? When left to their own devices, what data did our “good teachers” and “good schools” keep on kids? How was the data “captured”? What standards or criteria were used? Why is it so threatening for teachers to have to report data about their kids to their principal or the district? What role does “assessment literacy” play in any or all of this? What role does leadership play in contextualizing external assessments? Are all external assessments “of learning”? What, if anything, can educators do to improve practice with trailing data?
To what extent do teachers design classroom assessments that matter? How can we use other assessment data to inform what we do with groups of kids and individual kids? What if we did focus on what matters most? Do we know enough to know what those things are? Are we committed to learning what those things are and how to go about ensuring our students learn them? Are we learners first?