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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Why Can’t My Kids’ Writing Be Proof They Can Write?

This week’s question:    How might we leverage or scale up authentic assessment models to challenge (or supplant, I add) standardized, high stakes tests?

1.  First, make sure teachers have a clue what authentic assessment is.

2.  Then, make sure teachers understand deeply what authentic assessment is.

3.  Be sure to check whether teachers know their curriculum thoroughly enough to develop rich tasks that are both meaningful to the students and authentic to life.

4.  Make sure teachers have enough time and skill to develop tasks that ask students to think and work on the higher ends of Bloom’s taxonomy.

5. Realize that the only thing authentic to real life IS real life.

In my personal blog, I once wrote a post about “Teachers as Taskmasters.”  I say teachers must be MASTERS of task-making. I do not mean in the traditional sense of the word, as in making sure the work gets done, but as in MASTERFULLY crafting tasks. These tasks should be ones that engage, teach, allow for diversity of thought, stimulate creative juices flowing, and evoke a proud sense of accomplishment. They may even take on a life of their own, resulting in students taking the task to places the teacher may never have envisioned. Through rich tasks that demand vigor in thought and performance, that elicit cooperation and teamwork, students may also discover a passion for the subject or the discipline as well.

So, what makes an engaging task?  John Antonetti has combined Marzano’s high yield instructional strategies with Bloom’s cognitive domain and built on Phil Schlechty’s work on engagement to create a cube of some things we should think about as we work with students. In doing his learning walks in literally thousands of classrooms, he has found that when effective teachers use good teaching strategies and think about addressing the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy in lessons and have at least three of the qualities of engaging work in the lesson, 80% of  the students self-report more engagement and being more interested in what is going on in class.  They can describe their learning targets and talk about their own learning intelligently. So what part of the engaging qualities of work is present in a multiple-choice, high-stakes, standardized test?


John Antonetti's Engagement Cube

Chad Sansing and I have worked on collaborative understandings of authentic learning and assessment for a while now, through conversations at Authentic Engagement and Engagement and Quality Work and we even created a wiki to hopefully continue the conversation. I also recently blogged about assessment through the wikiwork of my students. I’m going to go out on a limb here with the information I mention in that blog post, Authenticity- Learning and Assessment.

I say, in that blog, that

the student work is authentic, it engages them in real world topics,  it gives them choice, allows for novelty and variety and they learn from one another as they explore what others are studying and we share, discuss and delve into their projects together in class.
It IS powerful learning.
It IS powerful engagement.
It is NOT compliance.

I KNOW the state rubrics we use to assess writing in 5th grade. I have watched my students write on their wikis all year, and understand their style, their common mistakes, their writing strengths and weaknesses, and most of all, I know their voices in their writing.  In that blog, I specifically mention 9 of my 5th grade students by their work.

I would bet a LOT of money I can predict what they will get on the 5th grade writing SOL test they took in mid-March.  Out of the 9, all will pass, with 7 of them getting an advanced pass. Out of the two who do not, one will barely squeak by, on the basis of content, which is weighted more heavily than mechanics in our rubric.

(The results should be back by May or June and I commit to coming back here and revisiting the accuracy of my predictions.)

You need to know I have not read  their state tests. I am not allowed to.  They didn’t even take the test with me, but with their homeroom teachers. I have not read and attempted to score the writing they did for the state test in any way.  I am not allowed to.  I am making these predictions based on the fact I KNOW MY STUDENTS.  They have written authentically all year on their wikis and blogs and they have used writing to communicate and build community with their peers. I have taught them and learned with them and communicated with them so that we know each other’s styles and can often identify un-named writing by those styles and voice in the writing.

If I can predict the scores they will make, WHY do my students have to take a state test to prove it?  Why do we have to waste the time and money it takes to give the prompt, have them write and then send it off for scoring?  Why can’t my kids’ writing show that they can write?

Shouldn’t the everyday work they do count for something? Why can’t we supplant some of these high stakes multiple choice tests for REAL work we do everyday in our classrooms?

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


One thought on “Why Can’t My Kids’ Writing Be Proof They Can Write?

  1. Paula,

    I love your succinct explanation of how knowledgeable teachers paired with authentic relationships with students are better tools than standardized tests. This is the means private schools use to be successful, why don’t we mirror some of their success strategies for having successful graduates, like smaller class sizes? And yes everyday work should count. I believe that because it doesn’t in many school systems contributes to drop out rates. Kids know the work they are doing is B.S., they know most of it is busy work, and it has no meaning for them. Believe or not there are students who are not dreaming about going to college! Thus the stress and strain of worrying about standardized tests simply isn’t worth it for them! So as you suggest meaningful work should be undertaken every day, and this work should be accounted for in the student’s assessment by great teachers who actually know them. Not the scan-tron bot at CollegeBoard.

    Posted by Adam Burk | March 30, 2010, 7:42 pm

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