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Education in the Media


I just received an update from the Harvard Kennedy School in their “Innovators Insights” newsletter that Miami-Dade school district in Florida just made mid-term and final tests optional in grades 6-12. At first read, I thought to myself “Wow, that’s really great and surprising!” Then I read the article.

All that’s happened is a bait and switch. There’s no substantive change in my opinion, although they have certainly reduced the burden they impose on students. Essentially, the state has moved to common end of course tests so that all Florida students can be measured together per subject area. Mid-terms and finals are a redundancy in this system from a bureaucratic point of view, so the district did away with them.

So in my opinion, this is a red herring or false protagonist. It reinforces state controlled and standardized schools, reduces teacher autonomy, and fortunately has the happy side effect that students don’t have to live under the pressure of something made up in the name of their “betterment.”

I love ( that’s sarcasm) how students were surprised and excited about the decision–highlighting how little say they have in their education and how little they expect from decision makers.

What do you think? Am I misreading this situation? Does it in some real and meaningful way represent progress towards student-centered learning?

About Adam Burk

Adam aims to serve the greater good; alleviate unnecessary suffering; and create beautiful, sane human communities in concert with the living planet. Recently, he has helped to rebuild local food systems in Maine in large part through school food services, organized the TEDxDirigo conference, and is a digital organizer with the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA).


7 thoughts on “Psych!

  1. I believe it is a red herring as well, Adam. Although, the students enthusiasum should tell us about their opinion of their schooling and about what democracy with students voice would look like in a just, inclusive educational society. This false protagonist movement, is at its core, a movement in the direction of the right approach — I think, even done through backroom deals and secret handshakes, if it moves towards progressive principles, that is a start. Hopefully a conversation can begin from this — although, I worry as the hardliners would then use this underhanded approach as an excuse to go back to business as usual.

    Posted by Casey Caronna | November 18, 2011, 5:46 pm
    • Casey, how do you see this being a movement towards progressive principles? And what are those principles?

      Posted by Adam Burk | November 18, 2011, 6:40 pm
      • Even if the change is not to significantly alter the way tests are given, and may even standardize tests even more, the psychological impact of a mid term or final, based on my opinion and experience, has far more lasting impact in terms of health and stress on a student, then tests throughout the school year, which, although more standardized (if the teacher unfortunately so chooses), will release some of the pressures of culminating tests as equalizing what has been learned within the classroom. So while this might regress, in terms of tests and what and how they evaluate in terms of learning, it promotes a more healthy image of education, in terms of moving away from a centeralized culminating examination.

        My hope, in terms of how it relates to progressive education, Adam, is that this would open a dialogue to do two things. 1. Be able to have a conversation on the rationale of mid terms and finals and whether their weighted percentage is of any relevance and consequence to the learning. 2. It would hopefully help to force teachers to re-evaluate how they are designing their learning. If many teachers already know that standardized testing throughout the year is useless or far less useful than a mid-term or final, and the board has found that the final and mid-term are far less useful, in terms of learning and stress of a student, then hopefully teachers, can move away from teaching to tests at all and that is how I think that hopefully some teachers, students and dialogue will come about based on this action.

        Unfortunately, the article compartmentalizes education, schooling and learning, into broad, general narratives, which is typical among mainstream media. They seem to section the article as it relates to {easier for students}, {more standardized}, and {as a BIG CHANGE}. Unfortunately, the realities of the new dialogues and designs of lesson plans and planning units are not discussed, neither is the health or well being of the students, or why (or how) percentages of mid terms and finals greatly reduce the chance of success or appreciation of learning new critical thought processes.

        So, unfortunately, while it could be a step in towards progressive education in changing the conversation, alleviating the stress and increasing the health and well-being, asking important questions on grades and inequality in learning, its boxed approach of the article, the lack of articulation of this change and the defense of the teachers by their union, will probably lead to an even more regressive approach (hopefully the students can understand and rationalize this change and see how it can positively impact their future learning).

        Posted by Casey Caronna | November 18, 2011, 10:16 pm
  2. The only positive here may be that there is a general reduction in the amount of time spent on testing in kids’ years, and the sheer number of tests (which in some parts of Boston is, for some kids, almost a third of their year).
    So that seems like a good move–and nudging teachers away from a general orientation towards testing as the measurement of learning.

    What would an optimal testing environment look like to you Adam? For whom, and when, if at all?

    That’s a really interesting question. IN the last two weeks I’ve been to schools that had no tests, no grades no courses; to schools that have 3 public exhibitions of learning and development a year; to schools that do summative projects at the end of 9 week modules.

    Say more what “good” looks like to you…



    Posted by Kirsten | November 19, 2011, 4:01 pm
    • Hi Kirsten,

      My issue with it is that it’s a general reduction of testing, only after it had been increased! So in effect there is a net zero effect. I do like that if the district had mandated mid-terms and finals before that they got themselves out of the classroom a little bit so to speak and are allowing teachers to decide for themselves how they want to assess. Of course the state is still holding the carrot and the stick by dictating what is on the end of course tests.

      To answer your question, I do not have a detailed answer for what the “optimal testing environment” looks like to me.

      I think this should be negotiated by teachers, students, and families to create meaningful assessment strategies. I know that the last thing that’s important to me in regards to students demonstrating proficiency and ability is how they do on a standardized test. More meaningful to me is how they are able to communicate their understandings and apply them in meaningful and practical ways. So anything that achieves that whether it be portfolios or exhibitions or summative projects, I’ll probably think its the bee’s knees.

      Thanks for asking.

      Posted by Adam Burk | November 20, 2011, 11:25 am
  3. I think any reduction in testing is a good thing. Not a savior. Not a hero. Certainly not a meaningful change. However, if they implement a change that involves less testing, it’s something to smile about.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | November 21, 2011, 10:52 am
  4. I think the main thing here, that hopefully proves to add to a conversation, in and around this particular school district, is the idea of mid-terms and finals as a centralized emphasis on the linking of tests and learned material or growth in learning. Unfortunately, for most of the country, and especially in colleges, the emphasis on mid-terms and finals have become routine, as if they are standard and acceptable means of proving ones knowledge, understanding and concept. I like the idea of decentralization of tests, especially for the long term, even if a greater standardization is the consequence in the short run.

    Adam, I think I remember a school district in Florida increasing standardized tests, last spring, maybe? Is this the same district? I can’t tell from the article, whether additional tests throughout the school year have been added to this district…and if its state tests that have been added, are those mandated to pass in order to graduate? Or are they more associated with information and money programs such as Race to the Top? Do you have data on that claim? I may have just overlooked it in the article. It does sound familiar that additional tests were required in Florida, but I only remember that from brief news media outlets, maybe last fall?

    Thanks for posting the article.


    Posted by Casey Caronna | November 21, 2011, 8:54 pm

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