What’s the Diff?

And from another Ravitch post on Common Core Standards, from earlier this summer–a frequent responder, Duane Swacker comments:

“One quibble I have is with teachers and other educators using this concept of “raising student achievement” instead of attempting to increase student learning. These are two very different constructs/concepts with “raising achievement” implying an end product-outcome versus student learning implying a process and all learning should be about the process. We waste valuable time and effort by focusing on “output” instead of process.

I agree. There is a significant difference between process and product in regards to education and learning. Look, measuring learning has always been a tricky issue. Calculating the depth, breadth, and persistence of learning in a valid and reliable way is tough. It may even be impossible. In my own career as a student, I am fully aware of instances where I learned something; where that learning was reinforced over time; and where I have retained that information, knowledge, or understanding for years–even to this day. On the other hand, I can account for too many times and circumstances where I learned something well enough and for a long enough period of time to get by on a paper, a project, or a test in order to get a good grade and then–poof–that set of facts or skill or body of knowledge is gone (maybe in a few days; maybe in a year–but it is gone, Baby, gone).

Does that count? Did I really learn it if I can no longer recall it or apply it or put it to use in a meaningful way? Take geometry. (Yes, somebody, please. Take geometry.) I have no recall of that body of information introduced to me as a tenth grade student. I could look up various formulas and definitions; however, I certainly have no idea how to put them to use or even understand why I should. I made it through that class by the skin of my teeth. I do  remember that the teacher was intimidating as hell and that I dreaded that class every day. I made sure that I learned just enough to get by on weekly quizzes and tests. To a certain degree, I gamed the system. I made it look like I was learning. Not a stellar confession; nothing about which I am proud.

On the other hand, I studied French, German, and Spanish in high school, and continued with French and German in college for two years. I was quite fluent in French–after six years of masterful instruction. Unfortunately, I have not spoken those languages for decades, but I can still read and write in all three, and could get by, in a pinch, in speaking French. I feel that this is a valid demonstration of LEARNING. I can still do it. It stuck with me.

Like riding a bicycle. Like learning to read. You don’t forget or unlearn these skills. They stick with you; they develop; they improve over time.

When I was completing coursework for my masters degree–a Masters of Instruction, completed in 1981–one of my courses was all about the process/product conundrum, the nature of learning, and the implementation of teaching practices that sought to align process with product. The Big Idea was that the process of learning is of greater importantance for the student than the product that one teacher selects to demonstrate learning.

So what’s the big deal? Is it a big deal? Does getting a good grade on a test prove student learning? Does having a classroom full of students who do well enough on an important test clearly indicate that this group has learned what they were taught? Does that serve as clear and indisputable evidence that I am an effective teacher?

I am fully aware of, and believe in, the construct that teaching does not really take place if no learning occurs. In other words, I cannot say that I taught Johnny to ___, if, in fact, Johnny cannot ___. (You fill in the blank: cook, read, recall multiplication facts.) However, to come up with a way to quantify learning, to measure it, to guage the depth and breadth of learning–as well as to rank it, to rate it, and to turn it around to serve as a singular indicator of teacher effectiveness continues to make me uncomfortable. It may appear to be a scientifically derived methodology: quality input  –>  quality output. The opposite of GIGO–garbage in / garbage out.  Could be reduced to good old cause and effect. But, this concept appears to lack evidence.  Evidence appears not just inconclusive, but scarce.

So, are we on solid ground here? Or, are we setting up a system that does not hold up over time? A system where effective teaching may be overlooked or denied due to student test scores or, probably worse, that ineffective teaching is obscured by test success?

One last thing: I saw a math standard a few weeks back, at a very important meeting for teachers and principals, provided as an example of the rigor of current standards-based education. I believe that it was for 3rd or 4th grade math. It indicated that students should be able to recall the respective relationships between standard units of measure; like 16 ounces in a pound; 3 feet in a yard; 2 pints in a quart. I was stunned. Really? This is rigor? Honestly, this is why we have reference books and tables and charts. This is why in the back of almost every composition notebook–you know the ones with the black and white marbleized covers–they have a complete table of “Weights and Measures.” I am looking at one right now.

People. We have got to get over the idea that memorizing easily referenced information is a sign of learning or is even worth our valuable teaching time. Holy cow. Yes, there is some value to knowing these things, but there are bigger fish to fry than 5280 feet in one mile. Am I alone in this POV?

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This entry was posted in A Good Education, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, School Improvement, Student Success, Teacher Evaluation. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s the Diff?

  1. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  2. ancora1mparo says:

    I apologize for steering off topic but as I read the post, my mind is just screaming, what the heck is going on with Performance Plus??? This system, which DE took federal dollars and spent, is not ready for implementation. There are numerous problems. DOE was reluctant to admit, blamed on districts and takes a laissez-faire approach. Administrators balk as not violate evaluation process. Teachers prefer to give tests, not accessible to all, in order to reflect on data before setting goals due October. Uhhhh…it’s broke. Isn’t anyone going to say anything? I feel like that little kid, the Emperor has no clothes

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