With the Common Core annual testing coming up in California, Principal Gladhand’s weekly missive to parents brings good tidings about how his school is dealing with it.
He starts with the age-old premise that tests don’t matter:
We work hard to ensure our students are learning not because we want them to do well on any given test, but because the learning is important. We don’t
work to “teach to the test” or take excessive practice tests to “get our students used to” taking standardized tests. This isn’t teaching for mastery, it’s just teaching about testing.”
He goes on to boast how at his school, a formative assessment approach is used, so that tests don’t really matter. And in so doing, he can’t resist taking a swipe at memorization. And who can blame him when the edu-world around him feels that in this digital age, we can just Google information and focus on “higher order thinking skills/critical thinking/problem solving” etc.
We work to focus on “Mastery, not Memory.” This is why many teachers have re-take policies or offer students multiple modalities through which students can show what they know. Many of our teachers are switching to mastery-based grading as well; a student can have a low grade until they’ve mastered the content. Once they have mastered the content, the low grades change to reflect mastery.
Ignore for the moment that re-taking a test until one does well on it is in essence a form of practice and memorization. Focus instead on Principal Gladhand’s idyllic world, where neither tests nor grades matter–one simply has to remember the “Mastery not Memory” mantra. This is tantamount to clicking one’s heels three times and saying “There’s no place like home” and voila! You’re transported back to Kansas, while retaining the sights, wonders and groupthink of his Land of Oz.
This allows him to function in his private Kansas where once again tests do matter–particularly the state Common Core test, (the SBAC which California’s Dept of Ed has renamed CAASP to facilitate their private Land of Oz). And in fact he steps seamlessly from one domain to the other:
The CAASP (or SBAC) test is a way of measuring how our students are doing in meeting the state standards. We know this is but one small snapshot of how our students are doing on any given day, but it is a fairly good representation of how well our students have mastered what we wanted them to. The SBAC is based on the state standards all of us are using in our classrooms. The tests are not timed, adjust to the abilities of the students, and are written in such a way as to give us a good look at our students reasoning and thinking rather than just simple regurgitation of facts.
This is a masterpiece of what George Orwell called “double-think”. He covers all the bases. Tests are just a snap-shot, but they’re OK if they measure mastery of what is covered by Common Core standards, and do not rely on memory at all. And so having said this, Principal Gladhand makes his final plea in the form of a proclamation from his pulpit in the Land of Oz:
We will be encouraging all of our students to work their hardest to show what they have learned this year. The information we gain from standardized testing shows us where we, as teachers, may need to offer more instruction or practice and allows us the data we need to improve the quality of education here.
He doesn’t forget, however, that he resides in his private Kansas, and concludes with this:
We feel our students are going into this test well-prepared and ready to show us what they know. Please encourage your child to try hard each day, eat a good breakfast, and get plenty of sleep this week!
Final translation: If there are any low scores, it’s on the teachers and the parents.