Time to weigh the pig?

Image credit: Photo by Christopher Carson on Unsplash

There’s an old saying “weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter,” which expresses the simple truth that coming up with new, more frequent and elaborate measurements will never take the place of adequate nourishment and husbandry.

This metaphor applies in educational settings where, on the one hand, there is a genuine commitment to addressing the learning needs and aspirations of each learner in their local setting, and on the other, the regime of externally mandated tests to standards that are likely to change or be adapted at any time depending on the whim of whoever is in charge at the state level.

The belief that rote learning and memorisation of non-contextualised knowledge is the key to success is both erroneous and dangerous. We need to stop forcing learners to learn what adults think they may need and testing them to what degree they have mastered the required content.

The schools I’ve visited this week have all been involved for the past two years in a project led by the Office of Innovation here in NW Arkansas, and in each I have seen some excellent examples of changes in practice that are focused on allowing learners the opportunity to engage in creating authentic products and learn what they are interested in, just in time, not just in case.

The principals and teachers I have spoken with in these schools are committed to transforming the experience of learning for their students, but feel ‘hamstrung’ in their efforts because of the relentless expectation to assess them against a myriad of externally mandated standards and measures. We discussed the problems for learners (and teachers) being judged on their performance in tests that are taken at a set time, that provide simply provide a single ‘snapshot’ of the learner’s performance and compared this with the benefits of implementing a real-time reporting regime, where the success in learning is understood in real time throughout the process – by the teacher, the student and their parents.

While the context is very different here, I suspect the same tensions confront educators in New Zealand where I live. While schools there have much greater autonomy over the design and delivery (and assessment) of their curriculum, the lack of a ‘standardised’ way of viewing or understanding achievement across all schools leads to waves of pressure from successive governments and parent groups who have particular views of what success should look like and how it should be measured.

We must stop benchmarking to measures of excellence in the past, such as international test scores and start inventing the excellence of the future. We need to re-think our understanding of success, and what measures we need to use. We cannot fix the horse wagon to get the moon. We have to work on rocket science.

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