COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Phd

Teaching is a multi-faceted calling for many and an occupation for some, but how can teaching and learning effectiveness be measured without testing?

There must be some way—or ways—to measure what and whether students are learning, and teachers are teaching. Rigor, high standards, curriculum design, learning and teaching styles, and external demands all must be considered in any teaching and learning situation, regardless of location and resources.

As the teaching population becomes more monocultural and the school-aged population becomes more multicultural, teaching materials, beliefs, and techniques tend to rely too heavily on standardized tests and testing materials. In order for education to capitalize on the strengths and talents of learners and the skills and professionalism of their teachers, what kinds of additional progress measures might be employed?

Different kinds of professional development programs and materials may be needed to provide more sufficient and culturally responsive information about the teaching and learning process.

One way of assessing whether students are actively engaged in learning on a high level might be using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary materials such as those in an original textbook of poems, shorts stories, and essays.

The book, Connections: A Collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Essays with Lessons,became part of a study in the Washington, D. C. schools and surrounding Metropolitan areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, from 1996-2001. (Parks-Lee, 1995)

It addresses some of the challenges Gloria Ladson-Billings pointed out when she quoted Jonathan Kozol, saying that “…Pedagogic problems in our cities are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but of insufficient information about teaching strategies.”(Ladson-Billings*, 1994, p. 128)

Both neophyte and experienced teachers participated in a study that provided them with information, materials, and teaching strategies to employ with urban, poor, and predominantly, but not exclusively, African American youth.

The idea for the study originated with a concern that an increasingly middle class or suburban teaching force often seems unable to meet the needs of diverse students who are different from them in class, socioeconomic status, geography, ethnicity, and/or culture.

The Connections materials were intended to help address ways to foster a positive impact upon all children, but particularly upon children of color. In addition, teachers using these materials might also feel more empowered to think creatively and to utilize students’ strengths and talents as they incorporate high and rigorous interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lessons and higher order thinking skills in order to increase academic achievement.

Effective teachers believe that we must produce and use materials that encourage students to be able to read, to write, to speak, to be creative, to understand, and to interpret what they hear and read. If students can develop these proficiencies, they may experience greater success on standardized tests.

Success breeds success, and if our students are to be involved learners and thinkers, we cannot keep doing the same things the same ways and then blaming students and teachers if standardized test scores are not optimal. There must be more inclusive ways of tapping into and measuring what is taught and what is learned. Standardized tests are but one wayand should not be the onlyway to validate the teaching and learning processes.

There are three domains to teaching, the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor. The one that is not easily addressed by standardized testing is the affective domain.

As Sharon M. Draper says, “You must reach a child before you can teach a child.” (Draper, S., November 2002). The challenge comes when trying to measure the affective domain. However, affective success is often reflected in student attendance and behaviors that are involved, on-task, and diligent.

There is often a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the teacher and the students. Fewer discipline problems are observed when there is a positive classroom community involved.

When diverse students are allowed to utilize their talents and skills, they often become self-motivated, because they feel affirmed, valued, and respected.

*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). (Notes from speech delivered at Howard University).

This article originally appeared in New York Amsterdam News.

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign

Teaching is a multi-faceted calling for many and an occupation for some, but how can teaching and learning effectiveness be measured without testing?

There must be some way—or ways—to measure what and whether students are learning, and teachers are teaching. Rigor, high standards, curriculum design, learning and teaching styles, and external demands all must be considered in any teaching and learning situation, regardless of location and resources.

As the teaching population becomes more monocultural and the school-aged population becomes more multicultural, teaching materials, beliefs, and techniques tend to rely too heavily on standardized tests and testing materials. In order for education to capitalize on the strengths and talents of learners and the skills and professionalism of their teachers, what kinds of additional progress measures might be employed?

Different kinds of professional development programs and materials may be needed to provide more sufficient and culturally responsive information about the teaching and learning process.

One way of assessing whether students are actively engaged in learning on a high level might be using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary materials such as those in an original textbook of poems, shorts stories, and essays.

The book, Connections: A Collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Essays with Lessons, became part of a study in the Washington, D. C. schools and surrounding Metropolitan areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, from 1996-2001. (Parks-Lee, 1995)

It addresses some of the challenges Gloria Ladson-Billings pointed out when she quoted Jonathan Kozol, saying that “…Pedagogic problems in our cities are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but of insufficient information about teaching strategies.” (Ladson-Billings*, 1994, p. 128)

Both neophyte and experienced teachers participated in a study that provided them with information, materials, and teaching strategies to employ with urban, poor, and predominantly, but not exclusively, African American youth.

The idea for the study originated with a concern that an increasingly middle class or suburban teaching force often seems unable to meet the needs of diverse students who are different from them in class, socioeconomic status, geography, ethnicity, and/or culture.

The Connections materials were intended to help address ways to foster a positive impact upon all children, but particularly upon children of color. In addition, teachers using these materials might also feel more empowered to think creatively and to utilize students’ strengths and talents as they incorporate high and rigorous interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lessons and higher order thinking skills in order to increase academic achievement.

Effective teachers believe that we must produce and use materials that encourage students to be able to read, to write, to speak, to be creative, to understand, and to interpret what they hear and read. If students can develop these proficiencies, they may experience greater success on standardized tests.

Success breeds success, and if our students are to be involved learners and thinkers, we cannot keep doing the same things the same ways and then blaming students and teachers if standardized test scores are not optimal. There must be more inclusive ways of tapping into and measuring what is taught and what is learned. Standardized tests are but one way and should not be the only way to validate the teaching and learning processes.

There are three domains to teaching, the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor. The one that is not easily addressed by standardized testing is the affective domain.

As Sharon M. Draper says, “You must reach a child before you can teach a child.” (Draper, S., November 2002). The challenge comes when trying to measure the affective domain. However, affective success is often reflected in student attendance and behaviors that are involved, on-task, and diligent.

There is often a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the teacher and the students. Fewer discipline problems are observed when there is a positive classroom community involved.

When diverse students are allowed to utilize their talents and skills, they often become self-motivated, because they feel affirmed, valued, and respected.

*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). (Notes from speech delivered at Howard University).

Equity v. Equality

Equity v. Equality

By: Naomi Shelton, Director of K-12 Advocacy at UNCF (United Negro College Fund)

Equity has been a huge buzzword in the field of education this year. Education advocates and politicians alike have called for an increase in educational equity, but what does the term really mean? Equity is not Equality. Equity creates equality by prioritizing resources to students who need them the most.

For example, think of a typical track meet. There are five runners – each in their own lane. Each runner must run one lap around the track. The first runner to complete the lap, wins the race. Now let’s use this analogy to inform our understanding of equity.

Equality would mean that every runner would start the race at the exact same spot in their lane. However, the track is oval-shaped. If each runner began at the same spot, each runner’s distance to the finish line would be different. The runner in the innermost lane would run a shorter distance than the runner in the outermost lane. Sure, they would both start in the same spot (EQUAL), but the runners in the innermost lanes would have an advantage – in distance – than their counterparts in the outermost lanes.

This is precisely why track meets do not operate this way. Since the track is oval-shaped, each runner begins the race in their own lane, at different, equal distance, spots along the track; ensuring that each runner, runs the exact same distance needed to complete the race.

Now, think of our current public education system in this same context. Students – regardless of race, geography, household makeup – start on the same marker on the track. Some students, like the runner in the outermost lane, have to run harder and faster to get to the finish line. The barrier here is distance. In the real world, barriers include low-income, resource deprived neighborhoods, disabilities that require additional expertise, culturally negligent curriculum, outdated technology, inexperienced teachers or access to critical supportive services.

Meanwhile, the runner in the innermost lane has it a lot easier. They don’t have to run as fast or as hard to get to the finish line because of their initial position in the race. The barriers here are fewer in number. In terms of education, these innermost runners attend schools in affluent neighborhoods with a surplus of resources. These students have the advantage of local tax-based funding formulas, parent lead fundraising efforts and/or private funding, and state-of-the-art technology.

What we need is education reform that promotes fairness. Fairness equals equity. As Debby Irving in her book Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race states, “Equality means giving all students the exact same thing to meet the same expectations. Equity means holding people of differing needs to a single expectation and giving them what they need to achieve it.” In other words, the playing fields need to be leveled. It’s critical that our public educational system undertakes reform – changes so that each student is given what they need to succeed.

Our education system should support students by allocating the most resources to students who are most in need, just as track athletes arrange themselves for fairer competition. The national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) targets dollars to the highest poverty schools and districts.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools could lose funding if they failed to meet statewide standards. But under ESSA, states cannot reduce funding by more than ten percent from year to year despite school performance. ESSA also attempts to ensure that low-income students are not disproportionally taught by ineffective, inexperienced, and/or out-of-field teachers.

ESSA requires that state and district report cards include the percentage of inexperienced teachers, principals, and other school leaders as well as teachers with emergency credentials, and teachers teaching subjects out of their range of expertise. ESSA also seeks to relieve some teacher angst surrounding evaluation systems by ending the requirement for state teacher evaluation systems to focus significantly on student test scores.

ESSA gives power back to the states to control education policy. Now, members of the community must hold their school leaders and elected officials accountable to implement system-wide and school-specific measures that ensure equity in our schools.

Furthermore, UNCF’s 2017 community resource, Lift Every Voice and Lead Toolkit: A Community Leader’s Advocacy Resource for K-12 Education, offers step-by-step analysis of African American Education and highlights organizations that have effectively engaged in education efforts at a local level to support efforts in improving the quality of education for all students.

Naomi Shelton has experience in education related community engagement both at the national and local levels and public administration. Currently, she is the Director of K-12 Advocacy at UNCF (United Negro College Fund), the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. There, she focuses on national education initiatives and community engagement efforts to ensure more African-American students are college and career ready. Naomi is currently a member of the DC Public Charter School Board, appointed by Washington, D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser. Her passion is educational equity. Follow Naomi on Twitter at @NaomiSheltonDC