Sunday, September 19, 2010

simple things can be a challenge

This morning, I am having a crisis of confidence in that I'm making small cabinets that I'm not sure of yet, and I've proposed a simple "Beaufort Scale" of Educational Assessment in place of an incredibly complex and esoteric methodology practiced and understood only by highly trained experts in statistics. And of course that is nearly impossible, right? We don't arrive at interesting places without walking on difficult and uneven ground.

The problem with the existing system of assessment is that it is concerned only with those things that are easiest to measure with standardized tests and completely ignores other important areas of child development. What we can't effectively measure we effectively ignore, and so to have a means of directly observing other things would be important. It would also be very significant to have parents and teachers acknowledged as able to make significant contributions in the matter of school and student assessments.

So far, I've been looking at what happens in the classroom as a key toward observing educational success, looking at things like teamwork, emotional and physical safety from bullying, and opportunities for creative multidisciplinary, multi-intelligent engagement in learning.

But what if you are a parent and wondering whether or not a school is meeting your child's needs for learning and growth? What are the markers that help us to see that your child is on a pathway toward learning success? Unfortunately, it is a bit like watching the effects of wind on a small boat offshore. We can see when the boat is becalmed, or we can see it knocked down by a sudden gust, or if we are lucky we may see it move in a steady pace across the horizon and feel secure knowing our children are onboard. My first parts of the scale are prescriptive in that they explain what needs to be done to make a classroom environment and learning experience more effective and meaningful. Now we get to the harder part... that of understanding what is happening in school even though we may stand onshore. Remember that we are working on two versions of the scale dependent on perspective of the viewer, in or out of school.

One of the simple observational tools that a parent can use to put things in perspective is joy. Does your child like school? Is he or she ready for it in the morning, and excited to report on school when he or she gets home? Or is school just a thing which must be carried as a burden of youth?

This is a teamwork exercise. You can leave me with my saw, out on a limb, or you can comment below or email at right.


  1. Robert Bell7:34 PM

    As an educator or 43 plus years (and counting) I am in interested in where you might be going with your "scale". By way of background, I taught hand tool woodworking for the most part for the first 30 years here in Fort Worth (Texas, y'all) and then the shops were ripped out and sold. I've taught computer applications ever since. It's been interesting...but of course not nearly as satisfying nor as useful to many of my students. Ideally, of course, a school district should offer both...but that's not going to happen. If you might be interested in the observations of someone who has actually taught in the sloyd tradition (so to speak) and now deals with what education has morphed into I would be happy to share my thoughts and experiences.

  2. Robert, I would love to hear your observations. Fire away. You can use my email link at right.

  3. Anonymous11:16 PM

    Here's a form of assessment you might want to ponder: the panel of expert judges used to rate performances in Olympic gymnastics, piano competitions, and Pulitzer prizes (to name a few). Panels of judges combine the holistic expertise of knowledgeable experts with a sort of quality control process. Ted Sizer in Horace's Compromise (or was it Horace's School?) proposed something he called "exhibitions" as a culminating high school exercise, wherein students present a complex, year-long piece of work to a panel of judges. Of course this begs the question of what is important to assess (and for what purposes), but I thought I'd toss up another example we can draw from.

  4. Larry, the Met Schools use exhibitions as a regular form of assessment and demonstration of learning, and it is something that should be more widespread.

    The example you bring up is certainly a better model than students filling in squares on answer sheets that have little to do with real life.

  5. Richard B.12:46 AM

    I would like to hear Robert's story as well. We might all learn from his experience.
    Richrad B.

  6. Anonymous5:17 AM

    In a sense, any teacher is using Otto Salomon's principles. The trick, and it's a tough one, is to measure progress. You can no doubt see different levels of progress among your students at Clear Spring, and if standardized tests can get away with a 3 or 5 level measure, maybe you can too.