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Tue, 03 May 2011

All Education is Local

Common Core - Standardized Assessment

Nobody knows a child as well as his parents, teachers and friends. Learning is an individual process, one aided by support from peers, parents and professionals. A professional (teacher) is a guide. Peers and parents probably lack the tools to nurture a child through the maze of material which constitute a curriculum. A professional will focus, for example, on grammar while a parent might smile proudly when son Joe says, "Me and my friend, Bob scored goals in the soccer game today." A peer might say, "Like, dude, that's wicked cool." Joe is supported by the smile and comment, but also will benefit from the next school lesson -- Writing and Speaking in a Formal Setting.

It takes a professional set of skills to effectively adjust a curriculum to the current needs of a child. The lesson may require many repetitions geared to the moment, not a curriculum time-and-sequence alignment chart. Joe may have needs in common with many in the class, too. Those needs may not be aligned with the common core expectations for the year.

A child's experience writing and speaking in class takes him a step out of his comfort zone, a step from the streets, or maybe even a step away from a mediocre home life. Accomplishing those goals is more complex than core standards can address. No standardized test will measure a child's reaching the goals, either.

Nationwide core standards represent "a good." Local application of the standards isn't simple reiteration, though. Local, individual application of the core takes much more than publishing the standards and wanting all children to meet the them. For each child, personal context applies, and the ground isn't even. It will take more work to encourage good grammar for a child whose entire culture says "like" every third or tenth word of a sentence. A good grammar lesson will not simply need to state the rules and assign homework practice. Each child in the classroom will need valid exercises in which well spoken and well written work is accomplished. They will need to "learn" that there is a difference between informal chatting and educated discourse. The effort is complex. It takes time and much more work than a common core statement such as this one:

"L.6.1e. Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others' writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language."[1]

For other groups of children who don't bring as much careless language into class, a teacher's job will be easier. The grammar curriculum will flow by more smoothly and a test will be easier for the students to pass. The language environment around the school makes a difference.

For a child to learn, he must face individual challenges and rise to them. What is difficult for one child may be easier for another. An attentive teacher is the person most likely to expect good grammar from a child, to recognize the mistake and provide a targeted experience to reinforce proper expression. A hard-working teacher with experience in recoginizing a "teachable moment" is much more valuable to a child than a list of common standards. It is going to be important for a series of hard-working teachers to assist classroom groups to build the necessary series of teachable moments into a sequence which makes children eager to improve and comfortable with making mistakes along the way.

No standardized test is going to create a unique curriculum for each child. That unique curriculum will happen. It will happen whether or not there is a 100 percent effective group of teachers. The unique curriculum will happen whether Joe plays soccer, is a musician, a skate boarder. Good teaching supports each "Joe" along with peers and parents. Making final judgments of the success of each child's unique curriculum may be possible through standardized tests, but maybe not.

I was a junior high teacher for years. At one point we were re-named from junior high to middle school. It did not change our outlook too much. We took children into our classrooms at the start of their seventh grade year and helped them develop until they left us at the end of grade eight. We saw each child as unique, not always having the same skills as others of the same size, shape and age. Middle school also exposed us and the children to the wildly differing body changes typical of the middle grade years. At the end of grade eight, there were still children barely five feet tall standing next to others well beyond six feet with sideburns almost down to their chins.

A common curriculum and a common standardized test?
What is standard about a child?

We need to celebrate childrens' unique needs and accomplishments as much as we need to get all students to graduate with some common skills. We cannot expect a cookie cutter approach to work. We cannot expect all children to come out of the assembly line the same as endless sets of injection molded plastic dinnerware. Judging all students equally by one test is just plain silly, much less judging the hard-working series of teachers who helped prepare a student for the test moment.

[1] http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards/english-language-arts-standards/language-standards-k-5/language-progressive-skills-by-grade/

("All politics is local." Thanks to Tip O'Neill, former congressman from Massachusets for the inspiration for this post's title.)

(Thanks to Diane Ravitch for her article on the Education Week blog.)

posted at: 16:22 | path: | permanent link to this entry