Category Archives: Assessment

Ghosts in the (Testing) Machine

What makes a mind come alive? And how will you know when it’s happened?

Two new films – one about the death of the factory school, the other about the dawn of artificial intelligence – attempt to answer this question from radically different vantage points. Taken together, they provide both a cautionary tale and a reason to be hopeful about the not-too-distant future. And fittingly, what both films suggest is that when it comes to measuring the spark of sentience, the tests we use matter greatly.

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Has Testing Reached a Tipping Point? (Part Deux)

It appears I was premature.

A year at this time, in an article for the SmartBlog on Education, I asked: “Are we witnessing the early signs of a sea change in how we think about the best ways to measure student learning and growth?”

Well, what a difference a year makes.

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Is it time for schools to rethink, well, time?

On a recent weekday morning in Washington D.C., several hundred teenagers hurriedly made their way through their high school’s hallways in a frantic effort to get to class on time.

I know – nothing new there. Except that in this particular school, the hallways had ubiquitous electronic clocks that measured time in bright red numerals down to the second, and these particular students had just three minutes to move from one class to another. “They had five minutes last year,” principal Caroline Hill told me, in between passionate exhortations for her students to keep moving. “And it was a complete waste of time.”

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Summer, once the time for reflection, now the time for radical redesign

Tanesha Dixon vividly remembers the first summer she spent as a teacher – as part of a service program in Uganda, just before her senior year at Notre Dame.

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Positively Deviant School Reform?

If you had six months, little to no resources, and a clear mandate to solve a chronic country-wide problem – knowing that, if you failed, you would be asked to leave that country altogether – what would you do?

I ask because this was precisely the challenge Save the Children was faced with, in Vietnam, in the early 1990s. And the way they succeeded has great relevance for those of us who continue to struggle with other intractable problems (like, say, comprehensive school reform).

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How Should We Evaluate Our Preschools?

Imagine, for a second, that you are in charge of more than $600 million in taxpayer money. You live in a city that has made deep investments in early education, and that aspires to provide universal preschool by 2014. You have a thriving network of public charter schools, and you want to help parents make […]

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Is It The Tests or the Stakes?

As DC grapples with whether or not to adopt an accountability framework that would assign between 60-80% of a charter preschool’s overall rank to its students’ reading and math scores, it’s worth asking: What’s at the root of the problem here — the tests, or the stakes attached to those tests?

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What Do You Teach?

Last month, I gave a keynote address at the annual conference of the New Tech Network, and suggested that this seemingly innocuous question is one we might need to think more deeply about, and start to answer differently. The video was just released, so see for yourself:

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(Extra)Ordinary People

There’s an anecdote the Calhoun School’s Steve Nelson likes to share when he speaks to teachers and parents about the purpose of education. “We should think of our children as wildflower seeds in an unmarked package,” he says. “We can’t know what will emerge. All we can do is plant them in fertile soil, give them plenty of water and sunlight, and wait patiently to see the uniqueness of their beauty.”

At a time when too many students are still being planted in highly cultivated gardens – trimmed and pruned to resemble each other closely – it is incumbent upon all of us to stand on the side of the unmarked package. And at a time when we stray further and further from our democratic roots – from Chicago to DC – it is essential we heed the words of Mission Hill founder Deborah Meier, who reminds us that “democracy rests on having respect for the judgment of ordinary people.”

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In American Schools, What is Quality Work?

For years now, I’ve been asking everybody I meet the same question: “When and where were you when you learned best?”

I’ve asked this question because so many of our national school reform efforts are not about learning at all; they’re about achievement, which has come to mean something quite apart from the stories people tell when you ask them to recall one of the most powerful experiences of their lives.

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