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What my musings are all about...

Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.

The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.

The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Test Scores and Coaching

Florida Governor, Rick Scott signed a teacher merit-pay bill that will "overhaul how teachers across the state will be evaluated and paid." The law creates an evaluation system that "relies heavily on student test score data to judge teacher quality." Teachers around the country gird your loins. Unless this educational trend can be stopped, it marks the end of creativity in the classroom and turns students over to the data minded wonks.

I can't begin to tell you how much data minded wonks upset me. What are they thinking, that classroom teachers can be evaluated like sports coaches? The test for coaches is simple. Succeed or get fired. In sports this is a reasonably accurate way of judging a coach's ability as long as the time frame the college or pro team allows the coach is reasonable and level playing fields exist.

These testers would argue that results of tests will allow teachers to remediate students who fail the tests. Nonsense. Most of the kids failing standardized tests are right-brained thinkers, and no matter what teachers do, remediation will not help these kids to pass these tests.

The object of education is to pass tests, right?


In the classroom, things are never so cut and dry as they are in coaching. A test score is not like a winning season, nor is it like a losing season. High test scores do not measure a student's knowledge, nor do low test scores demonstrate a student's lack of same. It simply measures a student's ability to take a test. It may or may not test how much knowledge the student possesses. It certainly does not test potential or creativity. Right brain functioning students historically do far worse on tests than left brain (logical) thinkers. Does that make them more worthy?

In sports, there is room for both kinds of thinkers, but never in the world of standardized tests, at least not the one's I've ever seen, and I taught in high school and college for twenty years after retiring from professional basketball. In the NBA there was room for players like Bill Bradley and Earl Monroe from my era and LeBron James and Tim Duncan in today's game - left brains and right brains helping their teams to excel.

If only government and leadership in education would come to realize the need to test both sides of the brain to measure knowledge, if only they would realize that both sides of the brain need to be represented in the classroom, if only they weren't such left brainers. Gad!

But they just don't get it. If the trend to standardized tests continues as the principal evaluation of students, it won't be long before they will soon wipe out diverse thinking in classrooms while the contents of standardized tests, developed by left brain bean-counters, will see to it that right brained thinkers will fail.

 Read, future dropout rates skyrocketing.

If only the education wonks would take a lesson from sports coaches. In team sports, coaches have always known they can't succeed with only one type of player. In team sports, it's essential that there's a mix, not just of role players and starters, but of players who approach the game from different mind-sets.

And just so bean-counters don't think I'm picking on them, there is even room in coaching (and teaching) for the statistical wonks (I'm thinking of  the GM of the Houston Rockets), just as there is a place (but not a significant place) for the educational test-only-been-counters in education.

Do you get the picture, you out there in the Department of Non-Education?

Governor Rick Scott will probably see much better test scores in the future. He will also lose a great number of creative students and teachers. And the consequent long-term brain-drain for Florida will be profound.

Watch out, America, the wonks are putting on a full court press.

When I was teaching, skateboarders, stoners and Goths were often emblematic of classroom failure. Most of them I knew were right-brain thinkers and did not function well in standard classrooms, nor did they do well on standardized tests. Here's a poem about skateboarding, one heck of a fun sport.

Skateboard   by Thom Gunn

Tow Head on his skateboard
threads through a crowd
of feet and faces delayed
to a slow stupidity.
Darts, doubles, twists.
You notice how nimbly
the body itself has learned
to asses the relation between
the board, pedestrians,
and immediate sidewalk.
Emblem. Emblem of fashion.
Wearing dirty white
in dishevelment as delicate
as the falling draperies
on a dandyish
Renaissance saint.
Chain round his waist.
One hand gloved.
Hair dyed to show it is dyed,
pale flame spiking from fuel.
Two Head on Skateboard
perfecting himself:
emblem extraordinary
of the ordinary.

In the sexless face
eyes innocent of feeling
therefore suggest the spirit.

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