The Edmond Sun

Opinion

April 22, 2013

Teaching to the test

OKLA. CITY — As I meet with teachers from across the state, I hear a common theme. I talk with working groups of teachers here at the state department. I’ve had the opportunity to visit with past and present teachers of the year. I also have roundtable discussions with teachers at the school districts I visit on my Raise the Grade Together tours. I listen to superintendents in my leadership advisory group. These educators tell me they are frustrated with “teaching to the test.” Parents and community members often mirror these sentiments. I agree!

The time has come to have a serious discussion about this. I want teachers to know I am committed to working with them and the rest of the education community. This summer and in the fall, together with these groups, we will conduct an audit of all the different assessments given across the state, including federal, state and district level assessments.

I am proposing this study to help identify the best assessments that will provide feedback regarding instructional strategies so teachers can better meet the needs of their students. As we move to new assessments in the next few years, educators will use some familiar tools, including data, technology and texts. They also will use new instructional strategies that are a critical component of all our new Oklahoma C3 Standards. These include strategies to promote critical thinking and problem solving as well as practical application of securely held foundational knowledge. Working together, we can identify areas of duplication and unproductive assessments. Perhaps, we may even find places where we can save money and put dollars back into the classroom.

Through my advocacy and policy work during the past 17 years, and now serving as your state superintendent, there is one thing I know for sure. Our current state tests are by and large memory tests. Every educator knows that tests that rely more on rote memory of facts yield very little in retained knowledge. Our current OCCT tests are aligned to the Oklahoma PASS standards. The state is currently transitioning to the new Oklahoma C3 Standards through the rewrite, revision or replacement process.

The PASS Standards are a “mile wide and an inch deep.” The new Oklahoma C3 Standards are characterized as “narrower, deeper, higher.” They are narrower in focus to allow teachers to develop foundational knowledge in their students. They are deeper so teachers are able to spend more time on content to assure mastery of subject matter and higher because they focus on developing critical thinking skills that are a must for success in the 21st century. In other words, we are teaching children to master information that is critical to their success and also teaching them how to think.  

A close comparison of the two sets of standards explains why. With the old PASS Standards, teachers tend to be boxed into a system of teaching that reduces itself to drill work of students. That helps no one. It is not engaging to students, does not lend itself to mastery of subject matter and does not allow the teachers to develop thinking skills in their students. In other words, the old system makes the teacher work to “get the kids through the test.” Very little information is provided to the teacher and all that is really known is whether or not the student passed and did they improve?

Teachers need more detailed information about what a student should know and be able to do. A math teacher needs to know more than whether or not the student got the right or wrong answer on a test item. That educator needs actionable information on whether or not the student set up the formulae correctly to answer the question. They need to know if they arrived at the correct answer, and if the variables in the problem are changed, how well does the student understand the principle being taught in order to adjust the formulae to arrive at a correct answer for the new variables. The assessment yields better information more precisely targeted to what is being taught and will yield information that is actionable. In other words, instead of the teacher working for the test, the test must work for the teacher. The new academic assessments being developed for social studies, science, for English language arts and mathematics are academic tools for teachers because they evaluate students’ knowledge base across all domains of knowledge.

These should provide teachers with critical information about the strengths and weaknesses of each of their students. They will help teachers know how to adjust instruction. The information derived from them will provide the entire education team including principals and superintendents the valuable information they need to work together as a team to provide the most optimal opportunities for each child. Our state’s new academic assessments are being designed to do just that. If you think about it, we are promoting effective teaching practices, assuring mastery of subject matter, developing cognitive skills and are developing an academic assessment for students that measures all of those skills and informs future practice by educators.

We have engaged teachers and principals in a comprehensive effort of professional development to prepare educators for the new system. Our goal is to create an environment of continuous learning spurred on by innovations in instructional strategies that are student centered, research based and data driven.

My next column will be about how we’re communicating with educators and the public and the training we’re providing to support educators throughout the state.

JANET BARRESI is state superintendent of public instruction for Oklahoma. She may be contacted via her website at www.ok.gov/sde/.

 

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Why poverty across the world matters to Americans

    A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans. That was the message delivered last week by Nancy Lindborg, whose job at the U.S. Agency for International Development is to lead a federal bureau spreading democracy and humanitarian assistance across the world.
    That world has reached a critical danger zone, with three high-level crises combining military conflict with humanitarian catastrophes affecting millions of innocents in Syria, the South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
    But back to that child.

    April 18, 2014

  • Government leadership complicit in overfilling prisons

    One of the thorniest problems facing any society is the question of what to do with transgressors. Obviously, the more complicated a culture becomes, the more factors come into play in trying to figure out what to do with those who choose not to “play by the rules.”

    April 18, 2014

  • My best days are ones normal people take for granted

    It is a weekend for working around the house. My fiancee, Erin, and I have the baby’s room to paint and some IKEA furniture to assemble. I roll out of bed early — 10:30 — and get into my wheelchair. Erin is already making coffee in the kitchen.
    “I started the first wall,” she says. “I love that gray.” Erin never bugs me about sleeping late. For a few months after I was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, I often slept 15 hours a day. The doctors said my body needed to heal. It must still be healing because I hardly ever see 8 a.m. anymore.

    April 18, 2014

  • Instead of mothballing Navy ships, give them to our allies

    A bitter debate has raged in the Pentagon for several months about the wisdom of taking the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington out of service to save money. The Washington, at 24 years old a relatively young vessel, is due for a costly refit, a routine procedure that all of the 11 large carriers in service undergo regularly.

    April 18, 2014

  • The pessimist’s guide to grizzly bears and Earth Day

    This coming Friday, to “celebrate Earth Day,” the Walt Disney Co. will release one of those cutesy, fun-for-all-ages, nature documentaries. “Bears” is about grizzly bears.
    The trailer says, “From DisneyNature comes a story that all parents share. About the love, the joy, the struggle and the strength it takes to raise a family.”
    Talk about your misguided “Hollywood values.” I previously have acknowledged a morbid, unreasonable fear of grizzly bears, stemming from a youth misspent reading grisly grizzly-attack articles in Readers Digest. This fear is only morbid and unreasonable because I live about 1,500 miles from the nearest wild grizzly bear. Still. ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Digging out of the CIA-Senate quagmire

    Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted to declassify parts of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The White House, the CIA and the Senate still have to negotiate which portions of the report will be redacted before it is made public. But this is an important step in resolving the ugly dispute that has erupted between the intelligence committee and the intelligence agency.
    The dispute presents two very serious questions. Was the program consistent with American values and did it produce valuable intelligence? And is effective congressional oversight of secret activities possible in our democracy?

    April 15, 2014

  • Los Angeles Times: Congress extend jobless benefits again

    How’s this for irony: Having allowed federal unemployment benefits to run out in December, some lawmakers are balking at a bill to renew them retroactively because it might be hard to figure out who should receive them. Congress made this task far harder than it should have been, but the technical challenges aren’t insurmountable. Lawmakers should restore the benefits now and leave them in place until the unemployment rate reaches a more reasonable level.

    April 14, 2014

  • Many nations invested in Israel

    Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yoram Ettinger recently spoke to a gathering at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City. The event began with a presentation by Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, who told the attendee that the  upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover was an occasion for them to embrace the children of God, which is all of humanity.

    April 14, 2014

  • Coming soon: More ways to get to know your doctor

    Last week, the federal government released a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors.
    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, is posting on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid.
    This new trove of data, which covers 880,000 health professionals, adds to a growing body of information available to patients who don’t want to leave choosing a doctor to chance. But to put that information to good use, consumers need to be aware of what is available, what’s missing and how to interpret it.

    April 14, 2014

  • HEY HINK: Hateful bullies attempt to muffle free speech

    Hopefully we agree it should be a fundamental right to voice criticism of any religion you wish. And you should have the right to sing the praises of any religion you choose. If criticism of religion is unjust, feel free to make your best argument to prove it. If criticism is just, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace it. If songs of praise are merited, feel free to join in. If not, feel free to ignore them. But no American should participate in curbing free speech just because expression of religious views makes someone uncomfortable.

    April 11, 2014

Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

Agree
Disagree
Undecided
     View Results