I spent last Saturday at edcamp (@edcampblo) in Buffalo, New York. Naturally, it was filled with New York educators: teachers, technology leaders, consultants, and a handful of principals. These are teachers and principals who are dedicated to students and to their own learning enough to show up at Canisius College on a weekend.
Edcamp Buffalo was a day of dichotomies for me. While it was exhilarating to meet new people and explore new ideas, it was also sad to see dispirited educators who seem to have lost the joy of teaching and learning.
From conversations in workshops, it was clear that unless you work in an independent school, New York educators are overwhelmed, discouraged and downtrodden by the new system of yearly teacher appraisal and the yearly grade 3-8 standardized state tests in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. Although we had profound conversations about leadership, about trust, and about building 21st century skills and personal learning networks, educators also often said, “Yes, but” and “We can’t because” with rueful or even angry expressions.
This Saturday, I participated in #satchat, a Twitter Chat for educators. The topic was “Leading in a standardized education world”. You can find the Storify archive of the April 20th chat here. During the chat, educators shared many ideas and feelings about standardized testing and testing prep. It underlined why New York educators are feeling undermined.
After these conversations, I feel very strongly about where we need to focus. It’s not on standardized testing. Educators know we can’t look away from what is really important: student learning. We need to spend our time understanding curriculum expectations and standards. We need to work at figuring out what students don’t know through diagnostic assessment and observation. We need to focus on what we don’t know as educators and then use an inquiry framework to learn how to do it better. We need to respond to student needs daily by adjusting our teaching and checking how well students are learning. We need to be trusted to measure student achievement. When these things happen, we feel a tremendous sense of purpose and accomplishment. We feel hope.
Can we free ourselves from the shackles of standardized testing to focus on what’s important and worry less about test prep?