The flow of learning around here.

Our superintendent, Kevin Alfano, recently returned from a meeting with a group of superintendents.  He was telling us about the focus of the learning: school organizations as bureaucracies vs. learning organizations.  Our intention is to well live and work in the latter.  In the conversation, he mentioned an author, John Tanner.  Turns out that John Tanner has written a book called The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement.  The description of the book and its author caught my attention…so I bought the book and have nearly finished reading it.  It’s an amazing discussion about standardized testing, what it can do, and what it definitely can’t do.  And how it has zero to do with actual improvement for kids and teachers.

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Here are a few booming quotes/ideas that hit home:

“Assessing students and gaining an understanding regarding what they know or are able to do is a vital component of accountability, but it is the easiest part of accountability. Once we know where students stand in their learning, the harder part is understanding why we are seeing the results we are seeing. Why is one gender performing better than the other? Why do some of our English-language learners excel when others do not? Answers to these questions enable teachers to change, hone, and refine practice to produce better results. And answers to these questions are not available through standardized testing.”

“The simple fact is that such tests are tools that fail to work as designed once you put the burden of accountability on them. Tests meant to operate in the background as a check on a system are now made to operate front and center and are presumed to say something well beyond and in addition to their design.”

“In fact, tests have come to play just about any role a policymaker wishes to assign to them without so much as even a rudimentary understanding of what a standardized test is, what it was designed to do, or how it was designed to be used. A standardized test score now determines whether a student has sufficiently learned his or her assignments, whether a teacher has effectively delivered the curriculum, whether a principal is or is not a fit instructional leader, and whether the system of education is functioning as intended. None of these was ever inferred in the design. Choosing such an instrument and deploying it counter to its design has serious consequences.”

And my favorite quote so far, ”

“But the argument that anything is better than nothing when it comes to making changes risks offering a fallacy for a solution. It risks being akin to saying “we needed a needle and thread but you gave us a hammer so at least we have that.” Having the wrong tool is having the wrong tool, and it cannot substitute for the right tool. That they are both tools is true—and useful in their own right against their design—but you can’t sew a button with a hammer.”

The point of this blogpost isn’t actually about the book, although it’s a doozy, has already impacted my thinking, and I recommend it to all education leaders and thinkers. The point is how we learn around here.

In our district, we want our leaders to be learners.  We want them to be readers. We want them to be sharers of their learning and reading.  And my aspiration for this year is to encourage our leaders to also be writers.

A simple conversation with our superintendent led to a book being read which led to new ideas and thinking to be undertaken.

A good day at work.


Author: Jnelson

Jeff Nelson Fife School District Assistant Superintendent:Teaching-Learning-Innovation 39 years as an educator. 16 years teacher 3 years assistant principal 12 years principal 8 years Assistant Superintendent BA, Washington State University MAEd, Washington State University Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining. Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years.

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