[Also available as a podcast on Ed on Its Head here.]

Yesterday, I had a phone conversation with the author of a book just released this February called Culturally and Socially Responsible Assessement: Theory, Research, and Practice, by Catherine S. Taylor (with Susan Bobbitt Nolen). I mentioned this book in my previous post and said how pleased I am to be reading it. I said how the book lit a fire in the teacher-me. I am becoming so passionate about fair and equitable instruction–and now assessment–and our conversation showed me a path forward.

Dr. Taylor started off stating that her new book is controversial. What? A controversial book about assessment? Would it be pulled off library shelves during the current book-banning mania, I wondered? I asked what made it so, and she replied, “it’s controversial because most people don’t do it.” What don’t most people do? According to Dr. Taylor, in the world of teaching, most do not pause and reflect on assessment and how it is more than just “punctuation marks along a trajectory of lessons, units, and grading periods” used “to generate points for a grade book” (p. 5 of her new book). The purpose of assessment, she says, is helping people, “but tragically, this has stopped.”

I’m not sure, but I think it has stopped because it has been replaced with assessment-mania. When I taught at an intermediate school, I was surprised at the amount of data collection required of me. I felt I needed a secretary because among all the other hats I wore as a teacher, I wasn’t finding time to crunch numbers. I also wasn’t finding the heart for it. When February ended, the panic ensued among teachers as standardized test prep began. That’s code for “teaching to the test” so that we can get good scores in order to keep our jobs. Somehow, my teacher soul kept whispering louder and louder that these big tests were somehow very far removed from good teaching.

In her book, and in her career, Dr. Taylor said she has taken on “large-scale testing.” Bravo, I say, in this age of over testing! But to take on large-scale testing, you’re taking on very large and wealthy commercial publishing companies, politicians, policymakers, Departments of Education at state and federal levels, school districts, school boards, administrators, and even some teachers who are all about testing, data collection, making the score. Who’d I leave out? I believe too many people are conditioned to think that testing is the way to go.

Luckily, a flip side exists as many teachers are revolting against testing. Many are even throwing up their arms in the air and walking away from a profession they once loved. In my state (Tennessee) as in other states, a teacher shortage exists. Teachers are leaving. Additionally, young people are not signing up to become teachers. In an article posted today by Chalkbeat, it says: “Modest pay, a punitive culture of student testing and teacher evaluations, student discipline challenges, and a shortage of planning time are among the reasons” that cause teachers to quit and young people to choose a different career path.

Before I go further, I wish to assure you that Dr. Taylor is highly qualified to talk about the state of assessments in our country. I have read her bio, and after talking to her yesterday, I am even more convinced that she should be heard. Here’s a short qualification list from a brief bio she sent me, and I’ll follow it with more thoughts and details:

  • Emeritus professor from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she taught two ends of the assessment spectrum: psychometrics (e.g., item response theory, test development) and student-centered classroom assessment.
  • A psychometrician, which is someone who practices the science of measuring mental capacities and processes (with The Psychological Corporation, which now appears to be Pearson Assessments).
  • A senior project manager for criterion-referenced assessment products ( with CTB McGraw-Hill).
  • Senior Vice President of Measurement Services at Measured Progress, an educational testing services company whose link, www.measuredprogress,org, opens to Cognia. In that position, she was “responsible for all work required for the development of several states’ federally mandated tests including content development, psychometrics, publishing, and data analysis,” according to her bio.

Dr. Taylor has worked hard for change. She has testified before her state’s Senate and House Education committees. She has written several books. She worked for companies that created assessments. She said that the best way to fix what’s broken in American public schools is to teach the teachers, and so she has taught a generation of teachers. She understands policy and talked about ESEA in the 1990s, the NAEP scores that went up for all groups (even subgroups) but fell flat after NCLB. She saw classroom-based assessments in the state of Washington die after NCLB was implemented. She worked with her state’s DOE and supported their work–and made friends and allies along the way. I’m sure this is the tip of the iceberg of the good she has done, yet even she admitted that her work hasn’t and won’t bring about the large-scale change that is needed. It’s a start. We need finishers.

It was my 56-minute call with Dr. Taylor yesterday, her book that I’m currently reading, the M.Ed. program I’m immersed in at ETSU, my past and present teaching experiences, and my hopes for the future that bring me to this: I invite you to have a conversation with me about assessment, about the state of teaching, about culturally responsive and responsible teaching. I value your opinion and wonder if we might see eye-to-eye. Maybe together, we can make change happen. This invitation is the result of a few things I’ve recently learned. The first I learned when I asked Dr. Taylor how to make change. Her reply? “You get power.” I’m quite sure she doesn’t mean the kind of power that puffs your ego. She means working your way into the places that hold the power–the legislators’ meetings, the board meetings, right? Inviting discussion with representatives from publishing companies. I get it now, and I am brave enough to make those calls and set up those meetings. The second learning for me should have been obvious, but it wasn’t, and it is that you need allies to make change. I thought I could bring about change by writing to my legislators, to our state’s commissioner of education, and to several school boards all by myself. Scroll over to my page Outreach to check out a project I began last semester. I got nowhere with that. I need allies. Finally, I do agree with the general statement that most people want to do what’s right, and if they’re not in my eyes, they believe they are. I will listen–not judge, and I will remember that’s why change comes slowly, and sometimes gently, but most definitely from the inside out.

At the end of our call, we threw ideas around about how to make change. Grassroots works–I think I’ll start up a group! Do textbooks reach enough people? Dr. Taylor said parents need to know this stuff, and so maybe she’d start writing for magazines such as Parents or Redbook to reach a new audience. Dr. Taylor believes teachers are the best and keeps her purpose focused on helping them develop habits of mind oriented toward fair and unbiased assessment practices that actually support students’ learning and success. I suggested her next book should be called “Habit of Mind” for teachers. Maybe my podcast will grow. Maybe somebody who is eager for change will read my blog and reach out to me. I have hope.

Reach out to me! Leave a message in my mailbag!

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