On Negotiating Nuance

The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Mark Twain
I have awesome cats. Two of whom like to hang out in my office when I’m working from home and provide company while I work AKA walk across my keyboard when I’m not honoring them sufficiently. More than once, they’ve been my audience as I’ve scrolled Twitter and mumbled a strongly worded opinion about something I’ve read. And I swear, the cats rolled their eyes at me and I hear my mother’s voice telling me, “there are starving children in China!” when I refused to eat fish sticks as a kid. The message is sort of the same – this thing that is so important to you, Jenn, isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things and I totally get it. I rationalize my obsession with nuance and semantics around assessment design as my commitment to the science of the craft of teaching. My nuance nudges, in no particular order.

Assessment literacy requires that we consider the system and recognize that different assessments serve different purposes. Diane Ravitch recently said that the state tests were invalid because they served no “diagnostic purpose.” My nuance nudge: Well neither do the final exams that many students take in High School. So while the state tests provide limited diagnostic data for a particular child, they provide useful information for the system. Case in point? Next year, 2015-2016, will be the first year that the students taking the CCLS tests will have only known curriculum aligned to CCLS. The state assessments are the [likely] most objective way of documenting, or one might even say, diagnosing the consistency of alignment to the standards across the state

 “Exam” is not the same as “test”. Don’t believe me? Check the cover pages.

 Why does it have to be about “sides”? That is, it’s possible to do all of the following – at the same time.

  • support authentic, curriculum-embedded assessment and portfolio design,
  • struggle with the intent and purposes of the opt out movement,
  • be in favor of annual testing as a large-scale measure of the system,
  • think the Common Core Learning Standards are better than what we had before and not really care about where they came from,
  • be okay with providing students with direct instruction on how to take a test (AKA test prep done right), and
  • be against VAM as it currently being used in teacher evaluation.

So I guess this is less a statement on struggling to find a place for nuance and more a “here’s where I am right now.” I think Steve! the cat agrees or at least is pretending to. At the very least, he makes me feel less guilty about not carrying the laundry upstairs on a Sunday morning (Kevin is our tabby, Steve! is behind him. Baby, our oldest, hangs out elsewhere.)

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