Saturday, August 27, 2011

And they're off....

As I live in the Albany, NY area, this has been an interesting weekend.  Today is the running of the Travers, the biggest horse race in the Saratoga meet. Millions on the line, so to speak. Also, this afternoon we are awaiting the arrival of Irene, the hurricane.

Why should I be writing about this activity in my blog on 21st Century learning for school leaders? Because it hearkens to the children's story about "Chicken Little" and the errant warnings that the 'sky is falling'.

 For anyone that has ever attended a horse race or has attempted to handicap horses, they will note an entire culture and database system with more information on horses than one could ever digest in a lifetime. For example, here is a sample of a horse racing entry found in the program of a race:


Notice how much information is offered on this one horse named Duca. From this 2" block of newsprint you know everything there is to understand if this horse has the potential to win a race; height, weight, jockey, trainer, past performances on other races, speed records at each turn of each race, whether the horse won, lost, pooped out, or retired. To the trained eye there is probably much more that can be gleaned, as well as information so well coded about the horse, you would think a person has to work for the CIA to crack the code. And this is just for one horse! Every horse in a race has information available like this.

When I consider this method of data analysis on horses, and the extent people go to interpret and become experts at using this information, I ask myself if this is the ultimate goal for the mania our education system has evolved into. Are we attempting to test, assess, and evaluate every aspect of the learning experience for children so that someday we can tatoo information like the image above on a child's arm and summarize their educational potential in 2" of print? Just imagine how useful this information becomes in a job interview? Before any questions are asked, candidates are requested to roll up their sleeves so that we can read or scan the information from a QR code or UPC label permanently affixed on Johnnie or Suzie's arm.

But, this is the mandate of the federal and state government to assess the begeebies out of children and to place them into educational castes and to categorize their potential into 2". Imagine going through life feeling that because you scored such and such on the grade 3-8 NYS ELA exam, you will never be able to rise to your potential?

Diane Ravitch summarizes this mania into an interesting comment, that testing is not the most important thing we do in education. Testing is nothing more than a thermometer, like the one on your car's water pump. Testing is not the last thing or the most important thing. I hope our teachers rise to the challenge of moving their students to greater heights than what an assessment indicates.