Monday, October 29, 2012

Testing Technology

Below is the statement I presented to my Board of Education on Tuesday, October 23, 2012.

Working in Guilderland is something I am proud of.  Traveling in various educational circles, I came quickly to learn that my district had a reputation as a leader.  For years we hosted the Summer Writing Institute and helped to enrich the writing instruction of not only our faculty but of our colleagues across the Capital Region.  I always knew that I worked in a district that was forward thinking because I was nourished and supported to teach in a way that showed me to how to be a reflective educator and also encouraged me to strive to use methods that didn’t just follow the standards but asked kids to read and write for real purposes.  Instilling in them the idea that it is a life-long process and not something you have to simply do for school.

Now I realize that the world we live in is one of reform and mandates that are, sadly, out of our control.  But I believe like in any situation where one may feel powerless, there is always a way to stay true to who you are and try to enact change.  In adopting the NWEAs, I feel we have stepped off our original path.  This is not the trail we once blazed.  Rather it feels we chose to fall in line with what other districts had selected despite the less restrictive options offered to us. We could have chosen, like our colleagues in Bethlehem did, to create our own local assessments.  We even had the option of utilizing our New York state exam data and creating student learning objectives to meet what was required of us.  Here, students would have only to take one standardized exam and saved us hours of lost instructional time, not to mention money.

Either of the latter options would have avoided the use of computers as tools of testing instead of tools for learning.  Faculty has been unable to utilize the computer labs while all of our students are cycled through to complete the NWEAs.  My students’ work on their memoir pieces has been interrupted, as we have to suspend our work and wait for the testing to end.  This unit culminates in students creating a movie of their written work.  A powerful example of how writing, music, images and voice can make what normally is just another writing piece into a lesson in multi-media literacy.  Sacrificing this aspect of the unit is simply not what is best for students, and so my students and I will wait for the testing to end.

In an effort to do what is right for our students, I am here to advocate for a different direction.  A road that we have laid in front of us.  It will require the leadership and vision of who we have always been as a district in order to move us forward.  I am referring to digital portfolio assessments.  Instead of asking students to sit twice a year for two hours in front of a computer answering multiple-choice questions, we could be showing them the power of technology and exposing them to skills that they truly need to be college and career ready. 

This is a trail we are, I believe, ready to blaze.  My colleagues and I are already taking the initial steps even though it isn’t mandated but because it echoes that Guilderland philosophy of offering the very best instruction to our students.  Last year we were given the tools to move our students further into the 21st century skills that our district holds as the highest priority. 

With Demian’s leadership we launched the use of our secure Google cloud, which gives us access to a myriad of applications to enhance student learning.  I was able realize my own personal goal as students created their own digital portfolio websites.  They displayed and reflected on their work over the course of an entire year.  They had a place for their digital work products that simply never fit in to our current “Blue Folder” system.  With guidance, students were able to articulate their strengths, weaknesses and goals.  This allowed me to better individualize and differentiate their instruction.  Students utilized technology to demonstrate their entire learning process instead of just a one-time performance.  Portfolios create a space for students in assessment as they become more responsible for their learning rather than a passive test taker.  And in doing so, they found more motivation, more self-confidence and satisfaction in their performance that a number simply cannot produce.  Students began to compete with themselves rather than with each other.

Looking into the future to graduation, our students could walk out armed with true evidence of their learning.  Something to show at a college or job interview to demonstrate their skills, potential and personal goals.  The value of this portfolio simply can’t be compared to a list of test scores.

Portfolios are the kinds of learning opportunities that those who attend private schools are offered.  Private schools that are not shackled to the state and federal mandates.  Private schools like the ones our State Education Commissioner’s children attend instead of our local public schools.  Let’s lead our kids into the future, take advantage of the free tools we have at our finger tips and become once again a fearless leader in our area as we weather this educational storm.

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