Education Readings August 18th

By Allan Alach

Apologies for the absence of readings last week. I was hit by a double whammy – our internet connection went down for 48 hours, and then, as soon as that was restored, my computer decided to go on strike. In the end I had to erase the hard drive and reinstall everything. Being a wise person, I had good back ups so it was only an inconvenience rather than a disaster.

Do you have good backups in place, including some off site? Remember that there are two kinds of computers in the world – those that have had a major hard drive issue, and those that are going to have one… and once you’ve lost your data, that’s it.  Goodbye to all those precious photographs …

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Digital Natives Do Not Exist, Claims New Paper

But taken as a whole, digital natives might be a myth, argues a paper published in Teaching and Teacher Education. Students who grew up in the digital world are no better at information skills simply because they were born into such an era. The study also presents evidence that these supposed “digital natives” are no better at multitasking either. In fact, assuming that they do may harm their education.’

Fire pits and power tools good for preschoolers

‘While fire pits and real tools aren’t things you’d normally expect to find in an early childhood centre, new Australian research suggests that perhaps they should be.

Exposure to different “risks” within their preschool, including open flames hammers and saws, (yes, you read that correctly!) resulted in preschoolers developing more confidence, safety awareness and better risk assessment skills, according to a new study.

The findings, set to be published later this year, highlight the importance of risky play in a world where helicopter parenting is increasingly common.’

Literate, Numerate or Curious?

‘Here’s an interesting question for your next workshop, faculty meeting, or maybe even a dinner party?

“Would you rather that your children were literate, numerate, or curious?” Pick one, and why?

For many, it’s a tough choice; for most, you want all three. But if you had to choose one, which one would it be? In case you’re wondering, yes this is a leading question, which I’ll get to in a moment. But I for one would want to start my response by first asking exactly what you mean by each of those three words.’

Talking about Creativity Is Fun, But How Do You Teach It?

‘Nothing in education engenders as many bumper sticker slogans as creativity. We want our kids to develop creative minds. But creativity is difficult to measure and so research in this area is scant, leaving us to our own devices. 

One common notion is that allowing students more freedom to express themselves fosters creativity. Along the same lines, many argue that strict educational systems dampen creativity.’

I’ve got something to say by Gail Loane with Sally Muir

‘This book review encompasses just about everything that needs to be known about children’s writing and makes a mockery of the grotesque Wow! national standards-Hattie culture of today. As I go through the review, readers will come across small matters of difference between me and the authors; my preference being slightly less structure and even more emphasis on expressive writing. But if you based your writing programme on the tenets set out you would be doing famously.’

The Squishiness of Writing Instruction

‘The problem with writing is that it’s squishy, probably squishier than anything else we teach. There is no solid metric for measuring how “good” a writer. Can you quantify how Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Chaucer, Kate Chopin, Carl Sagan, P.J.O’Rourke, Mark Twain, James Thurber, and S. E. Hinton stack up each other by measuring how “good” they are? Of course not– even the attempt would be absurd. Ditto for trying to give students a cold hard solid empirical writing rating.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Dear Justine Greening: your primary school reading reforms aren’t making the grade

‘How do you dress up the great Tory reading reforms as a stunning success if 29% aren’t at the expected level? Might there be a little bit of a problem that too much emphasis has been put on “decoding” and not enough on “meaning”? After all, the ultimate purpose of reading is to understand what it is you’re reading, isn’t it?’

The idea you can put a number against a child’s ability is flawed and dangerous

Head teacher Alison Peacock sees the demise of levels as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change how children are assessed nationally. But instead of simply replacing the old structure with a new one, she’d like to focus on enabling children to learn in a meaningful way so that assessment becomes “a tool for improvement rather than judgment”.The assumption that you can reliably put a number against what a child is capable of is flawed and dangerous.’

Teaching and Purpose: A Response to Bill Gates and his Purpose Problem

‘I recently ran across Bill Gates’s blog. Gates ironically reflects on what it means to have purpose in one’s life.I say ironically, because many blame Bill Gates for the current push to replace teachers in our public schools with technology—calling it personalized or competency-based learning.Not only will teachers lose their profession and their purpose, a whole segment of society will be displaced—careers shattered.This will drastically affect how and what students learn. Even our youngest children will obtain their knowledge on machines.’

Schools Are Not A Business: Making Them Compete Is Insane

‘The real issue here is having schools compete for students. With this system in place, we will always see people abandoning schools in poor areas and heading for richer areas.

We need to abandon this idea that having schools compete somehow improves education. Looking at the international evidence, it simply doesn’t bear out in reality.

Schools and teachers should collaborate, learning from each other, and work to ensure that every local school is the school of choice.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Nigel Latta: The new ‘Haves and Have Nots’ – time for Moral Leadership in New Zealand

‘As we begin to focus on the upcoming elections Nigel Latta’s TV programme is timely. It is surely time to move away from on the personalities of leaders and to focus on the real issues facing our country. The programme was a serious attempt to get to the core of inequality in NZ and its consequences for us all.Once NZ had one of the highest home ownership figures in the world and we didn’t see examples of extreme wealth.’

David Perkin’s Smart Schools

 Dreams are where the dilemma starts ’, Perkins writes – dreams about great schools. ‘We want our schools to deliver a great deal of knowledge and understanding to a great many people of differing talents with a great range of interests and a great variety of cultural and family backgrounds. Quite a challenge – and why aren’t we better at it.’ Some, he would say, is because ‘We don’t know enough. ’Perkins, though, thinks they’re wrong, ‘We know enough now to do a much better job’. The problem comes down to this, ‘we are not putting to work what we know.’ ‘We do not have a knowledge gap – we have a monumental use – of – knowledge gap’. Schools that use what we know he calls ‘smart schools’.


Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Five

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 5

Error Concerns in Educational Assessment

The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth. Walter Lippmann

Wilson notes “To estimate error is to imply what is without error; and what is without error is determined by what we define as true, by the assumptions of the frame of reference that forms our epistemological base.”  In other words, depending upon the point of view of the assessment frame (as described above) there are different sorts of errors that plague assessment accuracy and validity.  Not only that but also when we confuse and conflate assessment frames, which practically speaking is guaranteed to happen, we compound the errors and thus compromise the accuracy and validity of any assessment of student learning and work.  Wilson points out thirteen sources of error (there are more) in the process of making, using and disseminating the results of standardized testing (and its precursor educational standards), any one of which renders any results and conclusions drawn from the tests invalid.  Let’s list and discuss those sources and then examine each frame of assessment in relation to some of the errors and the resulting consequences from which the students suffer and the accompanying harms to the students in relation to the fundamental purpose of education.

The thirteen types of errors are (Wilson’s descriptions in italics):

1. Temporal errors:Practically, temporal errors are indicated by the differences in assessment description when the assessment occurs at different times.”  In other words different scores obtained for test takers on the same or psychometrically similar tests taken at different times constitute a form of error.  In psychometrics this is a reliability issue.

2. Contextual errors: Practically, contextual errors include all those differences in performance and its assessment that occur when the context of the assessment event changes.”  The context changes often, such as one student sitting in a hard old wooden desk to take the test with no air conditioning on a 95 degree day, window open and all the noises of the urban environment pouring in versus the student sitting in comfortable chair, carpeted flooring to reduce noise, in a closed silent air conditioned room.  Any differences in scores that might accrue from any number of different contextual differences are considered errors.

3. Construction errors: “Practically, construction errors are indicated by all those differences in assessment description when the same construct is assessed independently by different people in different ways.”  In psychometrics this would be another reliability issue as different types of assessments may yield different results, think of the difference of student performance on the same test taken by computer test versus a pen and pencil test both of which might even be considered psychometrically reliable.

4. Labelling errors:Practically, labelling errors are indicated by the range of meanings given to the label by all those who use it before, during or after the assessment event.”  Think of end of term grading.  A student might consider a “D” grade a perfectly fine grade whereas his teacher and probably parents would not agree and consider it a less than acceptable one.

5. Attachment errors:Practically, attachment errors are indicated by the specification of those elements and boundaries of the assessment event that have become lost in the assessment description.”  Think of the girl in the introduction who proudly proclaimed “I’m an ‘A’ student.”  The ‘A’ is a description of her prior interaction with the subject matter/curriculum not of her. We cannot logically “attach” the label to the subject matter/curriculum nor can we “attach” it to the student.  The label is of the interactions that she had with the assessment.  Attachment errors are some of the most egregious as the student internalizes those labels, many times negative and damning, through internalization or subjectivization.

6. Frame of reference errors: “Practically, frame of reference errors are indicated by specifying the frame in which the assessment is supposedly based, and indicating any slides or confusions that occur during the assessment events.”  The different assumptions about assessment made in the four frames logically do not allow for sliding between various frames in assessing student learning.  Think of having the prospective driver take a multiple choice test about driving and including the result/score in with the results of the actual driving part of a driver certification test.

7. Instrument errors:Practically, many aspects of instrument error are covered by other category errors. To avoid unnecessary overlap, I will limit the practical indicator of instrumental error to those errors implicit in the construction of the measuring instrument itself; what is conventionally called standard error of the estimate.”  In other words, what is supposed to be a guarantor of quality that allows us to know how much error in measurement a test has so that hopefully mis-categorization of student results is not obtained becomes an argument for the supposed validity of the results.  The standard error of estimate might best be considered a psychometric fudge to even out result discrepancies and is hardly ever published, certainly not for the test taker.

8. Categorization errors:Practically, categorisation errors are all those differences in assessment description that occur when particular data is compared with a particular standard to produce a categorisation of the assessed person.  Categorisation errors derive from confusions about the definition of standard of acceptability, from differences in the meaning of what is being assessed and in the magnitude of its measurement, and in the variability of the judgment process in which the comparison with the standard is made.”  Categorization errors get to the heart of the invalidities involved with attempting to assess student responses in relation to an educational standard.  Since the making of educational standards have not followed established protocol by standards organization, the individual standard itself is invalid and any attempts to use it as a basis for assessing student responses is invalid.  Standards imply a unit of measure that can be measured with more or less accuracy and there is no basic unit of student learning, to attempt to invent one out of thin air and use it as a basis of “measuring” student learning is invalid.  The abuse of the usage of the meanings of standards and measurement by the psychometric community is unethical and will be further discussed in Chapter 6.

9. Comparability errors: “Practically, comparability errors are indicated by constructing different aggregates according to the competing models. The differences that these produce indicate the comparability error.  Comparability errors include all those confusions about meaning and privileging that inhabit the addition of test scores, grades or criteria related statements.”  Again this hints at psychometric reliability issues in the comparability of test scores from two different tests that supposedly measure the same construct.  Not only that but since tests almost always assess multiple constructs, which questions of which constructs get priority not only in placement on the test but in points assigned indicate comparability errors and greatly affect the validity of the results.  Think of two different Spanish assessment that covers the same grammar and vocabulary constructs in different ways, perhaps a written and an oral test.  Which construct take precedence in each test and which section garners the lion’s share of points?

10. Prediction errors:Explicit or implicit in most assessments is the claim that they relate to some future performance, that they predict a particular product from some future event, a quality of some future action. Practically, prediction error is indicated by the differences between what is predicted by the assessment data, and what is later assessed as the case in the predicted event.”  SAT or ACT as a predictor of college success indicate prediction error due to minimal correlation.

11. Logical type errors:Logical type errors occur whenever there is confusion between statements about a class of events, and statements about individual items of that class. Practically, logical type errors are made explicit when the explicit and implicit truth claims of a particular assessment are examined and any logical type errors are made explicit. Such exposure may invalidate such claims.” Many mistake the overall score to mean much more than it is, a conglomeration of assessments of multiple constructs that in essence says nothing about the students learning of each construct.  To say that a student scored 73% on a test of German of Chapter 1 vocabulary and grammar says nothing of what the student learned.  It’s just a statement on the percentage of answers correct not on a level of student’s learning and knowledge.

12. Value errors:Practically, value errors are indicated by making explicit the value positions explicit or implicit in the various phases of the assessment event, including its consequences, and specifying any contradiction or confusion (difference) that is evident.”  Value errors are those that privilege certain values in the teaching and learning process.  Think of the Native Americans in the past who were forced to change names, learn English and study common school subjects instead of being allowed to live and learn in their own culture.  Less obvious, perhaps is the current push in some states to eliminate bi-lingual education.

13. Consequential errors:Practically, at a simplistic level, consequential errors are indicated by the differential positive and negative effects that individual teachers and students attribute to the assessment process: At a more profound level it involves an explication of the very construction of their individuality, and all of the potentially violating consequences of those constructions.”  How might student learning change when the teacher uses many weeks for standardized test preparation in order that the students may garner high scores instead of actually focusing on curriculum, allowing the teaching and learning process to continue unabated throughout the year?  How will the students internalize that process of learning to pick the correct answer instead of learning subject matter?  Consequential type errors are some of the most atrocious and intolerable of errors that results in turning the educational practices of standards and standardized testing into education malpractices.

In the Judge frame error in assessment is the difference between a teacher’s evaluations of the same work at different times—temporal errors.  It has been accepted for a long time that evaluator reliability over time in assessing students work is less than adequate.  No teacher is infallible in grading student work no matter how much training in rubrics or whatever other grading scheme is used.  Course grades as a proxy for percentage of total points earned form another source of error by the act of abridging the complex situation of the classroom teaching and learning process into a single concept, the grade.  Much valuable information of student learning is lost in this transition and thus constitutes error in assessment—logical type error.  By definition the Judge frame is subjective, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but is when the judge/teacher claims more accuracy than warranted.  And most teachers do claim more accuracy than is warranted.  In doing so the teacher is being unjust to the students through lacking “fidelity to truth” in the teacher’s claimed expertise.  And in being unjust he/she, as part of the state, “fails in its chief design” to “promote the welfare of the individual.

The psychometric fudge in the General frame attempts to alleviate the error between the “true score” and the “estimated score”.  The statistical manipulations of data are just that and have little to no relation to the realities of the teaching and learning process. As Wilson states in the same chapter “Their theoretical elegance has hidden their inapplicability to most practical learning and teaching situations; the mystification of their statistical constructs has hidden from teachers, students and public alike the enormous extent of rank order inaccuracies and grade confusion, and the arbitrary nature of all cutoffs and  [supposed] standards.”  Even though there are massive epistemological and ontological errors (see the above mentioned thirteen to name just some) throughout the whole process of educational standards and standardized testing the many supporters of those two malpractices insist that the results are objective and accurate.

With Wilson having destroyed the credibility of the assertions of objectivity and accuracy of those in the General camp, one can only surmise that they are not acting with a “fidelity to truth” attitude.  Just a cursory look at anecdotal evidence shows consequential and labelling errors and points to serious harms to students involved in this current standardized testing craze—students soiling themselves, students refusing to participate after of few minutes of frustration, students apoplectic about the effects of their scores on their teacher’s evaluation, the negative internalization of the results by students, the discrimination of ranking and sorting rewarding some and punishing others—the list goes on and on.  There is no doubt that these standardized testing regimes are a case of the state not “promot(ing) the welfare of the individual . . . and is usurpation and oppression and the state fails in its chief design.

According to the enthusiast of the Specific frame there really shouldn’t be any error as all of the learning and behavioral objectives are specifically enumerated in advance and the student responses purportely indicate a mastery of the learning or behavioral construct.  For example X percentage of correct answers on a multiple choice test means that a test taker is certified to be able to do the construct that is being tested.  Think of a written drivers test as part of obtaining a drivers license.  One usually has to get a 70% correct answer rate.  Does that mean they know all it takes to be and adequate and safe driver? Not necessarily and it is a logical type error to believe so because that written test is not a test of driving but of knowledge of just some of what goes into driving a vehicle.  Even during the actual driving test (it too is in the Specific camp) the assessor can evaluate only a small part of what it takes to drive a vehicle in all circumstances.  The driving tests hint at a number of Wilson’s errors, comparability being just one-that of determining what the actual construct being tested is (construct validity) and what types and quantity of activities, questions are sufficient (construct representation) to objectively say that the construct has been met.  Think of the prediction error in asserting that the young driver is capable of safely driving by awarding him/her the license—”Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure.

Ask a group of ten teachers how to assess a given learning objective or construct and more likely than not you’ll get ten different answers.  Choosing questions and correct answers in the Specific frame is not as simple as it first appears—value errors are many.  And as it is many tests in the Specific frame end up being tests of minimum competency as that is the easiest fashion in which to design the test.  So while some students may be able to answer one set of question satisfactory, they may not be able to answer others that may be more important in assessing the same construct.

Which students are privileged and which ones hindered by that fact?  We don’t know but we know it happens so that some are allowed to drive, to move up a grade, to begin a program of study while others aren’t.  Considering the amount of error(s) involved in just the construct representation side of the Specific frame, should the state in the form of public schools be discriminating against some through faulty assessing mechanisms?  From what we know of the purpose of government in this country and from the fundamental purpose of public education as outlined above the answer has to be an unmitigated NO lest the state “fail in its chief design” and discriminate against some and not “promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

The Responsive frame has no problem in unearthing any errors of thought, ideas, actions, and responses of the student in his/her learning process.  In the Responsive frame assessment is meant to further the learning (and teaching) process in a fashion similar to what is called a formative evaluation these days and it is not meant to be a pronouncement, a judgement of the student as in a summative evaluation.

Wilson says it well:  “Within such a frame there is no question of a right judgment, of a correct classification, of a true score. The response might be sensitive or insensitive, sophisticated or ingenuous, informed or uninformed. The verbalisation of that response might be honest or manipulative, its fullness expressed or repressed, its clarity widened or obscured. It still belongs undeniably to the assessor, and the expectation is not towards a conformity of judgment, but a diversity of reaction. The lowest common factor of agreement is replaced by the highest common multiple of difference. The subject of assessment is no longer reduced to an object by the limiting reductionism of a single number, but is expanded by the hopefully helpful feedback of diverse and stimulating and expansive response. . . This frame is, in fact, a necessary part of any educational processes that value diversity and freedom of students, and thus includes this broad equity concept of fairness and justice.”  Here we have the ideal frame to fulfill the purpose of public education “to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

As cogently stated over 2,000 years ago by Marcus Tullius Cicero “Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.”  Considering that Noel Wilson has proven that the whole enterprise of making, using and disseminating the results of the educational malpractices that are educational standards and standardized testing, that are epistemologically and ontologically lacking in fidelity to truth, would it be fair to say that currently there are many idiots in the lawmaker houses, in the state departments of education, in district central offices, and in the schools themselves?  I know my answer, do you know yours?

Read on to more fully understand the abuse and misuse of the English language that has occurred in educational standards and standardized testing discourse.  Much of that discourse falsely proclaims an objectiveness and scientific attitude that isn’t there.  I will focus on the two most fundamental concepts of those malpractices ‘standards’ and ‘measurement’ to show just how shockingly atrocious and scandalous that usage is.

  1.  See:  Chapters 13 “The Four Faces of Error” and Chapter 17 “Error and the Reconceptualization of Validity in “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.”
  2.  By evaluations I am not including multiple choice, true/false or matching questions (although there can even be errors made in grading these simple tests) but more complex grading involving rubrics or other multiple point schemes.
  4.  In his 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” which the folks at the APA, the AERA and the NCME, the supposed keepers of the holy grail of standardized testing choose to continue to ignore and not respond to at least not in their latest, 2014 version of “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing” where one would think that they would address Wilson’s concerns.  I believe they have had ample time to find out about and address those issues.  Professional irresponsibility?

Education Readings August 4th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Why there’s no such thing as a gifted child

‘… the latest neuroscience and psychological research suggests most people, unless they are cognitively impaired, can reach standards of performance associated in school with the gifted and talented. However, they must be taught the right attitudes and approaches to their learning and develop the attributes of high performers – curiosity, persistence and hard work, for example – an approach Eyre calls “high performance learning”. Critically, they need the right support in developing those approaches at home as well as at school.’

Challenging the Status Quo in Mathematics

‘In short, building relationships between how to solve a problem and why it’s solved that way helps students use what they already know to solve new problems that they face. Students with a truly conceptual understanding can see how methods emerged from multiple interconnected ideas; their relationship to the solution goes deeper than rote drilling.’

Renowned Harvard Psychologist Says ADHD Is Largely A Fraud

‘Kagan’s analysis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) concludes that it is more of an invented condition rather than a serious illness. Moreover, he thinks that the pharmaceutical industries and psychiatrists have invented the disorder because of money-making reasons.’

Guess What? We’re All Born With Mathematical Abilities

‘And also their ability to engage in cardinal reasoning i.e. knowing that the number three — when you see it on a page or hear someone say “three” — that it means exactly three, which is really at the root of our ability to count. This cardinality, in particular, seems to be the most important skill that we can measure at a very young age and then predict whether kids are going to be succeeding in a much broader assessment of math achievement when they enter kindergarten.’

What Works For Getting Kids to Enjoy Reading?

‘So in fact, getting kids to read will not only improve their reading, it will make them like reading more. Getting children to like reading more in order to prompt more reading is not our only option. We can reverse it—get them reading more, and that will improve reading attitudes and reading self-concept. Well then, how do we prompt a child with negative or indifferent attitudes toward reading to pick up a book?’

Harry Potter’s world: keeping spaces for magic making in our schools

‘We need to ensure that the spaces for creative writing and creative learning are not squeezed out of formal education and that the inspiration of Harry Potter and friends can continue to provide the means for young (and not so young people) to become immersed in real/non-real, familiar/strange and magical worlds that can become the gateway to new forms of creating understanding, being and becoming.’

Digital curriculum completely misses the point

‘I was surprised by the release of the draft digital technologies curriculum content (DTCC) a few weeks ago. Actually, I should say blind-sided. It wasn’t that a digital focus was coming to our curriculum that shocked me (it is well overdue), but rather the rigidity and narrowness of the document. I believe the DTCC has completely missed the point of education, and the place and purpose of digital technologies.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

I Am Not A Hero Teacher

‘However, when the day is done, students often are reluctant to leave. They cluster about in the hall or linger in the classroom asking questions, voicing concerns, just relieved that there’s someone there they can talk to. And that’s reason enough for me to stay. The odds are stacked against me. Help isn’t coming from any corner of our society. But sometimes despite all of that, I’m actually able to get things done. Everyday it seems I help students understand something they never knew before. I’ve become accustomed to that look of wonder, the aha moment. And I helped it happen!’

How to Be a “Great Student” and Learn Absolutely Nothing At All

‘What happens when you take a child from her sandbox — where she has learned to get dirty, play, laugh, and see the world with wide, curious eyes —to lock her into a “regime of fear” where the new Gods are efficiency and optimization?

Will she still build sand castles?’

How Data is Destroying Our Schools

‘There are teachers who will read this and think I am wrong.  They have heard the drum-beat of data-driven education since they first decided to become teachers, and they – like me, a few years back – still believe that the data is meant for them.

It isn’t.

Data is destroying education, and we need to stop it before it is too late.’

Adora Svitak on developing creativity: We need ‘childish’ thinking

‘Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.She also notes that “childish” is often associated, dismissively, with irrational thinking – but says in some cases we can, and do, truly benefit from irrationality.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Education is about playing the whole game 

‘David Perkin’s point is that formal learning rarely gives students a chance to learn to ‘play a whole game’. All too often learning by teaching isolated ‘elements’ first or students are required to ‘learn about’ things because of distant future need. In both cases ( one resulting in a ‘piecemeal’ curriculum the other lacking personal relevance) students struggle to see the point of learning. Perkins contrasts this ‘mindlessness’ to learning a new game. Education , Perkins writes, ‘aims to help people learn what they cannot pick as they go along’ unlike, he say, learning ones first language.’

Guy Claxton – building learning power.

‘Claxton’s message was that by focusing on developing students ‘learning power’ ( NZs ‘key competencies’) teachers and their students will cope the standards without too much anxiety. As Claxton quoted, ‘Are we preparing our students for a life of tests or the tests of life?’We need , he said, ‘To provide our students with the emotional and cognitive resources to become the ‘confident, connected, life long learners’; the vision of the NZ Curriculum. To achieve this is all about powerful pedagogy.’

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Four

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 4

Aesthetics and the Nature of Assessment

There are no facts, only interpretations. Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche couldn’t have known just how true his aphorism would eventually be in relation to assessing the teaching and learning process as many children at the end of the 19th century didn’t complete much schooling, perhaps only elementary school.  Standardized tests for assessing what the student supposedly knows wouldn’t be invented for another few decades.  From the advent of standardized testing the promoters of standardized tests have claimed the mantle of objectivity that the tests are a scientific method for assessing what a student has learned.  This claim of scientific objectivity–supposed facts about what a student has learned has since been thoroughly debunked by Noel Wilson and standardized testing is rightly seen by some for the less than objective or scientific “interpretation” of student learning that it is.

In assessing (interpreting?) student work, the assessor necessarily starts with some assumptions, notions of perspective from which he/she bases his/her work.  Some claim an objective frame, others a more subjective view.  Part of each frame or notion is “what is the nature of quality?” and “how do we identify it?”, in other words the aesthetics of assessing.  Aesthetics is the proper term as quality is a subset of beauty and the judging a work of art or of student work is properly viewed as an artistic expression and not a scientific one.  What are some different frameworks in which we aesthetically judge the work of students?

Wilson, in his seminal 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”, identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions or epistemological bases about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge–think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly, the General Frame–think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame–think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame–think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

The Judge frame obviously is in the subjective camp although its proponents will tell you that they are objective.  Most of us view the world through the Judge frame in our day in and day out interactions with the world where seeing is believing and damned be those who suggest that perhaps our perceptions are other than we think.  Those in the Judge frame of mind know and identify beauty, grace, buffoonery, ugly, smart people or idiots and all those other daily descriptors we use—no need for Wittgensteinian word games or post-modern relativities.  If you can’t plainly see what is there well then you’re just an ignoramus.

The General frame’s high priests, the psychometricians, would like you to believe that the General frame is in the objective scientific camp.  It’s not!  With their numbers and statistics, their correlation coefficients and item response theory, their validity and reliability pronouncements, and the supposedly standardization of the testing process, they loudly proclaim their scientificity credentials.  They’re mistaken!  The bulwarks of the General frame, of the psychometric world—educational standards and standardized testing–have rationo-logically been blown to bits, intellectually nuked by Noel Wilson in his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”.  It is a testimony to his brilliant expose that the psychometric community has never refuted nor rebutted the study, attempting to bury it in the dustbin of history by not referring to it at all.

The proponents, growing every day in the competency based education (CBE) and the computerized so called individualized instruction movement of the Specific frame, also claim to have an objective means of assessing student work.  They conveniently forget that the decisions about curriculum, what counts as objectives and activities and/or cut-off points for “competency” or passing a course or year of study are all very subjective in origin.  If nothing else in public education one can count on old malpractices to be recycled into new ones such as programmed learning or outcome based education (OBE) from the 60s, 70s and 80s morphing into computerized competency based education being heavily promoted, usually by those who have a major financial stake in products developed, to accomplish such malpractices.  Those older malpractices were abandoned because they didn’t work and made the teaching and learning process into a dry, dead monotony of worksheets and trivia.

All is not so gloom and doom, though, when it comes to assessing student learning as Wilson offers us a frame in which honesty and fidelity to truth obtain—the Responsive frame.  The proponents of the Responsive frame freely and proudly admit that it is subjective.  The interaction between the teacher and the student and his/her parents is such that the expectation is for the student to more fully understand where he/she is in relation to learning the subject matter at hand.  Some will note that the responsive frame is not as efficient as a grade or simple mark may be.  But in the long run it serves the teaching and learning process far better than any of the more supposedly efficient other three frames.  Discursive give and take between the student and teacher, student portfolios, student performances assessed by both the teacher and student, and many other evaluative activities are valued for the fullness of assessment and student awareness of that assessing in contrast to the stilted assessment of the other frames.

Which frame then embodies the concept of “fidelity to truth”?

The Judge frame is obviously subjective in its practitioners’ proclamations of student learning assessment.  And that fact is fine, except that it is never explicitly stated.  In American public education the Judge frame dominates in the grading of students, even though most teachers will deny that fact for they have the percentages of points assigned to student work to prove that what they are doing is indeed objective.  It’s not!  The usage of percentage of points earned, almost always converted to a simplistic letter grade, is not measuring student work, i.e., objective, but subjective in all aspects from choosing curriculum to devising assessment devices and the number of points used.  So by not explicitly stating up front the subjective nature of the Judge frame “fidelity to truth” is not obtained.

In contrast, the praticioners using General and Specific frames claim to be objective with their psychometric machinations and computer determined learning patterns.  But the subjective nature of these frames is hidden behind psychometric jargon and behind the subjective human decisions that determine the course of instruction and grading parameters in either standards and standardized testing or computer and any programmed learning.  The testing bible  itself suggests this supposed objectivity “As in all scientific endeavors. . . .” in talking of validity issues.  By obscuring the subjective nature of those malpractices the proponents of the General and Specific frames deceive the users and the general public.  Where is “fidelity to truth” in that?

Which leaves us with the Responsive frame.  The only frame in which the purely subjective nature of the teaching and learning process and of assessing student learning is acknowledged and used to further the student’s awareness of his/her being.  And explicitly acknowledging that subjective nature, by working in the Responsive frame, allows educators to claim a “fidelity to truth” attitude, outlook and viewpoint.

Anything less than completely encompassing “fidelity to truth” in our assessment practices, which the Judge, General and Specific frames cannot do, can only cause many harms to the students resulting in injustices being foisted upon the students.  And those harms and injustices, by definition, contradict and contravene the fundamental purpose of public education “to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry” leaving us with the only right and just framework for evaluating student learning—the Responsive frame.

  1.  For an interesting history of standardized testing see:  “The Big Test:  The Secret History of the American Meritocracy” by Nicolas Lemann.
  2.  See his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”
  3.  As defined by  Aesthetics (n) “A set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”
  4.  Scientificity is a pseudo-scientific approach and/or having the appearance of scientific thought.
  5.  Not a peep of a response to Wilson’s critiques of standards and standardized testing is found in the latest version of the testing bible “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.”  How’s that saying go?  The silence is deafening!
  6.  See footnote #3 of the introduction.
  7.  A more complete discussion of the lack of “fidelity to truth” of some of the practices, of validity and invalidity issues, of educational standards and standardized testing used in supposed measuring of student learning is to be found in Chapters 6



Education Readings July 28th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Clay in school

‘Primary-school children find clay a wonderfully tactile medium to tell their stories.

The manipulation of clay has a universal fascination for children. When given a tennis-ball sized piece of clay they immediately poke, squeeze, stretch, and roll it into a variety of forms. They add or pull out legs, arms, wings, and horns.  With pinched out lips, noses, scales, buttons and attached pellet eyes, hair and spikes, their clay models possess a directness and dynamism that only this process can provide.’

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

‘New research suggests that children as young as 3 already are beginning to recognize and follow important rules and patterns governing how letters in the English language fit together to make words.’

11 brutal truths about creativity that no one wants to talk about

‘Sorry to break it to you, but while creativity is awesome and important, it’s not the be-all and end-all.

If you’re going to do your best creative work — and isn’t that what we all want? — then it’s time to accept these 11 brutal truths about creativity.’

What Students Remember Most About Teachers

‘And as I looked at you, wearing all that worry and under all that strain, I said it’s about being there for your kids. Because at the end of the day, most students won’t remember what amazing lesson plans you’ve created. They won’t remember how organized your bulletin boards are. How straight and neat are the desk rows.

No, they’ll not remember that amazing decor you’ve designed.’

Standards: Why Realizing the Full Promise of Education Requires a Fresh Approach

Yong Zhao:

‘Furthermore, he believes that serving the best interest of all students requires a very different approach that starts with a paradigm shift in how we view education. Attempts to standardize individual student outcomes are an unhelpful, if not downright harmful, way to promote the development of human beings, he says. Instead, “we need to start with the individual child, instead of what others think [that child] should become.”’

So…What Exactly Should Curriculum Planning Look Like – for 2017/18? (Part 01)

Wisdom from Tony Gurr (read to the very end before you explode…).

‘I know, I know…most of us are still on holiday…but I am sure there are a few of us out there that are (already) experiencing anxiety about some of the tasks we have to complete when we get back to the factory floor. Especially, if a new textbook was selected just before the semester ended…

Do NOT worry…I am here to help you get over that anxiety and give you the PERFECT curriculum planning tool – shiriously!’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

How this small country school is turning a profit from the land

‘When a small Northland school was faced with the problem of what to do with their too-large grounds, a bunch of enterprising students came up with their own international award-winning solutions and everyone is now reaping the benefits.’

A Stressed System – We Need To Act Now

‘We are existing in a stressed system.  Children are stressed and show this through behaviour, reluctance to try, opting out.  Teachers are stressed and find it difficult to keep up with what is going on and all of the expectations placed on them and Principals are stressed, spending more and more time on compliance and less time supporting the children, parents and teachers in their school.  I know that a system under stress while it can continue to function, gradually shows signs of this stress, and we are seeing these signs throughout our schools on a daily basis.’

Students’ test scores tell us more about the community they live in than what they know

‘Research shows that the outcomes of standardized tests don’t reflect the quality of instruction, as they’re intended to. The results show that it’s possible to predict the percentages of students who will score proficient or above on some standardized tests. We can do this just by looking at some of the important characteristics of the community, rather than factors related to the schools themselves, like student-teacher ratios or teacher quality.’

Ofsted says non-stop testing is bad for kids. Too late, mate

‘The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, has just declared that “a good inspection outcome will follow” only if schools are providing “a broad and rich curriculum”, and not just creating “exam scribes”. Excuse me while I scream and cram myself into the fridge to stop my blood boiling, because Ofsted is rather late off the mark with this idea. About 30 years too late.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Why schools don’t educate.

Notes taken from John Taylor Gatto’s acceptance speech as New York Teacher of the Year 1990

‘Compulsory schooling is an invention of the state and in the early days in the US school attendance was resisted and children learnt to read at home – today home schooling is on the increase and these students are testing higher than their schoolmates.Gatto doesn’t believe we will get rid of schools anytime soon but that if we’re going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance we need to realize what school do well even if it does not ‘educate’. He believes that it is impossible for education and schooling to be the same thing.’

The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

‘Somehow, just because Hattie has amalgamated every piece of ‘school effectiveness’ research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings, it seems, ought to be taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case – we need to be very wary of such so called ‘meta research.’. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms. Overseas experts always seem to know best – or those that return with their carpet bag full of snake oil.’

Education for the student’s future or for our past?

‘A small country like New Zealand has a a great chance to develop a creative education system if it had the wit, the imagination and the intelligence to do so at the top. But to do this it would need to get rid of the constraints that currently diminish such a possibility. By tapping into ideas from such countries as Finland, by listening to creative teachers and schools , by inviting real educationists to visit , and most of all by having a real conversation with all communities about what they want for all their children, it could be done. There is plenty of wisdom to be tapped and it sure is not limited to those who skulk around the corridors of power.’

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Three

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 3

Justice Concerns and Educational Malpractices

‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Historically in Western thought justice along with fortitude, prudence and temperance has been considered one of the four cardinal virtues. Comte-Sponville considers it the only cardinal virtue “that is an absolute good in itself.” The other virtues can be considered good only in certain contexts; for where is the prudence in being so cautious as to not venture forth in the world for fear of calamity, in being courageous (fortitude) in a cause that is evil such as a suicide bomber who kills innocent people, or in temperance in being so ascetic with satisfying bodily desires–eating, drinking, making love so as to deny ourselves those simple pleasures?

The two components or types of justice are: justice as agreement and compliance with the law and justice as equity and fairness. I concur only with justice being a “good in itself” when it is concerned with fairness and equity (a difficult state to determine) but not when the justice of what we are dealing with is the law and the law is itself unjust in fairness and equity. Aristotle said “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” For ancient Greeks like Aristotle and Socrates whatever the law dictated was what was just, so much so that Socrates refused help to escape his sentence to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. He believed that fulfilling the social contract, the law of the time in carrying out the death sentence was the only course of justice. Was justice really served by his legal execution, even if self-inflicted? I leave the answer to others as it is beyond the scope of this book to delve into all the justice concerns involved with Socrates death.

Ideally laws would satisfy and ensure equity and fairness concerns obtain. But it doesn’t take much to realize that many laws are not just in equity and fairness concerns. Mankind, as noble as Aristotle may have wished, can indeed be less than noble than animals in the application of laws. But we humans do judge, especially in regards to issues of educational practices.

Aristotle also said “The just, then is the lawful and fair, the unjust the unlawful and unfair.” True justice therefore consists of laws, rules, policies and practices that promote the most equity and highest degree of fairness. Aristotle’s definition serves well as a starting point in analyzing, and in judging whether an educational practice is just with the caveat that, as Comte-Sponville notes, “morality and justice come before legality, at least where the essentials are concerned. . . . And what is essential? Freedom for all, the dignity of the individual and the rights of others.”

Combining our justice concerns with the fundamental purposes of education as described above we can establish a guiding principle with which to judge educational practices and outcomes: An educational policy and/or practice is just when it promotes the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.

Furthermore we must keep in mind as Comte-Sponville notes that “justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number.” For example educational practices such as grading, the testing and selection criterion for entry to “magnet schools” or select public schools, or standardized tests like the ACT when mandated as compulsory by the state and whose results are used by post-secondary institutions to sort and separate and therefore reward and punish students either through selection or denial of admittance should be rejected as being unjust due to the inherent discriminatory nature of those practices even if they are valuable for efficiency in selection for various institutions.

Continuing with Comte-Sponville’s thoughts in his chapter on justice: “without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy. . . without justice, values would be nothing more than interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.” In other words there can be no promoting of the welfare of, the well-being of the student as outlined in our fundamental purpose of public education without the entirety of justice being considered. Without justice considerations public education quickly devolves into a “what’s best for me” scenario in a Spencerian atmosphere of dog eat dog rule of the jungle.

Although both types of justice, as law and as equity and fairness are important in this study of educational malpractices it is the latter that are more applicable and important. The blind and uncompromising application of the law, of educational directives of federal, state or local origin can be viewed as a corruption of justice. Aristotle states that “the equitable is just” while also stating that equitable justice is “but a correction of legal justice.” Or as Comte-Sponville makes clear “Let us say that equity, which is not different from justice but a form of it, is applied justice, living justice, concrete justice—true justice. . . Justice does not make just people, people make justice.”

So where does that leave us when educational practices are found to be conceptually error filled resulting in invalid outcomes that by definition are unjust, that end up discriminating against many students? Lamentably, the vast majority of educators choose expediency-legal justice over justice as equity and slough off justice as equity concerns. A brave few though have challenged the unjust malpractices of the status quo usually paying a heavy price in personal health, welfare in family and professional life. Those brave souls have followed a perhaps not well known American tradition, that of civil disobedience. Let us finish up our discussion of justice with the words of an American author and philosopher who knew well the deprivations (time spent in prison) of civil disobedience:

“The mass of men [and women] serves the state [education powers that be] thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, [bureaucrats, administrators and teachers], etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.”– Henry David Thoreau [my additions]

And one last thought from Mahatma Gandhi “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” Mahatma Gandhi.

For a complete discussion of Justice see Comte-Sponville’s “A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues” Chapter 6 Justice.

Education Readings July 21st

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Ivan Snook: Assessing teachers – a plea for caution

‘In recent discussion of teaching in New Zealand it has been assumed that the achievement of students and schools can be directly attributed to the work of teachers. In its most naïve form, the claim is made that “good teachers” (that is those whose students achieve good grades) should be singled out (and somehow rewarded) and those who do not should be identified (and somehow punished). The report points out how wrong-headed this proposal is since it takes no account of the nature of the students or the progress they may make over a period of time.’

Lifelong teachers require slow-burn training

‘New modern learning environments, increasing diversity and the ever-changing world of technology demand new skills and knowledge from teachers. How should we prepare teachers in times like these?

Well that depends on the teachers we want.’

Learning vs Education

‘Life is always teaching us things, whether we notice it or not. It teaches us lessons by giving us experiences. We cannot not learn at all. For the education system, this is when the school system programs your mind by indoctrinating you with often, false ideas and beliefs, while the average person denies or even defends this.’

How to Design a School That Prioritizes Kindness and Caring

‘Abri Weissman, a senior who heads up the Making Character Count Committee, has seen a ripple effect of kindness spreading through the school, especially during the second semester. Without prompting, friends have told her stories about sweet gestures coming from classmates, none of which originated in her committee. She sees students from different grades opening up to each other, and being friendlier—a result, she believes, of the mix-it-up exercises. The morning music and enthusiastic greetings have had a positive effect, she added.’

Brain-training games ‘do not boost cognition’

Debunking of yet another fad…

‘The past decade has seen a rise in popularity of brain-training games that claim to improve a range of mental skills. However, a recent study that measured brain activity, decision-making, and cognitive ability found that playing commercial brain games offered no benefits above those of playing online video games.’

Factors Contributing to School Success by Disadvantaged Students

‘A new US study contributes to this by examining disadvantaged students’ own perceptions of what it takes to succeed at school. It found that strong peer relationships, caring supportive teachers, family and community support, and strong motivations all contribute significantly to school success by disadvantaged students.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Policies root of school failures

‘New Zealand’s education system is failing due to poor policy-making decisions based on skimpy scientific analysis, some of the country’s leading education experts say. A new report released by the Education Policy Response Group slams the Treasury’s agenda for education, saying it is fundamentally flawed.’

Difference Between Knowing and Understanding

‘Finding the difference between knowing and understanding can be difficult. It is hard to find a distinction between the two because they are both abstract processes of the mind and the brain. Being able to know their differences can lead us to a better awareness of ourselves, who we are, and what we want.’

Educational doping: how our school system encourages fake achievement

Think of a place where doping is both prevalent and systemic in a public institution and you’re probably thinking sports in Russia or East Germany, right? I’m going to argue that such doping occurs right here in New Zealand – in our education system. I don’t, of course, mean that schools are secretly feeding students speed before exams.  Rather, it’s what happens when learners are helped to achieve assessment results that exceed their actual levels of capability.’

Digital Technologies and Research

‘While the potential of technology to support teaching and learning is well established, an understanding of how to integrate technology in ways that are pedagogically sound and enriching for both young people and educators is less certain.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Henry Pluckrose – creative educator

“‘Henry Pluckrose, who has just died at the age of 79, was one of the most inspiring teachers of his generation. He believed that children have intellectual, emotional and aesthetic capacities that few adults realise and too few schools exploit’. From Guardian Newspaper obituary. As a teacher ‘his classroom resembled an artist’s studio, buzzing with activity and creative energy. Arts in the broadest sense formed the basis of his curriculum; not just art and craft, but also drama, music , poetry and dance. He gave particular emphasis to direct personal experience, taking children to museums, art galleries, churches, historic buildings, woods, fields and parks.’”

At last – a book by an inspirational teacher.

“’Welcome to the Aquarium’ is a compelling personal account of teaching full of wise advice on how to set up and maintain an effective and caring classroom. I can’t think of any recent book which talks about teaching through the eyes of a teacher. It is wonderful change from the dry academic books on education that are more commonly available; books that develop their ‘wisdom’ from a safe academic distance.”