Education Readings September 1st

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate…

‘Why do we believe that this model is adequate for the demands of a complex, global innovation society?’

http://bit.ly/2wNgNiG

Raising an UnTrump

Alfie Kohn:

‘When the words “Trump” and “children” appear in the same sentence, it’s often because the writer is trying to figure out how to protect the latter from the former. How do we shield our offspring not only from what this man does (particularly if the youngsters in question are at risk of being harassed or deported) but from who he is? How do we explain to our kids that someone who bullies, lies, and boasts about assaulting women has made it to the White House? The news these days presents parents and educators with what might be described as a series of teachable moments that we never asked for and cannot easily avoid.’

http://bit.ly/2xsfbbj

Comics And Reluctant Learners: Dispelling The Myths

‘When I hear teachers say things like this, or that comics are only for the “kids who don’t like to read,” I feel they’re buying into a common myth: that reluctant readers are the only ones who can benefit from comics. While it’s true that comics and graphic novels do work well with reluctant readers, that’s precisely because they work well with nearly all readers.’

http://bit.ly/2wEsmbD

When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning

‘Some things are worth memorizing–addresses, PINs, your parents’ birthdays. The sine of π/2 is not among them. It’s a fact that matters only insofar as it connects to other ideas. To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence “Hamlet kills Claudius” without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is–or, for what matter, of what “kill” means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding.’

http://theatln.tc/2xHTFhU

Personalized Learning Without People – An Education Scam from the 1980s Returns

‘Sometimes it seems that education policy is nothing but a series of scams and frauds that becomes untenable in one generation only to pop up again 10 or 20 years later with a new name. Take Personalized Learning, the latest digital product from the ed-tech industry to invade your local public school. It’s cutting edge stuff.

Except that it isn’t.’

http://bit.ly/2vCEW7g

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

National Standards: Are they working?

‘A new book by Waikato University’s Professor Martin Thrupp effectively warns other countries against the policy in its title, The Search for Better Educational Standards: A Cautionary Tale. Thrupp is horrified by those cards on the wall at Sylvia Park.”I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to have that kind of positioning for students who find themselves in the low group year after year,” he says.’

http://bit.ly/2wE8lBT

The Cold Truth About Personalized Learning

‘This – this twisting and standardizing of the hopes and dreams we have for our children, and the cruel and cold replacement of efficiency and linearity for the messy and impossible to measure qualities like good humor in life that make school memorable, joyful, and maybe even irresponsible every now and then – is precisely the danger we face right now.’

http://bit.ly/2gkbJeO

Using Technology Doesn’t Make You Innovative

‘If a classroom gets iPads, a question you will often hear immediately is, “What apps should I download?”  In our concern for machines taking over education, we often do things that encourage machines to take over our teaching.’

http://bit.ly/2vyPsfJ

One in five boys with behavioural problems lag behind in maths and reading

‘One in five boys in year 3 have an emotional or behavioural problem that sees them lag a year behind their peers in reading and numeracy, according to research that stresses the mental health of young people needs to be a focus in primary schools.’

http://bit.ly/2vypolb

To Develop Future-Ready Students, Project-Based Lessons Teach Real World Skills

‘Recent research indicates there is a direct and undeniable correlation between improved student outcomes and integrating SEL and life skills—like problem-solving, collaboration, and good judgment—into existing curriculum. What’s more, teachers value these skills. So do employers. They help changes lives, break the cycle of inequity, and foster economic opportunity.’

http://bit.ly/2gkH94v

Researchers: Ask ‘what’s right?’ — not ‘what’s wrong?’ — with kids from poor, stressful backgrounds

‘Over the past decade, the share of public-school students who live in poverty in Washington state has grown from about 37 percent in 2006 to 44 percent as of last year.

As that number rises, so too has the body of research showing the short- and long-term effects of living as a child in stressful environments. Studies have found, for example, that poor children achieve less, have more behavior problems and are less healthy than peers raised in wealthier families.But for Vlad Griskevicius, a professor of marketing and psychology at the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota, such studies tell only half the story.’

http://bit.ly/2vCa6M6

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Industrial age systems past their ‘use by date’.

‘Charlie Chaplin was aware of the problem in the early years of the last century!  It was Thomas Kuhn who was the first to introduce us to the idea of paradigms – the idea that we all live in world that we have all ‘bought into’ unconsciously. A potential for a shift happens when we are exposed to new ideas but, all too often our mindsets are so fixed, we cannot understand new ideas let alone make the change. Kuhn was talking about the difference between traditional science theories and new revolutionary ideas.’

http://bit.ly/2gjU8nb

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

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 7

Ethics in Educational Practices

‘Ethics are more important than laws.’   Wynton Marsalis

While many, especially those who make a living off of working with laws, might disagree with Marsalis’ statement much is to be said for this simple thought.  Much like with justice and truth, most folks believe they know what ethics are.  Merriam-Webster Online states:

1 plural but sing or plural in constr:  the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.

2a:  a set of moral principles:  a theory or system of moral values <the present day materialistic ethic> <an old fashioned work ethic> –often used in plural but singular or plural in construction <an elaborate ethics> <Christian ethics> b:  the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group <professional ethics> c:  a guiding philosophy d:  a consciousness of moral importance <forge a conservation ethic>

3:  a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness) <debated the ethics of human cloning>

As with justice and truth, the topic of ethics has been debated for millennia.  The scope of this chapter does not allow for even a short discussion of the historical issues of ethics and will focus on the current and practical concerns of ethics in educational practices.  As it is, this book falls under the meaning of definition #3 as debating the “moral issues or aspects” of certain educational practices.  As part of that examination I will briefly discuss professional codes of ethics-definition #2b.  And in the spirit of definition #1 of dealing “with what is good and bad” with certain educational practices, and using the fundamental purpose of public education as stated above as the guiding philosophy-definition #2c) I attempt to will forge “a consciousness of moral importance”-definition #2d.

A number of different professional teacher and teacher preparation organizations have promulgated their own code of teacher professional ethics.  In examining a few of them I’ve chosen to use three organization’s codes as typical to extract common statements that will serve as guides to what teacher professional ethics can be.  The American Association of Educators (AAE) code of ethics lists three main categories of ethics:  1) In relation to the students and parents, 2) In relation to practices and performance and 3) in relation toward professional colleagues.  The National Association of State Directors of Teacher and Education Certification (NASDTEC) code details five:  1) responsibility to the profession, 2) respect for professional competence, 3) respect for students, 4) responsibility to the school community and 5) responsible and ethical use of technology.  The National Education Association (NEA) has only two:  1) in relation toward students and 2) in relation to the profession of teaching.

By far the most comprehensive of the three is the NASDTEC code with many pages of detailed commentary.  The AAE code is roughly two pages with some commentary.  And the NEA code can fit on one page with a preamble accounting for about one third and then basic listings of areas of ethical considerations.  The AAE and the NEA focus first on ethics in relation to students and then toward the profession and practices.  The NASDTEC code starts with an overview then lists two sections dealing with ethics in regard to the profession, one for students, one for the school community and in what appears to be a recent addition one on the ethics of technology usage.  All three have short summaries of each section.

Ethics in regard to students and towards practices and performance, are the two categories that interest us and warrant further commentary along with a quick caveat about ethics toward the profession of teaching itself.  Obviously teachers’ main ethical concern should primarily be directed toward the student as noted by the AAE code:  “The professional educator deals considerately and justly with each student, and seeks to resolve problems, including discipline, according to law and school policy” and “the professional educator makes a constructive effort to protect the student from conditions detrimental to learning, health, or safety.” What happens when “law and school policy” actually hinder those dealings as hinted at in the end of the statement?  The answer to follow.  Or from the NEA code:  “the educator shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.

In regard to ethical considerations in relation to professional competence and practices the NASDTEC code states:  “The professional educator demonstrates responsible use of data, materials, research and assessment . . . and the professional educator acts in the best interests of all students. . . .”  And the AAE code offers:  “The professional educator assumes responsibility and accountability for his or her performance and continually strive to demonstrate competence.  The professional educator endeavors to maintain the dignity of the profession by respecting and obeying the law, and by demonstrating personal integrity.

Would not “personal integrity” entail not only “respecting and obeying the law” but to stridently opposing and challenging the law or policy that mandates the malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing that are “detrimental to learning, health or safety” of the students?  Unfortunately, teachers are under constant pressure to institute and maintain those fundamentally and fatally flawed malpractices.  The vast majority of public school educators, especially administrators, believe that upholding the ethics toward the profession and its practices holds sway over upholding ethics towards the students.  While doings so may be quite beneficial to the educators, it serves to cause harm to the students as their interests play second or third fiddle to administrative decrees which is backwards to the interests of justice for the student.

That teachers and administrators put more emphasis in compliance with state department of education or federal directives and/or laws should not and cannot trump justice for the students.  Again Comte-Sponville:

“Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete. . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . 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 [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value. . . . Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.” [my additions]

Keeping that in mind, let’s examine the two most dominant educational malpractices of today–educational standards and standardized testing by utilizing the condensed statements of teacher professional ethics with our fundamental ethical statement of the purpose of American public education in conjunction with a discussion of the demonstrated invalidity and lack of fidelity to truth in educational standards and standardized testing regimes and how all of that plays out in relation to ethical and justice concerns.

How was it that America became the “top dog” nation of the world by the end of the 20th Century without having a standardized public education system?  In the past century over 13,000 separate and distinct school districts went along, doing their own thing, developing their own curriculums as seen fit by the local democratically elected school boards.  And the result of that variety, multiplicity and non-standardization?  An educational non-system that the world admired, copied and emulated.  Why then the push for standardization in the very late 90s and in this current century?  There are many reasons, most having to do with the neo-liberal ideology in free markets and choice but that is not our concern.

Educational standards and standardized testing form the basis for federal and state mandated practices such as rating and ranking students, schools and districts, and teacher assessment through such invalid schemes such as Hanushek’s Value Added Methodology (VAM) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGP).  Considering that the standards and testing malpractices cause significant harm not only to the students but also  to teachers and schools through invalid schemes, that the errors, falsehoods and unfounded claims by proponents of standards and standardized testing render said practices invalid, unethical, unjust and contravene the fundamental purpose of American public education, these mandates violate the trust of the citizenry by not fulfilling the stated purpose of American public education of promoting “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“.

Our concern is the invalidity of, the injustice of, the unethicalness of and the broken promise of providing to our children an education that 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” in the educational standards and standardized testing regime.

In “Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing” it states at the very beginning of Chapter 1-Validity that “validity refers to the degree to which evidence and theory support the interpretations of test scores for the stated proposed uses of tests.  Validity is, therefore, the most fundamental consideration in developing tests and evaluating tests” (my emphasis) and I would include the standards upon which those tests are supposedly based in that development Noel Wilson has addressed those validity concerns in his review of the prior version of the “Standards. . .” in “A Little Less than Valid:  An Essay Review” stating “To the extent that these categorisations are accurate or valid at an individual level, these decisions may be both ethically acceptable to the decision makers, and rationally and emotionally acceptable to the test takers and their advocates. They accept the judgments of their society regarding their mental or emotional capabilities. But to the extent that such categorisations are invalid, they must be deemed unacceptable [and unethical] to all concerned.” (my emphasis) The brilliance of Wilson’s proofs of the invalidities of educational standards and standardized testing is in his flipping the concept of validity as proposed in the “Standards. . .” into one of invalidity as far as the test taker is concerned.

Taking into account Wilson’s proofs of the invalidities of educational standards and standardized testing we can only conclude that any results are therefore invalid, false, error prone and lacking a fidelity to truth as all the psychometric error factors are kept hidden from all but a select few involved in the promotion and dissemination of those malpractices.  As such those malpractices can only be considered unethical and unjust.  When have the proponents made explicitly clear those validity (and reliability) concerns?  Hardly ever, especially not to the person taking the tests.  They can’t!  Wilson has proven the fundamental concepts to be epistemologically and ontologically bankrupt.  All the errors in classification, in labelling, in construction, in slides of frame of reference, etc., which Wilson has identified are never addressed.  By not explicitly acknowledging all the errors in the process, proponents of the standards and testing regime are not being honest and therefore lack the fidelity to truth that should be the guiding principle for all educators.  Their actions must be considered unethical.

Not only that but since these practices cause untold harm through false conclusions that result in students being denied certain educational goals and aspirations the process must be deemed unethical as a violation of the ethical principle of “the educator shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning”.  False and error filled test results can only insure to produce those harmful conditions and, therefore, rightly should be rejected on ethical grounds.  The results of the tests discriminate against some students not only through mis-categorization but also in falsely labeling (grading) some students as beginning, not proficient, average or whatever other terminology is used to describe the various categories of results.

Should the state be discriminating against individual students through invalid, harmful, unethical and unjust malpractices that are educational standards and standardized testing?

Considering that the fundamental purpose of public education in America can be summarized as “. . . 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” there is only one answer:

NO!


  1.  See:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethic
  2.  The National Education Association (NEA): http://www.nea.org/home/30442.htm;  The American Association of Educators (AAE): http://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/about-us/aae-code-of-ethics; and The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC):  http://www.nasdtec.net/?page=MCEE_Doc
  3.  The story of that ideology and its practices that have done so much damage to American public education is easily located by a quick internet search.  An excellent review is to be found in Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
  4.  See:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value-added_modeling
  5.  See:  http://www.rand.org/education/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/student-growth-percentiles.html
  6.  See:  The AERA/APA/NCME’s “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing”
  7.  See:  http://www.edrev.info/essays/v10n5.pdf

 

Education Readings August 25th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Sir Ken Robinson’s education revolution

A refresher course for you about Sir Ken. Interesting little anecdote here – a Liverpool music teacher had two of the Beatles in his class yet failed to recognise their musical talents. That’s a lesson that shows how unreliable assessment and teacher judgement is, so why does the system persist in trying to prove otherwise?

‘Robinson believes that the current systems of mass education are outmoded, too standardised, and stifle true learning.

“My view of it is that in many respects they are modelled on principles of factory production, like, for example, we educate our kids in batches by age – all the three-year-olds, all the four-year-olds, shunting through the system. There’s no educational reason to do that – it’s an efficiency ideal.”’

http://bit.ly/2xdzIQN

When Schools Forgo Grades: An Experiment In Internal Motivation

‘Because grades are often required, and easy to understand, they have become the focus for many parents, teachers and students. The problem is that grades are often subjective, arbitrary and can be demotivating to students. They are also gatekeepers for advanced classes and college admissions, so grades can’t be ignored. This complicated dynamic means that grading policies are at the center of discussions around how to change teaching and learning.’

http://bit.ly/2is9ZAM

This is exactly how our society kills creativity, in a breathtaking short film.

“Do yourself a favor and take some time out of your daily grind to be charmed by this beautifully crafted animation into reflecting on the woeful values of our society.’

http://bit.ly/2vq3TSD

How To Engage In Pseudoscience With Real Data: A Criticism Of John Hattie’s Arguments In Visible Learning 

A long and technical article; however a skim read will give the gist of it, so henceforth you will treat Hattie’s pronouncements with a healthy dose of skepticism.

‘When taking the necessary in-depth look at Visible Learning with the eye of an expert, we find not a mighty castle but a fragile house of cards that quickly falls apart. This article offers a critical analysis of the methodology used by Hattie from the point of view of a statistician. We can spin stories from real data in an effort to communicate results to a wider audience, but these stories should not fall into the realm of fiction. We must therefore absolutely qualify Hattie’s methodology as pseudoscience.’

http://bit.ly/2v7HXk1

Kids Are Losing Playtime to Achievement. That’s a Problem.

‘The decline of play and rise of the overscheduled child has become a national concern. Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, says that kids learn from observation, practice, and support. Most of this is done through play. But what happens when we limit the time kids spend playing, and what does our obsession with “high achievement” say about our culture as a whole?’

http://bit.ly/2xualJH

Why no one wants to teach in New Zealand

‘Recent analysis also shows that teachers only tend to stay in the job for about five years. They often leave because they are burnt out by the demands of teaching, an increasingly narrow and prescriptive curriculum, and by policy initiatives that promise much, deliver very little, and are quickly replaced by some “new” policy that is equally ineffective and short term. No wonder it feels like ground zero out there for so many teachers.’

http://bit.ly/2wzwD07

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Three minutes to appreciate Finnish Schools

Michael Moore documentary clip on Finland’s school system.

http://bit.ly/2wGca9j

On the Wildness of Children: The Revolution Will Not Take Place in the Classroom

‘The truth is, we don’t know how to teach our children about nature because we ourselves were raised in the cinderblock world. We are, in the parlance of wildlife rehabilitators, unreleasable. I used to do wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and the one thing we all knew was that a young animal kept too long in a cage would not be able to survive in the wild. Often, when you open the door to the cage, it will be afraid to go out; if it does go out, it won’t know what to do.  The world has become unfamiliar, an alien place. This is what we have done to our children.’

http://bit.ly/2vpHvc8

Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Testing

‘The assessment itself is completely artificial. It’s not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who will reach their potential, explore their creative interests. Those things you’re not testing.. it’s a rank that’s mostly meaningless. And the very ranking itself is harmful. It’s turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank. Not into doing things that are valuable and important.’

http://bit.ly/1waGc0j

Kids’ Creativity: Two Important Questions for Parents to Consider

‘Parents typically want to encourage their children’s creative expression. However, uncertainties and misconceptions about creativity abound. Here are two questions that merit thought and discussion—along with ideas so parents can foster kids’ creativity to the fullest.’

http://bit.ly/2vh1Ktb

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

An amoeba – a model for future change!

‘If we want to thrive, in what is being called the ‘Age of Creativity’, we need to see our organisations as living complex organisms able to create all sorts of wonderous things as we work in concert with each other. That’s more impressive than the simple amoeba. Schools as living communities – now that is a powerful metaphor.’

http://bit.ly/1hRC8eF

Educational change and leadership – bottom up!

‘The principal’s role is to ensure such gifts are affirmed and shared with other teachers. The principal’s role is to create the conditions for the expertise of teachers to be shared and to develop an overarching vision and agreed teaching beliefs for all to hold themselves accountable.’

http://bit.ly/1baSNPr

Beautiful minds – ‘in a world of their own’.

‘The capacity of the brain is infinite. Lucky for most of us so called ‘normal’ people our brains suppress, or filter out, most of the information coming our way but for the savants their brains take in everything in their particular sphere of interest without interference. It is as if they have no ‘delete’ button; their mind, like a ‘Google’ search, recalls everything! And as a result they miss out on capacities such as social and practical skills that we all take for granted.’

http://bit.ly/1AP1qD1

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

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 6

Of Standards and Measurement

Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence. Henri Frederic Amiel

How can anyone be against having standards in the classroom, standards for behavior or learning?  Kind of hard to argue against, eh!  What is so wrong with holding students accountable to educational standards?  Nothing!  Except when the term standard is inappropriately and incorrectly used to mean one thing while purporting to signify another, in other words lacking fidelity to truth.

Surely we need to and must measure student achievement.  How are we going to know how the student stands up to the standard?  How are we to know how the students in one class, district or state do in comparison to other classes, districts or states if we don’t measure student achievement?

The silence is deafening in regard to the lack of logical thought and the abuse of the language that permeates educational discourse in the standards and measurement movement.  The standards and measurement meme in public education has been a part of policies and practices for at least the last quarter of a century.  Even before NCLB, state departments of education were making and disseminating “standards” as guides for classroom curriculum.  And the emphasis was being guides and not some supposed “standard” against which educational outcomes could be supposedly “measured” for not only the student but teacher, school and district.  It wasn’t until the passage of NCLB in 2001 that the standards and measurement meme has come to completely dominate not only school life but the policy and practice arenas from the legislatures to state departments of educations to district boards and into the schools.

The standards and measurement movement is choking the life out of our public school classrooms!

It is causing innumerable harms to students, distorting curriculum and the teaching and learning process, many times into a year-long test prep program, causing districts to drop many electives, foreign languages, band, choir, and many others not related to the two main tested subjects English and Math.  Not only that but in the elementary level many students are now deprived of much needed recess/play time, gone are learning stations in favor of drill and kill methods of attempting to raise test scores.  Ever increasing test scores have become the predominant driver of curriculum since NCLB was signed into law.

In order to untangle this mess of educational malpractices that standards and measurement discourse has brought about we first need to examine exactly what are standards and measurements in a broader logical context which then will enable us to ascertain just how damaging the misuse of language, the twisted use of logic that makes the standards and measurement movement appear to be THE way to improve the teaching and learning processes in American public schools.  It will then be shown that using the false and error filled practices of educational standards and standardized testing contravene the fundamental purpose of public education causing, at times, irrevocable harm to the student in not guaranteeing “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.

The word standard is in the top 1000 most used words in American English and the Miriam Webster online dictionary gives the following definitions:

Standard

1:  a conspicuous object (as in a banner) formerly carried at the top of a pole and used to mark a rallying point especially in battle or to serve as an emblem

2a:  a long narrow tapering flag that is personal to an individual or corporation and bears heraldic devices  b:  the personal flag of the head of state or of a member of a royal family  c:  an organization flag carried by a mounted or motorized military unit  d:  banner

3:  something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example:  criterion <quite slow by today’s standards>

4:  something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of a quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality

5a:  the fineness and legally fixed weight of the metal used in coins  b:  the basis of value in a monetary system <the gold standard>

6:  a structure built for or serving as a base of support

7a:  a shrub or herb grown with an erect main stem so that it forms or resembles a tree  b:  a fruit tree grafted on the stock that does not induce dwarfing

8a:  the large odd upper petal of a papilionaceous flower (as of the pea)  b.  one of the three inner usually erect and incurved petals of an iris

9:  a musical composition (as a song) that has become a part of the standard repertoire

For the purposes of this discussion, obviously definitions 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 do not concern us.  It is the somewhat similar and perhaps inter-confusing definitions of 3 and 4 that interest us.

As mentioned above before NCLB the definition of standard as used in the individual state’s curriculum standards and even today in curriculum standards promulgated and promoted by subject area organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics or the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages the term standard as used fell/falls under definition three as they were never meant to be used as “a rule for the measure of a quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality” as in definition four but as a model for teachers to use.  Confusing indeed!

Another way to look at the concept of standards is that there are two accepted types of standards, metrological and documentary.

Metrology is the science of measurement and a metrological standard “is an object, system, or experiment that bears a defined relationship to a unit of measurement of a physical quantity.  Standards are the fundamental reference for a system of weights and measures, against which all other measuring devices are compared. Measurements are defined in relationship to internationally-standardized reference objects, which are used under carefully controlled laboratory conditions to define the units of length, mass, electrical potential, and other physical quantities.

A documentary standard “is a document established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.

Many governmental departments promulgate documentary standards, for example the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) while at the same time being the certifying agent to ensure that the standards are followed.  The ISO promulgates international standards but is not the certifying agency, other agencies do the certifying of companies compliance with their standards.  From the EPA:

“When developing regulations, the first thing we do is ask if a regulation is needed at all. Every regulation is developed under slightly different circumstances but this is the general process: 

Step 1: EPA Proposes a Regulation 

The agency researches the issues and, if necessary, proposes a regulation, also known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The proposal is listed in the Federal Register (FR) so that members of the public can consider it and send their comments to us. The proposed rule and supporting documents are also filed in EPA’s official docket on Regulations.gov 

Step 2: EPA Considers Your Comments and Issues a Final Rule 

Generally, once we consider the comments received when the proposed regulation was issued, we revise the regulations accordingly and issue a final rule. This final rule is also published in the FR and in EPA’s official docket on Regulations.gov. 

Step 3: The Regulation is Codified in the Code of Federal Regulations 

Once a regulation is completed and has been printed in the FR as a final rule, it is codified when it is added to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is the official record of all regulations created by the federal government. . . . ” 

The ISO has strict rules for making and issuing standards.  The key principles in standard(s) development:

1.  ISO standards respond to a need in the market.

ISO does not decide when to develop a new standard, but responds to a request from industry or other stakeholders such as consumer groups. Typically, an industry sector or group communicates the need for a standard to its national member who then contacts ISO.

2. ISO standards are based on global expert opinion.

ISO standards are developed by groups of experts from all over the world that are part of larger groups called technical committees. These experts negotiate all aspects of the standard, including its scope, key definitions and content.

3. ISO standards are developed through a multi-stakeholder process.

The technical committees are made up of experts from the relevant industry, but also from consumer associations, academia, NGOs and government.

4. ISO standards are based on a consensus

Developing ISO standards is a consensus-based approach and comments from all stakeholders are taken into account.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and all other state educational standards might be considered a documentary standard but in the development of the standards no procedures have followed the formal protocol and processes as outlined by the OSI or government agencies in their development.

In addition to that and perhaps even worse is that the proponents of these standards claim that the CCSS are standards against which ‘student achievement’ can be measured.  In doing so educational standards proponents claim the documentary standard (definition three) as a metrological standard (definition four).  In doing so they are falsely claiming a meaning of standard that should not be given credence.

This confusion is compounded by what it means to measure something and the similar misuse of the meaning of the word measure by the proponents of the standards and testing regime.  Assessment and evaluation perhaps can be used interchangeably but assessment and evaluation are not the same as measurement.  Word usage matters!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of measure includes the following:

1a (1):  an adequate or due portion (2):  a moderate degree; also: moderation, temperance (3):  A fixed or suitable limit:  bounds <rich beyond measure> b:  the dimensions, capacity or amount of something ascertained by measuring c:  an estimate of whit is to be expected (as of a person or situation d: (1):  a measured quantity (2):  amount, degree

2a:  an instrument or utensil for measuring b (1):  a standard or unit of measurement—see weight table (2):  A system of standard units of measure <metric measure>

3:  the act or process of measuring

4a (1):  melody, tune (2):  dance; especially:  a slow and stately dance  b:  rhythmic structure or movement: cadence:  as (1):  poetic rhythm measured by temporal quantity or accent; specifically:  meter (2):  musical time c (1):  a grouping of a specified number of musical beats located between two consecutive vertical lines on a staff (2):  a metrical unit:  foot

5: an exact divisor of a number

6:  a basis or standard of comparison <wealth is not a measure of happiness

7:  a step planned or taken as a means to an end; specifically:  a proposed legislative act

Measure as commonly used in educational standard and measurement discourse comes under definitions 1d, 2, and 3, the rest not being pertinent other than to be used as an obfuscating meaning to cover for the fact that, indeed, there is no true measuring against a standard whatsoever in the educational standards and standardized testing regimes and even in the grading of students.  What we are left with in this bastardization of the English language is a bewildering befuddle of confusion that can only serve to deceive many into buying into intellectually bankrupt schemes that invalidly sort, rate and rank students resulting in blatant discrimination with some students rewarded and others punished by various means such as denying opportunities to advance, to not being able to take courses or enroll in desired programs of study.

The most misleading concept/term in education is “measuring student achievement” or “measuring student learning”.  The concept has been misleading educators into deluding themselves and others that the teaching and learning process can be analyzed/assessed using “scientific” methods which are actually pseudo-scientific at best and at worst a complete bastardization of rationo-logical thinking and language usage.

There never has been and never will be any “measuring” of the teaching and learning process and what each individual student learns in their schooling.  There is and always has been assessing, evaluating, judging of what students learn but never a true “measuring” of it.

The TESTS MEASURE NOTHING, quite literally when you realize what is actually happening with them. Richard Phelps, a staunch standardized test proponent (he has written at least two books defending the standardized testing malpractices) in the introduction to “Correcting Fallacies About Educational and Psychological Testing” unwittingly lets the cat out of the bag with this statement:

Physical tests, such as those conducted by engineers, can be standardized, of course, but in this volume, we focus on the measurement of latent (i.e., nonobservable) mental, and not physical, traits.

Notice how he is trying to assert by proximity that educational standardized testing and the testing done by engineers are basically the same, in other words a “truly scientific endeavor”.  The same by proximity is not a good rhetorical/debating technique.

Since there is no agreement on a standard unit of learning, there is no exemplar of that standard unit and there is no measuring device calibrated against said non-existent standard unit, how is it possible to “measure the nonobservable”?

PURE LOGICAL INSANITY!

Finally, what the proponents of the educational standards and standardized testing regime don’t appear to understand is that in many areas of human interactions and feelings there cannot be any measurement.  How does one measure the love of one’s spouse, children, parents or friends?  How does one measure what is going on in the heart and mind of a distressed person who has just lost a loved one?  Why do we even begin to think that we can measure what goes on in the body and brain of the student who is learning any subject matter considering all the various hormonal and endocrinal influences occurring outside the individual’s control, with the hundreds of millions if not billions of neuronal firings going on at any given moment that partially influence what happens in the mind of the student in a teaching and learning situation?  How do we believe that the thousands and thousands of environmental influences on each individual could begin to be measured and accounted for?  Are proponents of the educational standards and standardized testing “measurement” regime that arrogant, hubristic and presumptuous to believe that they hold the key to supposedly measuring the teaching and learning process or more specifically, the learning, aka, student achievement, of an individual student?

Considering the facts of the misuse of language, logic and common sense as outlined above, the only wise course of action is to immediately cease and desist, to abandon, those malpractices that harm so many students and contravene the state’s responsibility in providing a public education for all students.  The billions of dollars spent by states on the educational standards and standardize testing regime would then be freed up to provide a better education for all students through perhaps such things as smaller class sizes, needed social services, foreign language instruction, arts programs, etc.  And the state, by approving and mandating the fake standards and false measuring of student learning that are the malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing, by not adhering to a regimen of fidelity to truth is surely guilty of not promoting “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.


  1.  I purposely used “do” and not “are learning” as the teaching and learning process is not amenable to simplistic comparisons.
  2.  Yes, play time.  The research on the importance of play time for elementary (K-8) students in social and academic development is overwhelming.
  3.  And that dominance was greatly enlarged by the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” federal mandates in 2009.  What a bizarrely craven way to attempt to improve the teaching and learning process, by having states compete for monies only if they enacted certain unethical malpractices such as using standardized testing not only for sorting and ranking students but also evaluating teachers and schools districts.
  4.  From the Oxford Online Dictionary, see: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/top1000/american_english
  5.  See:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/standard
  6.  See:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_(metrology)#cite_note-1
  7.  From the National Institute for Standards and Technology
  8.  ISO is the French acronym used in describing standards.  In English the ISO means the International Organization for Standardization.
  9.  From the EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/basics-regulatory-process
  10.  See:  http://www.iso.org/iso/home/standards_development.htm
  11.  The scope of this study does not include a discussion of the nefarious process by which the CCSS were made and forced upon the states through what might easily be considered monetary extortion by the Federal Department of Education.
  12.  Now whether that claim, a documentary standard as a metrological one, is intentionally misleading or not I leave up to the reader.  Personally I don’t believe they have the knowledge to understand the difference.  And while that attempt may be well intentioned we know that “The road to hell. . . . “
  13.  See:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/measure
  14.  The suggestions only begin to scratch the surface of what might be done and which must be determined by each public school community.
  15.  The false and misleading language embedded in these practices surely must qualify them for the designation of malpractice.

 

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.
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
  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?

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 oxforddictionaries.com:  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

 

 

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.