This week we are discussing Chapter 19: The Trouble with Testing and Chapter 24 The Homework Debate. Scott Wiley will provide insight and lead our discussion this week. Just joining us? Get all the book study details HERE.
Chapters 19 and 24 bring up two issues that I wouldn’t think would arise in early childhood—testing and homework. I know that some 5-year-olds are sitting in a room, listening to instructions being read and coloring in small circles with No. 2 pencils. I’ve read about (and seen) kindergartners taking home pages of homework at night (usually worksheets that need to be filled in). These issues are real for some of our youngest students; and these issues are problems for other grades, too.
Testing is a popular word among education reformers today. Standardized testing is touted as the “best way” to determine effective learning. It’s objective, it’s measurable, it’s easy to do. But it doesn’t really tell us much.
At best, a test only shows a snapshot of the student at that moment in time. If the test had been on a different day or a different time of day, if the student had a different start to his day or the room had been different – if any of these things had been different, the results may have been different. If a test is only a snapshot, how can real decisions and conclusions be extrapolated from it?
Observations and real world work can show much more about a student’s progress. Once, in a first grade class, we had a writing assessment. Students wrote in response to a prompt (after reading a book together). As the group of teachers evaluated the assessments, we read the work of one of my students. He was rated low on his writing. But I wanted to say, “Yes, compared to other students’ writing, his is a low performance. But you should have seen where he started.” At the beginning of the year, this student drew pictures and wrote a few letters in his journal. Now he was writing complete sentences, with most of the letters for each word. He may have written only 2-3 sentences, but they were meaningful, on topic, and had multiple words. He was seriously progressing in his writing.
Based on the one writing assignment, this student was under-performing. But in reviewing his past several weeks of writing, it was obvious that he was growing in his writing ability. Standardized testing gives one point of reference. Looking at work over time, conferencing with students, constantly reviewing what students are doing, and providing assistance as needed, are more effective ways to evaluate a student and his progress.
In thinking about testing, we should ask WHY? Why are we giving this test? What do we hope to learn or accomplish? And then we should look for ways to accomplish that task with less anxiety and more developmentally appropriate means. The trouble is, these types of assessments take more time and are less “tidy” than standardized testing.
Regarding homework, we should also ask WHY? What is the purpose of giving homework? As Rae Pica states, “The research clearly shows no correlation between academic achievement and homework in elementary school.”
In many cases, homework is given for practice or mastery. However, homework can be a determent to achievement. Kids stop reading for pleasure because they associate reading with work and not with enjoyment. Homework can increase stress, tantrums, and physical ailments. And practice, if not done correctly, will not help students improve their skills.
At my last school, I found homework was not an effective (or efficient) method. Many kids had little support at home to get homework done. I spent time chasing down work or reminding kids of it. I asked myself why I was assigning it and chose more effective ways to meet those goals. I encouraged kids to read every night and helped them find books to take home and read. Did all of them read each night? No. But they wouldn’t have done homework either.
As you are thinking about homework and testing, especially in younger grades, consider these questions:
- Why am I doing this? What do I want to accomplish? What is the most effective way to get to that goal?
- How can I use authentic ways to assess what children know and what they need to know?
- How can we practice skills in fun ways that create lasting learning?
- What ways can I use to encourage children to continue learning at home? How can I encourage them to follow their own interests in meaningful ways?
R. Scott Wiley
Blog: Brick by Brick http://scottsbricks.blogspot.com/
Please share/retweet this post! Let us know that you’re participating in this study. We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts regarding Chapters 19 and 24 and about the commentary Scott has provided. Your voice matters – participate in the dialogue and share your ideas here! (Comment below) If you’ve chosen to blog about what you’ve read on your own site, link back and share your post with us here. Perhaps you have a burning question about something that you read in one of these chapters… we have a feature for that – Ask The Author! That’s right, Rae Pica will be available throughout this live study to answer your questions. #AskAuthor
What to read next: Chapter 20 Failure Is An Option and Chapter 26 No More Good Job (11/9/15).
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