By September 22, 2016 Uncategorized 1 Comment

We’ve all seen the plot device on television or in a movie. A group of people, lost in the woods, or in the desert, with no way to navigate. They opt for just walking in a straight line until they get somewhere, but they invariably end up crossing their trail or stopping right where they started again.

And, it usually ends badly for them.

It’s easy to scoff at, and very easy for us to believe we could do so much better. How difficult is it, after all, to just walk in a straight line? We do it all the time, right?

It turns out that without reference points, it’s impossible.

People really do walk in circles when they are lost. Science says so.

In 2009, scientists in the Multisensory Perception and Action Group at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany,  published a study which provided empirical evidence that people really walk in circles when they do not have reliable cues to their walking direction.

The study examined the walking trajectories of people who walked for several hours in the Sahara desert (Tunisia) and in the Bienwald forest area (Germany). The scientists used the global positioning system (GPS) to record these trajectories.

The results showed that participants were only able to keep a straight path when the sun or moon was visible. However, as soon as the sun disappeared behind some clouds, people started to walk in circles without even noticing it.

In a second series of tests, they had participants walk over terrain with their eyes blindfolded. The majority of participants walked in a circle, even they though were certain they were walking in a straight line.

Dr. Marc Ernst, Group Leader at the MPI for Biological Cybernetics, added: “The results from these experiments show that even though people may be convinced that they are walking in a straight line, their perception is not always reliable.

As humans, we have a tendency to travel in circles in quite a few areas, in particular education and education reform.

If you asked education reformers if the emphasis on test-based accountability in schools over the past 20 years has moved us forward, they would likely respond, “Of course, we have made significant progress,” followed by the caveat that “but, we still have work to do.”

The reality is we have spent the last 20 years in education walking in a circle. In fact, I could also make a strong argument that we have moved backwards.

Let me illustrate this for you.

In a OSDE bulletin released earlier today, announcing the 2015-2016 student assessment results, we were provided with the following talking points:

  • Student assessment reports for the 2015-16 school year indicate both moderate gains and areas of improvement.
  • Reading scores for third- and fifth-grade students show modest improvement. The number of third-grade students scoring at least proficient increased to 72 percent from 69 percent, while fourth-grade proficient reading scores decreased slightly from 70 percent to 68 percent.
  • Math scores for grades 3-8 increased or remained steady in all grades except fourth, which decreased from 72 percent in 2015 to 69 percent in 2016, and sixth, which saw a slight drop from 67 percent in 2015 to 66 percent in 2016.
  • Math is a universal language. Our students must be fluent and able to think in that language to be truly competitive and ready for future academic studies and STEM career opportunities.
  • “These scores indicate a positive step forward, but much more remains to be done.”
  • OSDE is in the process of vetting new, high-quality assessments.

Now, let’s travel back in time.

21 years ago, Sandy Garrett was the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and just like today, we had new academic standards (PASS) and new, high quality assessments. Here are a few bullet points reported by The Oklahoman on June 30, 1995.

  • “This is the beef of real education reform in Oklahoma. We have a diagnosis, now we can write a prescription.”
  • “The tests provided good and bad news, but the results will lead to improved teaching and better-qualified graduates.”
  • “Math is where the challenge is. This is one of the areas where the largest number of students will require remediation during the next school year. This may indicate that some schools are doing a better job of teaching the core curriculum than others. “
  • “The new tests ‘point Oklahoma in the right direction,’ but secondary school math results are ‘disappointing.’ Schools need to get serious about what we’re teaching. We need more and tougher math classes, and higher expectation levels.”
  • “These are not minimum-standards tests. They are rigorous tests that have upped the vision of our schools,”
  • “Evaluating the new (PASS) curriculum is an important step in Oklahoma’s school improvement process.”

For comparison, 70 percent of 8th grade students scored proficient on the 1995 state assessments in both math and reading.

In 2016, 75 percent scored proficient in reading, yet only 53 percent were proficient in math.

I’m not sure how we could view this as moving forward. It looks more like a circle to me.

The reality is we play this same game every year. We talk about making our standards more rigorous and improving the quality of our assessments. We compare one group of students with an entirely different group of students taking a different assessment one year later, often based on changing academic standards.

We pat ourselves on the back for small improvements in certain grades on certain tests while wringing our hands about decreases on other assessments.

We pretend like the tests matter and that teachers actually use the results of last year’s students to guide their instruction for this year’s students.

We listen to the same old talking points. Every year, some scores go up, some scores go down. We talk about the need to do more to improve student scores in math. We’re told these assessments are important tools in improving our schools. We are told our students and schools are making progress but “work remains to be done.”

We are told we are walking in a straight line, that we are really improving. Many buy into the false narrative that all of the work and resources we’ve committed to test-based accountability over 20 years has moved us forward.

The perception is wrong.

We’re not moving forward. We’ve been lost in the woods for too long. We’re walking in circles, going nowhere in particular, and with no real clue as to where we are going next.

And our children are paying the price.

Isn’t it time to find a new path?

This Post Has Been Viewed 291 Times

Share this: