Robert Tierney

ROBERT TIERNEY

“K. My name is Robert Tierney T-I-E-R-N-E-Y at the University of British Colombia. K. Ok. (Pause)

The impact of high stakes testing on reading uh has been uh quite uh multifaceted. Uh it certainly has narrowed the curriculum. And teachers uh obviously teaching to the test. Um they are teaching the tes…test more than they are teaching to the Charles Literacy Development. Um it’s led to a uh I think a constraining on the curriculum rather than um affording teachers the opportunity to um follow the lead of the of the of the child. And uh for a lot of s…students um and and what’s this how do I talk about literacy without talking about students and their lives? It’s cutting off uh school life for them prematurely. And increasingly kids are becoming quite uh disenchanted with schooling as an institution uh which is supporting them in terms of advancing their opportunities. Um in urban cities in particular where there are high stakes testing in in place at this time which showed huge drop off in terms of uh graduation rates. Uh and I think it’s uh I believe it’s coupled with uh kids being disenchanted and and leaving school. The um I th…I th…I think if the um I think it’s the uh an attempt to in a sense begin to get a a a more centralized control over the schools. And so I I guess I may be viewed as a little bit of a conspiracy theorist in this sense. I think a lot of people have found themselves uh complicit to uh various things that have um in in a sense perpetuated this sort of a movement towards testing as the uh the end all in all of curriculum. Uh such things as standard centralized curriculum uh and and other types of things. And I unfortunately I think there are some professional organizations uh American Federation of Teachers have uh have gotten behind this desire to improve performance by accountability and historically uh we know it hasn’t. What it has perpetuated is the the power of some and the loss of many. And in urban cities are higher which I know pretty well the losses are pretty tragic relative to minorities in urban centers. Um graduation rates in the nineteen-eighties in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus were around oh sixty percent or more and now we’re down to around thirty percent. Um and it doesn’t to me sort of register as educational improvement and opportunity for all. So I think in terms of it’s impact on literacy it’s really in one sense if you define literacy in terms of what kids are being asked to do it uh the curriculum has taken the the shape and form of the tests. Um and unfortunately you know whether it’s open ended or or multiple choice the the way multiple open e…open ended I mean tested anyway it is is it doesn’t allow for uh diversion or very critical sorts of responses um or the the one time insight from a child. It it really becomes sort of formula like. Uh you know I have two school age kids. I see it in my kids that they prepare for the test and not much more um which is sort of unfortunate. I mean at at Universities we see it too. It’s um you know in a s…in a sense what you’re actually seeing perpetuated is a I think equivalent to a person’s stealing a test and preparing for that test but not really learning much beyond that test. Now National Assessment has gotten involved in this as well. Uh I think we have to watch out for them because I think they would like to be the National test. Um but it’s interesting to see comparisons between the tests in the States and National Assessment uh because teachers haven’t been teaching towards that and (states name?) research piece uh really sort of r…reemphasizes the point we already knew that basically that in in in reality if you take change the test um the kids don’t look as successful as they do on the test they’ve been taught towards. And so I I think uh we really need to sort of reenergize the focus on looking at the chil…child more fully in terms of development and thinking about um the child’s development being able to manifest itself in various ways and it should manifest itself in various ways rather than uh this sort of single filling out a test. I think then we might in sort of in a s…rediscover the individual child which seems to be sort of lost in this sort of stampede or this sort of um this sort of in a sense…I I keep on being reminded of X-Files (laughs) of uh but it it is uh sort of a take over of schools. It’s been around for a long time. I mean I I grew up in uh in in Australia during a time where that type of testing narrowed the curriculum and sure enough it did exactly what’s happening here. By the time I got through high school I think more than fifty percent of the kids had already left. And basically we practiced the test and uh I mean what a shame that uh learning had deteriorated to that uh that that form of performance.

“Ok. I’m glad you picked that up. Anything like that (says something) to feel like you’ll embarrass me. Yeah. Um in terms of interacting with parents uh about high stakes testing or any any form of testing I I think it’s very important that you make sure that you’re both talking you have a sense of c…creating a common ground. Um Laurie Shepard at the University of Colorado a few years ago did an interesting little study where she actually showed parents different forms of assessment on what the parents discussing which ones they’d like to see their kids involved with. And not surprisingly I…uh parents were much more impressed with the sort of more open ended performance type assessment than the traditional uh standardized tests used for high stakes assessment. Um I think sometimes we I I do think we need to sort of remove the vowel of obscurity a…a…or in s…some sense I think it’s deceitful from these tests. And I don’t like what’s happened with the um what we’ve experienced with the elections. Uh so that all the sudden people realize that uh the election proc…procedure is flawed. Uh if they think the election procedure is flawed they they they start to see what’s gone on in the name of testing. I think they’ll come to a sort of a realization that um um the tests that are are used um are fully arbitrary. And decisions are made about how well kids are doing based upon a fairly limited sample of items. And that if in fact you uh share with parents this is how they did in terms of this measure but this is w…w how their doing in terms of this and this is how their doing in terms of that they’ll realize that it’s very difficult to sort of pin down a child’s performance by a single score or even a sort of a grade level or designation that um that if they talk about a child’s progress they should realize that it’s complex. It has a a variety of features associated with it. Uh it shifts over time just like their high comes and goes and and um and uh I I think we…it’s alright to talk about uh test performance in the context of other types of measures. But it becomes really problematic just to talk about the test performance in terms of a number. Um and so keeping that (word?) in place I think it’s problematic especially in terms of creating a sense of partnership with the parents. And unless we sort of create that partnership with the parents or whatever stakeholders and the child um I think we’re perpetuating a a relationship which is going to cause problems in terms of teaching a learnership, learning. Uh you know we want these parents to help us support the child’s learning or the student’s learning, likewise we want to support parents. Um likewise we want uh the child to be supported and so we really need to establish a partnership and we’re not gonna establish a partnership when we come in and sort of say this is how things are measured, this is the child’s performance um you deal with it um and uh and we gotta proceed from there. I s…I’m reminded as I talk about this that I was uh disheartened. Uh my child at one point was attending a wonderful and formal school where they had incredible teachers. They they still are incredible teachers and I I happened to have a meeting with the principle about something or other and she pulled out the my child’s records, you know the record cards in schools. And I I’m saying to myself well this is going to be interesting because I he had such great teachers who u…understood him well uh yet on the record card um there was test scores. These group administered tests which you don’t really shouldn’t repor…reported in individual uh test level anyway and not a single comment from any of these par…a…any of his teachers. And at this point I think he was in the fifth grade and I thought to myself whoa what a loss of information, uh of knowledge that could have garnered from these uh these teachers. Now there may be sort of legal reasons for doing it but I I I was so disappointed that a school which had such great teachers and who had such great knowledge of my my son um hadn’t really taken the next step and sort of asked themselves well how do my assessment and reporting procedures work hand in hand and in in parsimony with the the uh values we have in place and the the strengths of the teachers. I think there’s a a real issue here relative to professionalism, and supporting the professionalism of teachers to work with parents in a professional manner and to work with students. If we’re in a counseling situation or a therapy situation I think the tenants by which we’d operate would be at a at a much higher level than the tenants we seem to be forced to operate as we’ve sort of tried to be defensible relative to these tests and the State. You know you look at the guidelines of their following, their trying to create a legally defensible test. And if that’s their primary objective based upon the desire to ensure that kids reach certain standards I I think it’s a little misguided you know. I I want a a test which moves away from being legally defensible to a test which moves to being very proactive in terms of supporting the possibilities for all our students, especially the some of the the students in the urban centers that uh seem to be uh having a lot of difficulty finding um the uh school as a space in which they feel at home and where there are possibilities for them.

“Right. Yeah. Um if teachers take the um the notions of uh literacy assessment um if they try to align the notions of literacy assessment with what we know about teaching and learning I think I think there are lots of shifts that begin to occur. They really have to ask themselves the question is this supporting the student’s learning? Not just is it judging the uh child’s performance. And uh am I hoping that the student to do this for himself? And and that really does sort of shift it. Uh it moves us out of this sort of top down um hit and run sort of arrival in the school of the test which are unpackaged and delivered to the kids in that sort of uh in an extraordinary way. Unfortunately our classrooms are starting to feel and look like the way we use to test kids rather than the the places where where students learn. So it sh…it it shifts assessment from being top down to being uh bottom up um from my point of view from within the classroom. Um and it also shifts it from uh in o…in other sorts of way. It’s not something we do to people, it’s something we do with them. Uh and so sometimes your prepositions become sort of interesting to deal with because in one sense they begin to define um how you do things in very important ways which will influence not only um the manner in which you proceed process-wise but also uh what you do. And I always of the adage there must be certain values in place. And one of the values in place is that uh your process should be in line with your educational values. In other words uh you don’t justify the uh the end by you don’t justify changing the means by in terms of the answer you think you’ll accomplish. I would so I would uh strongly argue for an approached assessment which is from the inside out. And uh also in partnership with students with students uh helping you um gather information about themselves. If you help them learn to assess themselves um not to say that I wouldn’t sometimes use th…things from the outside to help me assess the child but it wouldn’t be what I’d predominately do. I think if you d…adopt a sort of a a culturally sensitive approach uh you you and what we know about how how we approach meaning (word?) with students in in educational languages you really need to find out where the child is in terms of uh what he’s doing. And that that means starting with the child uh or starting with children or students uh versus starting with wi…where you’re coming from. Um and so it’s in a sense beginning the conversation with a child at the very be… f…from the very beginning and continuing that sort of manifestation. Um that also means that a…again sort of playing with preposition you know you move from the outside to the inside, you move from uh top down to bottom up. You move from doing it to a child to doing it with a child. But you also do it across time. Uh I think in education sometimes we sort of treat the ch…the student as a blank slate particularly in higher education rather than sort of approaching the child as o…o let’s see where you are before we start. Um if you’re doing a project let’s you know bring in stuff we’ve you’ve already done on this, bring in you questions in the sense that sort of a variation on a KWL or sh…show and tell. But you sort of set goals with the child, and the goals might be strategy goals as well as outcome goals. But they begin to sort of shift assessment to something you do at the end to something you so in an ongoing fashion. You might do it at the end as well but it’s not something you leave to the end it’s in in a sense setting up assessment as we do in real life. Whether a person is you know into some fitness program or some investment portfolio uh one sort of starts with where one is rather than at the end where he sort of says wow I hate to tell you this but you went (laughs saying) broke! Uh it’s a a different sort of uh way to approach this. But I I you know in many respects I think assessment hasn’t been scrutinized. And I think the (name?) have sort of let themselves off the hook. They they intended to sort of say well I I I I need to be fair I need to be objective I need to be detached from the classroom. Well by in their claims of being fair and objective and standardized what they’ve created is I think an a potential anomaly, something that is insensitive to the individual child and what the individual ch…uh child brings. And the adjustments that teachers so naturally to bring out what ch…children are capable of and what they have done. Uh uh so I think I think it’s unfortunate. I think the (name?) have also gotten away gotten themselves off the hook and they shouldn’t have with respect of the consequences of what they do. Uh they seem to sort of think they seem to want to sort of say oh uh I’m sorry this is happening in society, I can’t be blamed. Uh I just created this sort of test. And uh I I I think that sort of is problematic and sort a…of maybe this is a bad analogy this this sort of (name?) uh in the in in in his trial sort of saying you know I’m not at fault. I just uh did what I was asked to do. Historically (name?) have done that and they’ve perpetuated uh in in a sense some very discriminatory practices uh both in terms of uh (word?) and religion. The early (name?) of the century uh I mean what they were doing in in a sense was keeping certain groups um away from educational opportunity. I think that’s what’s going on right now and I don’t think they they should be allowed to diverse themselves from what they know are the potential consequences. So that’s a long winded response to that.

“Uh uh Ern…Ernie Haas has written a little bit about this history of testing in terms of uh testing and social justice and and he make the claim which I you know I making in a sense is that uh the issues of social justice have been the (name?) have detached themselves from that concern and have sort of said that they’re to do with the technical development of tests rather than uh issues of looking at tests more systemically. Uh you know one sense what I I’ve been we’re just about with a book on on some of these issues of partnership and one of the concepts we’re proposing is uh a form of validity which has to do in a sense has to do with an ethical or has to do what we I think we’re gonna term it transactual validity. And that notion is that testing needs to be done in a partnership with people. And how you do it with people uh needs to be a a an aspect of this validity. And uh so that in a sense we start to get in…inter-testing as sort of an ethical or a value which better represents what we think uh uh a values that we associate with education. Or you…you do it with people, you don’t do it to people and you do it with sensitivity to their own background or experience and the and issues of self-determination. So… (Interviewer speaks) Oh, we still…it’s going to come out probably next year but it it you’ll see it. But I think uh we’re gonna finish it seems to be one of those things that doesn’t seem to be willing to finish. It’s like uh I don’t know. It’s like the… (Laughs) Yeah.

“Ok. Ok. Uh well a por…portfolio portfolio assessment uh it means very different things to different people. I mean to some people it’s a collection, to me it’s a process. And the process I’m interested in is you know engaging kids in types of uh um pulling together a a a workbench of things that they’re they’re they’re working on. And uh and as they pursue these things uh keeping tabs on thes…on what they’ve done so that they can look back and and see the the uh misfires and the the dead ends and the successes and they can savor what they’ve achieved and all as well as the same time they look they can look at the strategies they’ve used uh and the context of looking at themselves and sharing with others um in a sense that they learn in so doing to um become better learners in the area of what I’d call uh assessment of themselves. And you you know I think I have some specific goals that I’m after relative to that. I you you know one goal that I’m after is for them to s…sort of entertain the possibility that when they look at themselves as they look at anything they look at different ty…different things or to one might call it different forms of evidence. That they’re not just sort of looking for the grade they got or or uh hoping their not not necessarily the grade at all um and that as they look at these different things they learn to look at it in different ways, coming from different angles with different lenses. Uh we didn’t put from their friends um and in a sense the context of interactions with their friends maybe even arguing about what it means particularly when their their doing projects together. And so their looking at themselves, looking at a ray of evidence uh looking at different ways of looking to themselves. The purpose is of drawing some conclusions maybe tentative maybe speculative which is fine uh not getting too carried away with this sort of a worksheet mentality that this uh on route to sort of deciding what to do next, future goals. And so what I what I see as a a portfolio is is just a convenient way of of uh creating a classroom management system that affords us possibilities. Um but the process around the portfolio to me is much more to me than the object. Uh in saying that I think it’s very important the the child helps the teacher manage this thing. The teacher can’t do it uh himself or herself. And that the child has a sense of ownership uh and part of the ownership is the involves the teacher uh helping the child do this for himself or herself but also respecting what the child has done and what the child’s trying to do and how the child views himself or her…herself. Um too often I think portfolios can become standardized. Uh or too often it can deteriorate into something a child produces based upon what they think will be the grade they’ll get based upon some fairly fixed rubric that the teachers developed. And so that’s not what I see. I th…I think initially um when I first started getting involved in portfolios I I reemphasize the the best work, the Sunday best mentality, and a more formal notion of self assessment you know with little checklists and worksheets uh versus a more dynamic uh um in a sense conversation driven form of assessment. In one sense I see portfolios potentially conversation starters and and that may be in a one of the key essential features of it. (Interviewer speaks) Yeah. Yeah.

“Uh (pause) um l…let me talk a little bit about teachers reflecting upon their own practice. Um I my sense is w...well a lot of people have talked ar…talked ab a lot about terms uh in terms of terms such as the teachers reflective practitioner uh or teacher and the con…there are lots of concepts around that that sort of work. Uh you know teaching having critical friends. Um I do think it’s very important as as people watch teachers so that they don’t in a hit and run sort of fashion or one shot type of thing. Uh they’ve got to do it in a on going fashion. The relationships build over time. And the need to be build around people sharing common experiences uh rather than evaluating a teacher uh or somebody coming in and having a checklist, you’re doing this well, you’re doing that well. I think you uh teachers need to sort of examine uh the the actual action of classrooms rather than the actual derivations of it in a s…in a sense. Uh I think there are lots of ways you can do that. I mean sharing photos, having teachers having their own portfolios, visiting their classroom and doing it in a in a very proactive positive type of fashion. I think the conversations at some point need to get around to um uh issues such as vision and goals and values um so that one has a sense of where one’s coming from and what’s what one’s aspiring towards. Um I I sometimes don’t think we really reflect as much on our on what we value. And sometimes the values have to do with um with the type of identity uh the type of voice you’re trying to support in terms of students and their parents. And uh it becomes really sort of problematic when it in reality you’ve got a set of values and uh in which you’re trying to pursue and then the person who’s your critical friend let’s say or your uh evaluator has a different set of values and uh that’s not going to that’s not gonna come to grips that that’s not gonna come together. And uh uh I do think teachers need um the opportunities to to reflect to in a in a very supportive type of fashion. Uh I think that’s why people love true team teaching uh and love it when there are people that they are collaborating with. Uh I don’t necessarily think you have to sort of focus on yourself to get involved in meaningful collaborations, I think you can all teachers can be par…become part of a project whether problem solving or moving ahead and trying different things in their classrooms. Um unfortunately I think uh uh what’s what’s going on a l…a lot in the name of a lot of education reforms at least the United States is is a form of standardization of teaching and a form of scripted uh teaching and learning and where the teachers ability to sort of align with a script becomes the um the measure. And what I would rather see is is something rather where the possibilities just uh expand and teachers get an opportunity to try different things. Not to say that sometimes they want to try to emulate and they want to tr…uh try different sort of strategies. Uh but I would really try to encourage them to to try it in ways that they think would work with their particular sets of uh students. And and the teachers who might watch this this video tape I mean they have a I think have a real understanding of the fact that what I might do with one group of kids even within the same classroom might be different than what I need to do with another group of of students to engage them. Um and uh but I think the again those opportunities to be involved in s…a form of sort of joint problem solving rather than judging ones self um I think is is very important. Teachers need to be supported in terms of opportunities to be a professional who has professional dis…disc…discretion and part of the professional discretion is to be flexible, uh to be able to adjust things to meet different student’s needs based upon the resources one has in the and uh um what one um what one finds works o…or in ways of engaging students.

“Oh I think there are lots of areas you haven’t dealt with uh to be honest uh (interviewer interrupts). Well I mean the whole concept of whether literacy literacy curriculum is about. Um you know (interviewer interrupts). Yeah. (Interviewer speaks) And then (interviewer interrupts) well I mean the you know the question is what’s what’s literacy about and uh um and a literacy curriculum you know my sense is that in one sense it’s we we seem to come with a a sort of genre of a literacy curriculum. Uh and we sort of moved away from it a little with the sort of a project mentality but I think it would be great for teachers to sort of say ok given what we know about the worlds these kids are going into and worlds they all have right now what could be part of this literacy curriculum and take a really fresh look at it. And you know there may be a mixture of projects, there are probably going to be uh a mixture of technologies. We may even see in classrooms uh some of the software that some of the kids find so enjoyable uh that they with which they’re engaged with at at higher as part of their literacy curriculum. We may see a real mix of uh video um at you know multi media, multi layered text. Be a much more dynamic experience than this sort of textbook approach. Uh we’d see a lot more conversation, be a lot messier, the classroom would need to be supported in terms of a di…a different sort of structure than these the typical seat with their arm around it that they you know that we’d have to have a classroom which is sort of flexible with with stations and so on. I think we sort of need to sort of break out of the uh you know out of the model. I think some places may already be doing that. Um I think the teachers really need to uh break out of the traditional scope and sequence and develop their own sense of what are we after relative to long term goals for children rather than sort of specific skills mastery concept. Um I think if teachers uh get a chance to think about uh these things and you know time is of the essence. We seem to pay them to be in the classroom in front of the kids but we don’t seem to give them the time to plan and prepare um as we would in other professions. And if we gave them the time to plan and prepare and the resources to do it and support to do it I think we’d start to see some pretty inventive extraordinary types of things. Um so I guess I’m you know maybe their out there but I haven’t seen them yet. The classrooms today look like the classrooms of a few yesteryears ago. And so I think it becomes a uh becomes sort of interesting to sort of say hey let’s let’s create a brave new world for our kids relative to literacy. I I think historically we as literacy educators have um have somehow maybe it’s because of policies and have have hung on to a some I don’t know some re…a a tendency to be real text based uh anthology based uh non-electronic, non non-digital um and um um and a l…little bit reductionistic in terms of uh thinking that the ability to master specific isolated skills uh adds up to a a composite ability. I think we really should sort of ask some sort of long-term things and and start uh playing with r…readventure. I don’t think we should be afraid that the kids are gonna miss certain skills at different points in time. My experience is if you create the right context, within those contexts uh kids will be come engaged. And yes you’ll need to do workshops to uh fine tune the the the certain strategies types (word?) but it may may not be the same strategies that you might of taught in a prescribed, predetermined sort of fashion. So I I think it’s time to sit back and and uh and rethink things. Oh…but but what wouldn’t that be wonderful! Um I I say that the same time I I can hear a teacher as I would say I need the time to do that and I need the resources to do that and I I need the support to do that and I need the freedom. Unfortunately teachers um at the same universities don’t seem to be given the freedom. And I might need professional development. And but the professional development might need to be modified uh to meet their needs in ways other than the the course in language arts methods that we typically offer at universities or in the form of workshops. Certainly the one shot workshop uh would really do it. So you I I think that would have been one area. I think there may be some other areas too. (Interviewer speaks) Right. Sorry I cut you short in terms of time. Did you you uh did you get those…”