Once upon a time there was a pyramid that was utilized to define what school was all about. The base of the pyramid was filled with all of the assessments that teachers give on a daily basis; all of the formative data guiding instruction and helping to ensure that students were successful. The rising levels of the pyramid moved through the different types of assessments that are used in education. As the frequency of the assessments decreased, so too did the levels of importance for each type of assessment. The teachers were happy because they were valued for what they knew about their students. They weren’t subjected to the pressure of an end of the year assessment defining their students, defining them and defining their school. The teachers knew that assessment was a key component to the education process because that was how they measured student progress toward learning goals. The feedback that they could provide their students was immeasurable. The end of the year summative was an important piece of judging student performance but it was just that, a piece of data.
Unfortunately one day a group of test creators and policy makers got together and flipped the triangle upside down. They wanted to define teachers and schools and determined that the inverted pyramid would be the best way to do this. They did this without consulting with educators (which is kind of strange when you think about it – one would think you would collaborate with those in education in order to define education; but I digress). What this did was place all of the importance on a single end of year assessment, one that could benefit the test creators and the policy makers, earning money and power for both. While the general public might not have bought into the concept at first, time and convenience clouded their minds and soon enough they forgot what the true purpose of school should be and they soon couldn’t imagine schools existing without grading students, teachers and schools on these summative assessments. The result was no one was happy, not the teachers, not the principals, not the students, not the parents, no one. The problem was obvious to see: giving assessments and not using them to inform instruction did not benefit the students, and wasn’t the true purpose of school to educate students, in effect making their lives better? Now all the attention from those inside and outside school was focused on the end of the year assessment and somewhere along the line the value of teacher opinion and daily formative assessments was forgotten.
Anyone looking at the inverted pyramid could see that there was a major design flaw. How long could the pyramid stand by balancing on its top point (which of course was now the bottom)? All of the educators in the world knew that if it wasn’t returned to its original state, the weight of the pyramid would cause it to fall over and crush all of public education along with it. The only hope that the educators had was that the general public would wake up and see what was happening before it was too late. Perhaps then the inverted pyramid could be righted and the most amazing profession of education could be saved along with the lives of all of the students. Indeed hope existed but for how long?
Moral of the Story: Don’t let those outside of education guide the policy and practice of what occurs in education.
As a matter of fact, keep those people as far away from education decisions as you possibly can. The pyramid is toppling…