The Computer in My Head
We at "The Gods Are Bored" just completed a two-day, mind-numbing seminar on the latest, greatest computer program for data-driven instruction.
If you haven't heard of data-driven instruction, it's the latest, greatest tool for teachers everywhere. Just by looking at numbers grouped various ways, you can see exactly how your students are progressing as they learn something. This by-the-number approach has been created by two forces:
1. Standardized testing, and
2. Computer geeks
Go on, tell a computer geek to create a program that tracks student progress as the kids fill in little circles with number two pencils. Snap, crackle, pop! Eight ways, 15 ways, two dozen ways, to follow your students, group them, pinpoint specific tasks they can't do very well (i.e. subordinate clauses), and, of course, that all-important number: their Lexile score.
Lexile is basically reading-level, only geekier. I wish all my readers could take the standardized test for Lexile, so they would know how brilliant they are. Collectively we would max out that puppy and drive the data through the roof!
I've only been a teacher for a few years, but there are some things I've learned. I did not need to consult a computer to learn these things. Here goes:
1. If you have 110 students, by October you will know them all, their strengths and weaknesses, because you like them, they're people, and they reveal what they can and can't do, even if they don't want to.
2. Most standardized tests suck.
3. Someone is making a lot of money off the widely-held conviction that teachers can't tell which of their students need help without consulting a pie chart.
4. Most older teachers who grew up before the era of computers spend valuable time trying to run data through computers when they could just be reading student essays and making notes with a pencil, on some paper.
5. Not everyone is going to "get" everything, but this is the goal in today's educational environment. So, let me get this straight. Should Decibel's vet know how to fix my car? Should I know how to spay a cat?
Did you know that the geeks are trying to create a computer program that can grade essays? There are some programs already that can offer help with grammar, but nothing that can judge content. So this important grading falls to people. Well, we know this won't last, because you have to pay people to score essays, and a computer could do it cheaper.
Pardon me for not mincing words, but I hate it when a person is reduced to a numerical score. If Anne Johnson is having a bad day and decides that a computerized standardized test is the last thing she wants to do on earth, she will be deemed a moron by the data. It will be even worse if the cute guy next to her is flirting with her for the first time ever.
Sorry, geeks, but just now the computer in my head is better at tracking student progress than your fancy programs. On the day when that is no longer the case, the human race is doomed.