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From Michael Clay Thompson

Posted on: 05/01/2013

Assessing the Cult of Assessment

Those new to the MCT language arts curriculum can be puzzled by the absence of sets of stock worksheets and assessments, which other curricula commonly include as the things for students to do. Many programs feature activities that center around pencils, where students sit silently to fill in blanks, connect matchings, write short answers into boxes, and circle multiple choices. In such questions students FIND the answer in the book and then copy it into the blank. Such simplistic documents are seen as evidence of accomplishment and completion. Indeed, there may be a feeling of reassurance that comes with seeing short right answers on paper. There is a feeling that such questions are “objective,” but is any array of small questions that does not get at the heart of the knowledge–of the concepts–truly objective? Must we be superficial in order to be objective?

For many activities in my curriculum, I am sometimes asked, “What are we supposed to do with this? Just READ?” as though reading and discussion lack substance that can only be provided by filling in right answers with pencils. It is true: my curriculum is different, particularly in its philosophy of assessment. I think it is worksheets that lack substance, not reading. I think we must change the terms from what students can FIND to what they can THINK after careful reading.

What is the true substance of education? Does it consist of small items that can be copied into small blanks, or does it consist of ideas, concepts, principles, understandings about human dimensions, and things like that which are better suited to elaborate discussions followed by thoughtful essays that incorporate the facts and terms to which worksheets are limited? Certainly we do want students to absorb the vocabularies and terminologies of the disciplines, but not at the cost of ignoring the understandings that those vocabularies are really about.

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