Monday, January 18, 2010

Needed: Thoughtful research for thoughtful schools.

Meier, Deborah. Needed: Thoughtful research for thoughtful schools. In E. C. Lagemann & L. Shulman (Eds.), Issues in education research (pp. 63-82). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Deborah Meier begins her chapter about education research with the following anecdote:

"Out walking one night I came upon a man circling under a lamppost. I asked him, 'What did you lose?' 'My watch,' he said. 'Are you sure you lost it here?' 'Actually,' he admitted, 'I lost it over there [he gestured into the dark], but the only light I can find is over here, so that's where I decided to look.'"

Meier goes on to discuss in detail a topic she loves discussing -- policymakers fetish with standardized, quatitative data that we know does not really reflect the learning happening in our schools today. Her chapter covers several important points with regards to this topic: what standardized tests really do measure, the role of rank ordering, the impact of coaching to the test, the fallacy of psychometrics, when coaching is an abuse and when it is not, and the impact of tests in the public eye. She concludes her chapter with a persuasive appeal that education shifts towards a new paradigm.


Meier's rhetoric is clear and concise, and as with every other thing she has written, I finish this article with my emotions stirred and my anger heightened. I grow very frustrated with the research that has been done on testing and standards, and the lack of constructive development in this area in the past decade.

If anything, we have grown more attached to standardized results, and this despite the research on the test themselves that says their results are not true indicators of learning. Her anecdote appeals to me, because it is so absurd, and yet, is this not what policymakers are doing? We look for answers in the light, but answers about education are not so cut-and-dried. Meier usefully concludes with examples from many different other forms of familiar assessment -- and I think they are compelling. Alternative assessment makes sense to me, especially as discussed in this very intriguing article.

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