On Not Being Pre-Posterous

Another Discouraging Set of Test Results
The latest NAEP results are discouraging. It appears that American high school students have made little or no progress towards the goal that all students will graduate college and career ready.
This blog is not about the test results but instead about a word. The word is “preposterous”. I want to talk about “preposterous” because it suggests something about how we have constructed our accountability system.
Preposterous means “ridiculous”; literally, getting was is “post” ahead of what should come first, “pre”.
The way we have thought about accountability is literally “preposterous.” We have placed what is post before what should come first.
How can this be? Our accountability system measures the percentage of students who do well on the various accountability tests. So, only 38% of students are college and career ready.
But that is literally a preposterous way to do things. Think about it: “college and career ready” is really an outcome; it is a “post”; a result of good classroom practice. What is “pre” is the good classroom practice.
The argument is that if we took a sensible approach to accountability, we would put our accountability measures not on test results (the post) but on good classroom practice (the pre).
And there is some evidence in the NAEP results that validate this analysis.
Students who took more challenging classes (“interesting and engaging”) did better than those who took less demanding curriculum (less interesting and engaging?). Students who discussed what they read also did better than those who didn’t.
My point is that if we are truly serious about improving test scores, we go about our task by not being preposterous.
We do this by putting the “pre-” first: classes that are well-taught so as to be engaging, interesting, and challenging. The “post-” will likely take care of itself.
Getting our pre- and our post- in the proper order will make a big difference.

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