To the Editor:
Both Alfie Kohn (“Feel-Bad Education,” Commentary, Sept. 15, 2004) and Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll (“Mass. Schools Chief Offers ‘Feel-Bad Education’ Cure,” Letters, Oct. 27, 2004) hit the nail on the head, but failed to drive it home. The “cure” for “feel-bad education” is primarily dependent upon two key factors: (1) a national focus on the strengths of our teachers, and (2) continuous use of data, by teachers, to inform daily instruction.
The role of the teacher has been buried under a pile of political mandates. Consequently, the use of assessment data, including informal measures and teacher observation, has been lost under a stack of testing manuals and raw scores. No wonder so many classrooms lack joy! If we want feel-good education, we must shift the focus to our best way of reaching all kids: the teacher. When we build on the strengths of each and every educator, we increase the strengths within our students. Joyful teachers produce joyful learners who create joyful classrooms!
The focus for professional development around this country must move toward reflection and application of assessment data if we expect teachers to hit the bull’s eye when it comes to instructional decisions. With this shift in thinking, teachers will move toward greater acceptance and ownership of assessment as a means of improving their teaching. Without ownership, assessment is unfortunately perceived as a top-down mandate. The pressure of standards-based testing is definitely great, but also necessary. The “joy of learning” is disappearing, but equally necessary. The time has come for each and every educational leader to focus on our corps of educators. Yes, we need to hold the line on standards and accountability, but the joy of learning lies squarely in the hands of teachers. Seek to create a “joy of learning” by creating a “joy of teaching.”
Academic success is a huge wall to scale for many children around this great country of ours, but the will is more important than the skill, when it comes to scaling a wall. Creating a “will” to teach and a “willingness” to use assessment results are the keys to restoring the joy that has been lost in our classrooms.
Connie R. Hebert
National Literacy Consultant
New York, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the November 24, 2004 edition of Education Week as Ownership of Assessment Brings ‘Joyful Learning’