Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Alternative to High Stakes Testing. Facebook Stats - A More Effective Accountability Measure

Earlier this week I was reading a provocative thread in response to a terrific post from Joe Bowers on the topic of accountability in The Innovative Educator Group. Deborah Meier weighed in suggesting folks set up high stakes testing sites near state capitols, post testing times, publish which politician showed up and who didn't, then publish THEIR scores in the paper.   Awesome!
As I was fretting about the problem of accountability gone wrong and worthless high stakes tests, a notice came up informing me there were lots of other people who went to the same high school as I did. There was a link I could click on if I wanted to friend these people. With accountability on the mind, I clicked on the link and was struck by what I saw next.  I saw the careers of all my high school peers pop up with their names.  Interesting!  Not only that, but l could click on any of my fellow alums and see the college (if any) they attended as well as what they studied.

I got to thinking.  What do parents really want to know about their child’s school?  Would they rather know...
A) That their kids is really good at being compliant, memorizing, and regurgitating
B) That this is a school that produces graduates that will have solid careers and, if necessary, attend the colleges that will lead to those careers?  

As I thought about it more, I realized that many non public schools boast of the accomplishments of their alumni such as what schools they attended and what careers they have. On the other hand many public schools are stuck on test scores which do little when it comes to telling parents where their children end up.

What if instead of the numbers, that tell us very little about the quality of the school, we focused on where these students are in the future at reasonable markers in time.  You don’t necessarily need to use Facebook for this, but, if schools can’t figure it out, Facebook has this info available. The technology and means to capture this information is there for taking for any school willing to share what really matters.

When I look through the first page of occupations of the Alumni at my high school I see the following careers.

  • Waitress at Trevi Italian Resteraunt Ceasars Forum shops Las Vegas
  • Casino Dealer at Margaritavile casino
  • Manager at Costco Wholesale
  • Operator at Ben's BBQ & Smokehouse
  • Promotions Manager at HAZE Nightclub
  • Bartender at Tilted Kilt
  • Director General at Luxor Hotel and Casino
  • Stand Up Comedian
  • Showgirl Folies Bergère
  • Owner at The Sushi Japanese Cuisine & Fish'N Chip
Not surprising from this sample, I went to high school in Las Vegas which is a town known for the hotel, retail, and restaurant business.  If schools began focusing on what careers their students were prepared for...well then, they could really focus on helping their students become successfully prepared for their future endeavors. If hotel, retail, restaurant didn’t seem the right path for a young person, there could be schools or schools within schools that had a focus on alternate programs.  

Even if we only used the data available on Facebook, we could easily see which high school students attended after middle school, if they graduated, then if they went to college along with what they studied and what kind of jobs they held after high school or college.  

This meaningful information would focus on what should be a primary goal of education which is producing adults who could have career success.  If we focused on what matters, rather than the test scores that we know have little meaning for students, some very interesting things would happen. For instance, we could:

  • Engage businesses rather than test prep companies, in meaningful partnerships with schools. This could consist of their involvement in a focused curriculum and authentic assessment.  
  • Connect students with apprenticeships / internships with business partners, rather than staying after school and on weekends engaged in test prep.
  • Create business-aligned certifications rather than meaningless letters and numbers that assess out-of-context learning that shouldn’t happen at the same time for everyone.
  • Develop onsite school / business partnerships. For instance, perhaps students could run an onsite food court in partnership with local restaurants. Perhaps the school could have an onsite store run by students with clothing and jewelry made by students. This in turn could become valuable on a students academic transcript or career resume.
  • Connect students with mentors that held careers they may want to pursue.
  • Employ students in rewarding part time jobs with pay rather than meaningless test preparation programs after school and on weekends.
  • Stop forcing students to copy words off the blackboard and instead go out and do stuff that could earn them the attention of possible employers. For instance, business could put challenges out and students could compete in real-world ways.
This sort of shift would allow students to consider, explore, and pursue various career options. It would transform school from one size fits all, to each child finds what fits them. It would shift assessment from meaningless high stakes tests to meaningful real-work preparation and experience. It would transform a curriculum standardized for all to one customized for each child.  It would result in business having a real stake in the success of students. It would replace many traditional teachers who rarely have experience in the future career of students with experienced experts in the field assigned to implement top-notch training programs. It would refocus the role of the teacher from sit and git TO how can I help you get what you want. This would look more similar to the work of school guidance counselors.  

Finally, it would address the question that has arguably led to more drop outs and dissatisfaction with school to any other.  The answer to, “Why do we need to know this?” is built into what the students do everyday.  

There are few to no tests in real life.  At the very least, school life should prepare students for the requirements of the real life future. Such futures rarely require the out of context memorization and regurgitation that few parents or children would value as measures for child’s success.  

The billions of dollars spent on test prep and testing that testing companies profit from could be re-directed toward helping students find, discover, and develop their passions and careers. After all, isn’t that what school should really be about?


  1. Great thinking. Any idea how you can get to that list of Alumni? For your own school or even for others? Keeping track of Alumni, even a year after they leave is difficult, can't believe I'd not thought of this avenue before!

  2. The initial rationale for tracking student data from pre-school to first year of college was to discover what works AND to cement a teacher evaluation system that ties pay to student test performance. I found zero in the way of published rationale on how this collection of data benefits students. Why do the forces pushing for a gigantic database requires tracking generations of student data?

  3. Have you considered the fact that your private high school is allowed to post such information and said information is probably provided by alumni, but that might not be the case for a public school? In other words, there may be people out there who don't want to be "found," and some who would consider suing the school if they published such information online? I know that my wife and I only provide information we want our fellow alumni to know to our college/university alumni associations/magazines/websites.

    Have you also considered that touting such achievements is less of a "pride in our alumni" tool and more of a promotional tool to get more money for the annual fund or more enrollment/tuition?

    Probably not. It wouldn't fit your agenda.

  4. @Daniel Stucke,
    Schools can and do have Alumni pages. Students could find the page and the school can invite students to the page. Those that don't want to partake don't. However, those careers could still be listed anonymously.

    This wouldn't be by force, but rather by choice. Alumni can choose to have their name attached to the information of college/career or have it shared anonymously. From what I've seen on Facebook, the majority of people share the field they work in though.

    Regarding your question,
    Have you also considered that touting such achievements is less of a "pride in our alumni" tool and more of a promotional tool to get more money for the annual fund or more enrollment/tuition?

    I have considered that knowing where your kids end up is more important to most parents and their children than their standardized test scores. If this can have the added benefit of getting more money and resources for the students, ideally from the business partnerships I mentioned, then bonus.

  5. @Sandra
    I don't have the answer to your question. I don't think we're looking at the right data and I think that assessing students should be the role of the trained teacher, not mega-million dollar business for testing companies.

    Data about where graduates end up however, well that is the kind of information that matters to individuals. Accountability shouldn't mean getting kids to be good at taking tests. After all, there are few to no tests in real life. It should mean ensuring students graduate able to find gainful employment.

  6. I think that we as educators must look into a variety of ways to assess our schools. Your apporach was thought provoking and innovative (without requiring a ton of $$$) If more people got together and thought of education as tool for finding their success rather than passing a standardized test, I believe we would be headed in the right direction.

  7. You said: "I have considered that knowing where your kids end up is more important to most parents and their children than their standardized test scores. If this can have the added benefit of getting more money and resources for the students, ideally from the business partnerships I mentioned, then bonus. "

    So the individual school caused the government to tie funding to standardized test scores? And public schools can't possibly consider business partnerships, too?

    Public schools aren't completely innocent in this standardized testing quagmire, but to demonize them as such gets you nowhere. The government, as well as Pearson and its compatriots have manipulated the situation to their own end/profit. I am sure that if standardized testing were eliminated right this second, very few teachers would cry.

    Many public schools, both rich and poor, do put an effort forth to educate beyond those tests, and that includes working with their local communities and local businesses through sponsorships, outreach activities, and all other sorts of actions.

    It's a great idea for both public and private schools because it shows that education does not occur in a vacuum.

    As for public school alumni networks: they are out there, too (whether formally or informally), especially with social media making such networking easier. I guess their effectiveness depends on who is running the show, because I figure that many public school alumni networks are run on a volunteer basis. But they are out there.