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Learning Matters: Counting the steps, enjoying the view

August 22, 2013|By Joylene Wagner

I recently finished a pedometer walking challenge organized by my local Curves. For four weeks I counted my steps every day with the aim of reaching at least 5,000, preferably 10,000, steps or more. The challenge was both motivating and fun. Now I make a point of walking more, still checking the pedometer for my progress, and I'm enjoying the company of the new walking buddies I gained along the way.

Ideally, public education's standardized tests would operate the same way, providing a challenge to motivate students, teachers and administrators alike. I wish I had been engaged in the pedometer challenge when I was asked recently about standardized testing in public schools. I think it would have improved my answers.

Overall, I think the testing of the last 15-plus years of California's accountability era has been beneficial. Though standardized tests have existed for decades, testing increased in significance as technology improved and as educators recognized the imperative of aligning what they test with what they teach.

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With better metrics for analyzing data, teachers can now more closely tailor instruction to their students. However irrational the federal No Child Left Behind's expectation that all students will be grade-level proficient by 2014, my experience tells me that college and career prospects for English-language learners and socio-economically disadvantaged students have improved.

Locally, more students are taking Advanced Placement classes. More English-language learners and students with learning disabilities are being honored for their academic achievements. A greater diversity of students is attending college in higher numbers. If there were pedometers for achievement, more students would be meeting the "reasonably active" mark of 5,000 steps and a wider spectrum of students would be getting to the "good workout" range of 10,000.

Accountability and testing have brought about another good development: a more collaborative community of educators. Successful administrators must be instructional leaders, while successful teachers are those who both share and embrace colleagues' teaching methods.

While some teachers long for the degree of instructional autonomy they enjoyed in years past, many have come to appreciate the shared work of finding more successful strategies for instruction.

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