Reflections on AERA 2012

I was fortunate enough to attend the AERA Conference in Vancouver this year and now it’s over and I have had time to digest all the sessions, I can say I feel even more fortunate to work in BC, than I did previously.

Assessment

I have read about No Child Left Behind.  I understand that states use standardized tests to assess the effectiveness of their school system.  But only now, after being in multiple sessions with American educators, do I begin to get a feeling of how pervasive testing is.  In a session on benchmark assessments I asked, “Does the state exam take precedent over all aspects of teaching?”  The short answer was yes. 

What is clear though is that researchers understand the importance of putting students at the centre of their own learning.  Susan Brookhart suggested that student self regulation might just be formative assessment.  If students are engaged in assessing their own learning, then naturally they will be more self regulated.  Unfortunately, because state standardized tests often focus on factual recall, teachers spend lots of time preparing students for the test and often that means formative assessment gets put one side.

Sol Joye and Glenda Moss presented a session called “Doing Social Studies Through Project-Based Learning.”  I left this session affirmed in my practice.  They showed that by using PBL and open-ended questions techniques that students scored higher in all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, including the basic recall level, the level at which most state assessments were focussed on.  Their message to American teachers is that using PBL can help with test scores and motivate and engage students.  Here in Canada, this is clearly more the norm.

Collaboration, PLCs, and Professional Development

It seems to me that under the weight of standardized testing American educators have to turn to one another and collaborate to help achieve desired results.  Whether those results are educationally sound is open to debate, but what they have done is forced teachers to have conversations about their practice.  “Data” can, and is, more than numbers.  One researcher encouraged us to decouple data from accountability.  Data needs to be seen as evidence, student samples, useable by the classroom teacher to inform instructions.  Data is a place to start a conversation about what is important in student learning and how to shift practice to have the greatest effect on the success of our students.

Further to collaboration at the classroom level, Fullan and Hargreaves expressed the importance of collaboration at all levels.  District and University partnerships are important in educating new teachers.  Anne Lieberman urged us to continue to see Professional Development as research supported, networked, school based and in collaboration with others rather than being complied with.  Teachers learn best from other teachers.  The theme of shared solutions between ministry officials and teachers’ unions was not lost on those of us from BC, who are in the midst of a labour dispute between with the BC government. Ultimately, the message I left with is the creation of a collaborative culture is important in maintaining a strong public education system.

Thinking Down the Road

I left AERA with a renewed feeling of optimism in BC education.  The future of BC education is bright.  When comparing our system with that of our US counterparts we have so much that we can reflect on positively.  There are still issues that need to continue to be discussed but I left the conference surer of the direction we are heading in as teachers in BC. 

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