Do We Really See What We Claim To?

Distorted Reality
Image by Vermin Inc via Flickr

My last post inspired a blog post by Diane Lauer on her blog titled “Seeing with Our Hearts as well as our Eyes” I commented on her post. She urged me to post my response on my blog. Here is is:

Thank you for the honor of quoting my post. I’m glad it inspired you because that is what I — and all teachers — try to do; inspire further thought.

Part of the problem of human perception is that we use short-cuts, our minds fill in the gaps of what we think we see according to the patterns of our past experience. Those gaps are not always filled accurately and we’re not perceiving what is actually there.

It is one thing to use past experience as a guide to perceiving present situations, but it is a completely different thing when the perception is not based on any prior experience.

That is what happens with standardized tests and in any other situation where the person or people drawing conclusions based on the data presented to them do not have prior experience with the particular students whose exams generated that data.

A teacher knows her students and knows that student A has a stomach ache from the tension high stakes tests generate, that student B’s parents just got a divorce, that student C’s brother got shot last week and that there isn’t any food in student D’s home because his parents got laid off and the first unemployment check hasn’t arrived yet. The person looking at their data, the classes data, and the school’s data doesn’t know any of this and neither does anyone walking into the classroom for the first, second or third time.

Only the teacher, particularly in consultation with students’ prior teachers, has the intimate knowledge and background necessary to make the data make sense. Arguments that exam data is not about particular students and are aggregations fail because an aggregation based on defective data is as worthless as the data it is based upon.

It is the curse, or more likely the gift, of the human condition that we are not perfect and any single test may catch us in brief but spectacular moments of imperfection. That snapshot is valuable only that it verifies our being human, and it is my fervent hope that we don’t need to spend the money, time and anxiety standardized tests cost to realize that.

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One Response to Do We Really See What We Claim To?

  1. I think the nub of it is “A teacher knows her students ”
    Based on my experience in bottom of the pyramid high schools in New York that is only true for some of the best teachers.

    With 130 kids spread over five classes it’s not really a surprise. With teachers time wasted on “meetings” and “fill out this and that” it is to be expected from all but the most focused.

    Remember the Cheers tagline – “everybody knows your name.” My bet is that if technology were focused on making each kid know that everyone in the schools knew their names, things at the BoP could get much better, much faster.

    To me, it’s not so much convincing teachers that’s what they should do. It’s much more about organizing time and using technology to make it easy to do.

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