Alignment refers to a car’s wheels pointing in the right direction, or an orthodontist correcting a child or adult’s dental occlusion. Alignment is rigid. It’s right or wrong. Yet alignment has been used for years to describe how students learn in school.
Children are not machine parts that need adjustment.
What if consideration was given to the student instead of the test, if teachers could work with parents to determine student objectives? What would we find? What ideas and knowledge goes unnoticed when children are matched to specific canned standards that come to schools from outsiders?
Children have different needs, strengths, and weaknesses. They think differently. They learn differently. They face different personal hurdles when it comes to learning. Even students who correctly align their answers to tests could have special talents or interests that go unnoticed.
Alignment leads to technology without teachers.
Alignment is mechanistic. Aligning a student’s learning to standards leads to placing students in front of computer screens for all their learning.
Called “personalized” or “customized” learning, it’s stolen from special education and the IEP, even though there’s nothing personalized about it. It involves children repeating the skill questions until they get them right, redoing the skill until they tap the right answer, like pigeons looking for a food pellet.
The standards are written in stone. It’s a matter of making children reach them. The goals don’t change, just how students get there.
Social-emotional learning standards for more student control.
More recently, tracking a child’s social-emotional behavior has become the new kind of alignment and is controversial. While most of us want children to be kind and respectful, standardizing behavior is also rigid and unyielding.
It’s important to question the standards. Who wrote them? What were their qualifications to do so? Why did they choose these goals? Why should we trust these standards? What happens when social-emotional learning assessment is online. Who sees it?
Shouldn’t the teacher and parent determine a child’s social-emotional learning needs? Can’t this be done within the classroom?
Americans pay a lot to align children to standards.
How much money do states currently spend on assessment? Aligning children to standards has always been big business. Reports are that states spend a combined $1.7 billion on assessments, but this is based on 2012 report that favors assessment.
Skills in math and reading are required for students to work in any job. Standards are necessary for many professions but aligning children to skills in school leaves out much of what a child knows at every stage of their development.
Using alignment to say all children must learn the same things has never been favorable to addressing the differences in children. It leaves many children out, sometimes casting them as failures. The focus is on the test, not the student.
Alignment leaves out the arts.
Not only has alignment been the focus of schools, for years children have been denied classes where they could have thrived because alignment is impossible in those classes. Art and music are ignored because it is difficult to align student success to standards in these subjects.
Teachers lose professionalism.
Teachers who work directly with the students are capable of understanding test information that they implement to better plan instruction. Working with parents to address the student’s needs is what’s needed.
When teachers are tied to high-stakes standards, teaching becomes draconian. Teachers must follow the script and do as they’re told. This anxiety is transferred to children who see learning as strict and even frightening.
If teachers don’t align students to the tests they are evaluated poorly. Many schools have closed because students failed to align to the standards.
The use of the word alignment referring to students and tests is taken for granted. Think about how cold the word sounds.
What’s missing when the focus is alignment to standards?
Aligning students to standards and judging them based on assessment that measures those standards misses information that might prove useful to the student.
In 2009, Anthony Cody, writing for Education Week, interviewed Economic Policy Institute’s scholar Richard Rothstein. Rothstein described well how insufficient standards and standardized testing was to learning.
Typically, states select only the simplest standards for tests used for accountability purposes. State officials claim that their tests are “aligned” with state standards because each question on a test covers something found in the standards. But when these questions cover only the simplest skills in the standards, students who do well on the tests may still not have learned a representative selection of what the standards say they should have been taught.
While teachers run a race to align all children to the same standards, the tech enthusiasts will sort students to what standards they can do and place them on the computer where they will work alone. Students won’t have discussions with classmates or share information in ideal settings where children socialize and learn from one another.
Children shouldn’t be aligned to anything, let alone to narrow tests that put them in a square box.
Leave alignment to wheels and braces, and permit teachers to open the world of knowledge to students, knowledge that will address their needs and interests.