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Should Practitioners Ignore Researchers?

Posted by on in Assessment & Grading
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Since the start of my career in 2007, I have witnessed some form of educational debate take place on almost a daily basis. And, with the rise of social media – in particular, Facebook and Twitter – these types of conversations are now that much easier to create, engage in, and/or find.

The Problem

Overall, the majority of this communication does ultimately benefit our students, but at the same time I believe we owe it to our profession to not just interact when we’re “in the know,” but also when there is a lot to be learned…And, furthermore, we should be willing to admit to ourselves and others that we just might not know everything.

Over the past month I have witnessed a few arguments unfold on Twitter in which a couple of educators from other districts were justifying their actions by declaring, “Those ideas [proposed by others in the district] wouldn’t work with my students,” and at the same time they discounted the work of highly respected researchers because “They aren’t in the classroom!” In general, these situations were your typical resistance to change.

As an administrator, I don’t see anything wrong with resistance, as long as (1) it’s done respectfully, and (2) it’s based on sound reasoning and/or research. (After all, we don’t want teachers to be a bunch a “yes people” who blindly follow others without thinking for themselves.) Nevertheless, when years of solid research are ignored, we are doing our students a disservice.

(Educators bashing their school/district on social media is another issue altogether, which is beyond the scope of this post.)

The Solution

The solution is simple. We must make more of an intentional effort to connect credible research (mostly found in books and academic journals) to practice.

Let’s use standards-based grading as an example, which, according to Tom Guskey, “is an area in which most current policies and practices are bound more by tradition than by evidence of effectiveness…More often than not, we do it simply because ‘we’ve always done it that way.’”

If you look at the research on grading, there are some facts that are indisputable. Some of these include:

  • A grade should represent a student’s current level of achievement.
  • Percentage grades do not effectively communicate student achievement.
  • Student behaviors (effort, participation, etc.) should be reported separately from grades for achievement and performance.
  • Grades should be criterion-referenced based on standards, not norm-referenced.
  • Zeros should not be issued when students fail to turn in their work.

Ideas such as these are supported by all the heavy hitters: Rick Stiggins, Tom Guskey, Lee Ann Jung, Ken O’Connor, Rick Wormeli, etc. These are researchers who seemingly “live and breathe” assessment and grading. Yet, there are still educators with little or no expertise in this area who completely reject this research because they’re the ones with the students. Think about that for a second. Now, while we absolutely cannot disregard the thoughts and opinions of those in the trenches…

There’s an unmistakable difference between educators making research work for their students vs. educators ignoring research altogether. While the former is ideal, the latter is pedagogically indefensible.

In the End

In the end, we should be regularly educating ourselves and moving forward for the benefit of our profession and our students. At the same time, if the topic of conversation is one in which we are not well versed, let’s admit what we don’t know and make sure we do our research before speaking out. 

While some claim there’s not enough time…

“If it’s important, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”

Educational research is too important to ignore, so let’s find a way for our students to benefit from those who have put in the hard work before us.      

In what ways do you make sure you’re constantly learning? How do you balance research with the unique situations that exist in your district/school/classroom?

Connect with Ross on his blog and on Twitter.

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I am the coauthor of Hacking Project Based Learning, and the Supervisor of Instructional Practice K-12 in the Salisbury Township School District (1:1 MacBook/iPad) in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I am an Apple Distinguished Educator and a Google Certified Innovator. My passions are inquiry-based learning and quality professional development. I blog about these topics at rosscoops31.com. I regularly speak, present, and conduct workshops related to my writings and professional experiences.

When I am not working, I enjoy eating steak and pizza, exercising, reading books, playing on my computer, and provoking my three beautiful nephews. Please feel free to connect via email, RossCoops31@gmail.com, and Twitter, @RossCoops31.

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Guest Friday, 22 March 2019