The Absurdity of Next-Gen Assessments

Like most teachers who have taught during the golden NCLB-era of American education, I have spent countless hours of my career analyzing graphs, tables and tiered diagrams of student data in order to make the “data-based” instructional decisions that are required of us.

Most of the time, our Pearson and/or McGraw-Hill analytics allow me to glean the following information about my students:  most are average, a few are below (typically the ones who are already getting extra help), and a few are above.

Thank you very much for confirming that bell-curves exist and can I please go back to teaching now.

Now, of course, with the all-but-inevitable ESEA reauthorization waiting in the wings and the “innovation” (read: corporate welfare) it promises, testing and tech companies are promising to deliver products that will give us real-time student data.

Thanks to the new, embedded, competency-based assessments developed by our favorite testing companies and brought to our states through stealth-policies meant to support and/or force their use, teachers won’t have to wait for standardized test data to make instructional decisions. 

Well hallelujah, because today, this happened (below), and I had no idea what to do because I had no digital data analytics at my disposal:

math problem


I’m just kidding.

(And yes – that’s pencil and paper you see up there.  I know – so industrial era, right?)

It turns out, I knew exactly what to do and how to help this student, because I have a brain.

In fact, not only was I able to help this student fix his mistake (he put his 5 in the tens place when it belongs in the hundreds) I was also able to read his mood (a little stressed, because this material is new) and even offer some “biofeedback” (a smile and gentle pat on the back for encouragement).

Not only that, but I was also able to go give more personalized feedback to three or four other students who had their hands raised for help!

Unfortunately, despite evidence of the ease, cost-effectiveness, and humanity of tried-and-true teaching methods like the one I used above, it seems that people have either a) completely lost their minds, b) are absolutely desperate to profit off half-baked edu-tech ideas, or c) the anti-teacher rhetoric of the last fifteen or so years really has been so effective that there are people out there who truly believe that teachers are so useless that we are incapable of giving “real-time feedback” without the aid of digital devices and data analytics.

I suppose it could be a combination of all three.

See below for a quote from this document put out by the Center for the Future of Museums:

“The development of technology that can tap into human brains will tell us what is really going on in there—both conscious and subconscious responses. Teachers are already deploying tools, such as Khan Academy’s learning analytics, that give them real-time feedback on where students are stumbling and what kind of help they need. NeuroFocus has already deployed portable, wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) scanners for market research. As the hardware becomes even smaller and less intrusive, how long before it is harnessed to track learners’ attentiveness, concentration and mood?”

And now see if you can keep from doing this:



Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

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