Thank Goodness for Tests!!! – Super Heroes Speak About Assessments Part I

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ChandlerBy Curtis Chandler

There are times when I am really glad that we have tests…and lots of them. For example, those who know me best are aware that I am absolutely, positively terrified of flying.  My friends and family try to tell me that it is irrational to get so nervous on a plane, and that ‘statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel.’  First of all, I have had a hard time finding the exact numbers that back this claim up.  Second of all, that statement was initially made by Superman—who not only possesses the ability to fly, but also happens to be indestructible if he somehow starts to fall tens-of thousands of feet to his doom.

 It’s simple, really.  If I have engine trouble in my old Honda civic with nearly 200,000 thousand miles on it, I merely pull over to the side of the road and get some assistance.  If the plane I’m flying in, however, has engine trouble, that isn’t really an option.  Since I’m not the Man of Steel chances are that the ground and I are going to meet, and…that it will be very, very messy.  What little comfort I can give myself as I hyperventilate into a little bag the during take-off, landing (and virtually every step in between), comes because I know that the pilot I have entrusted my life to…is no dummy.  And…that he or she has proven it on test, after test, after test.

The education and assessment of commercial pilots is a model of rigor and relevance if ever there was one.  Those of us who have recently received or renewed a driver’s license, might have some small glimpse of what it is like for a pilot.  Usually to pass a state driver’s test, you have demonstrate mastery of rudiments such as signaling, steering, breaking, three point turns, and parallel parking.  In other words, we are granted carte blanche on the road by merely demonstrating mastery of a few, basic skills that make it a little less-likely that we won’t hurt ourselves or others.

But no real assessment, let alone training, is given on how to minimize the effects of others’ stupidity and other factors beyond our own control.   For example, whether we should brake or accelerate in a split-second when trying to avoid a collision.  Or, how to regain control if we start to skid or hydroplane.  Even how to minimize damage to ourselves and others when a collision is unavoidable.  These are necessary, life saving skills that do not appear in any driver’s education study guides or on the Department of Motor Vehicle’s tests.  But that is not the case…if you are learning to be a pilot.

According to USA Today and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pilots go through a rigorous training and certification processes. They are screened are rescreened—trained and retrained—not only in takeoff, flight, instrumentation, navigation, and landing, but also in what to do when something goes terribly wrong (Loewentheil, 2013).  You see, when airplanes crash, it’s usually because a bunch of unexpected things go wrong all at once, or one after another (Newman, 2009).  During flight, the difference between success and failure—and between life or death—is rigorous training and assessment.

This became apparent a few years ago when Flight 1549 left LaGuardia and lost power in both engines, allegedly because a few birds were sucked in to the plane’s intake.  ‘Statistically speaking,’ to borrow some words from Superman, it should have ended in a catastrophe for the crew, the passengers, and the numerous citizens of New York and New Jersey below.    But thank goodness for tests.  You see, according to author and pilot Lynn Spencer, “pilots don’t spend their training time flying straight and level”.  Instead, “In simulator training, we’re doing nothing but flying in all sorts of emergencies. Emergencies become just another set of procedures when repeatedly trained” (Newman, 2009).   In other words, good pilot training tends to blur the lines between learning and assessment.  And for pilots, you are never done with either one.

So, while I applaud the pilot and co-pilot who managed to touch flight 1549 down safely in the Hudson River with no lives lost, the real superheroes are those who were never interviewed or whonever appeared on camera—those who train pilots and co-pilots, those who build their curriculum, those who teach them and test them, and those who design and redesign their assessments.  So over the next few weeks, instead of just looking at the new assessments, we will seek out the opinions ofthese types of individuals—these real superheroes.  People whose job it is to ensure that kids learn—and that they can demonstrate it.  We will listen to what they have to say about the next generation of assessments that are being developed for your students…and for mine.

Curtis Chandler is an Education Specialist, Staff Developer, and Keynote Speaker working with ESSDACK to improve the instructional capacity of schools.  He has worked with the Center for Teacher Quality, the Council of Chief State School Officers,  the Mid-Amercian Association for Computers in Education, and with school districts around the nation to improve student learning through the use of instructional technology, problem-based learning, Language Arts instruction, and implementation of College and Career Readiness standards.   Curtis was named the Kansas State Teacher of the Year in 2011 and is also an inductee into the Mid-America Educator Hall of Fame.  Above all, he enjoys spending time with his wife and favorite “students”–his 4 boys ranging in age from three to ten years of age.

This blog was originally posted for betterlearningforschools.com.

Newman, R. (2009). How Sullenberger Really Saved US Airways Flight 1549.  U.S News. Retrieved from http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/flowchart/ 2009/02/03/how-sullenberger-really-saved-us-airways-flight-1549

Lowentheil, H. (2013). 7 Reasons Flying is Still the Safest Way to Travel.  Policy Mic. Retrieved from http://www.policymic.com/articles/53293/7-reasons-flying-is-still-the-safest-way-to-travel


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