As 2015 comes to an end, it is futile to resist the temptation to reflect briefly on this first year of the Embrace the Absurd blog. Reflections, after all, are the lifeblood of the blog. As advertised, the fifteen essays posted in 2015 addressed assessment, accountability, and other important stuff. There were posts on technical topics such as the way we describe standard error of measurement (The Best That We Can Do) and vertical scales (Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?). There were posts that addressed the new next generation assessments directly (Shall We Dance?) and indirectly (Take Me Out To The Ballgame). Of course, with the signing of ESSA, there were also recent posts related to ESEA (ESEA – It’s So Much More Than A Test) and NCLB (Goals: Assets or Distractions). Through site stats and a nifty little annual report, WordPress.com informed me that the blog was viewed (usually once) by more than 200 people in six different countries and was viewed by me lots of times. All in all, it feels like 2015 was the next logical step in the progression that began with the virtual blog that I kept in my head for several years and continued with Thoughts from the Center – the private predecessor to Embrace the Absurd that I shared with colleagues in 2014.
Although the posts covered a variety of topics, most of them revolved around the central theme of the blog: If you are in search of meaning, you must be willing to look well beyond a test score. The message that in an ideal world results from large-scale assessment should confirm information that educators already possess about student achievement was conveyed in two of the initial posts, Psychometrician, Do No Harm and Taylor Swift, Headbanging, Summative Assessment, and Actionable Information. For years, I attempted to deliver that message at workshops using another large-scale data collection effort, the U.S. Census, as an example; that is, we do not wait for the census results to tell us how many people we have living in our household, whether classes are too crowded in our schools, etc. Then with the 2010 Census, the government began running advertisements stating that it was important to complete the census so that you would know whether your town needed a new traffic light. Embrace the Absurd.
When I entered the large-scale assessment industry in 1989 (trademark pending, Taylor Swift), the most important lessons I learned from my mentors Rich Hill and Stuart Kahl involved the importance of understanding not only the strengths of large-scale assessment, but also its limitations; recognizing that data from large-scale assessments can supplement, but not supplant information that educators process on a daily basis in the classroom. In that vein, I once borrowed from John Lennon’s Imagine and the National Research Council to end a session at the old CCSSO Large-Scale Assessment Conference with a verse that began with “Imagine there’s no Harcourt, It’s easy if you try” and concluded with “Imagine all the teachers, Knowing What Students Know”. In the years that followed, however, we have seen hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to building bigger and better large-scale assessments and complex statistical machinery employed to wring every drop of information from that single, summative score. Embrace the Absurd.
A new year and a new reauthorization of ESEA, however, bring the promise of new hope, new challenges, and new blog posts. There will be new opportunities to ponder and comment on issues in assessment, accountability and other important stuff. There will be new reasons to keep the conversation going, to ask why (or why not), to continue the search for meaning, and to embrace the absurd.