Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Story of Assessment and Evidence: NBA Edition

Stop me if you've heard this one:

Two teachers walk into a school, and the principal asks them where their student data is.


Let's face it. As educators we live in an assessment-heavy, data-driven world governed by the results-indicator division of academic law enforcement (legislation). There is no way to escape without measuring our students with some form of data or another. However, while I understand the necessities of curating and monitoring students numerically, there are more ways to gather meaningful evidence than simply giving our kids "common" assessments and sharing spreadsheets with one another at staff meetings.

Let me put it to you this way, in the language of the National Basketball Association:

In 1984, the Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan, who went on to become arguably the greatest player in the history of professional basketball. Jordan's 6 World Championships, 5 league MVP awards, 6 NBA Finals MVP awards, 3 All-Star Game MVP trophies, and 2 Olympic gold medals make him every bit the part of a high school valedictorian. In comparing His Airness to a student, Jordan's "academic" record would make him the model pupil who aced every test given him and graduated with high honors.

Now compare Jordan to two other former NBA players also selected in the 1984 NBA Draft - one named Sam Bowie and the other Landcaster Gordon. Bowie, a 7-1 skyscraper, had a stellar basketball career at the University of Kentucky, while Gordon, a 6-3 guard, starred at Louisville. However, neither of them has the same NBA portfolio as does Michael Jordan (see below). Given that their college "evidence" was relatively similar (see below) we would assume, given educational analysis, that all three would be relatively successful in the professional ranks.

College Stats - Source:
NBA Stats - Source:
Here is the kicker. Bowie was chosen second overall by the Portland Trailblazers, and Gordon went to the Los Angeles Clippers as the eighth overall selection. Jordan - the best player the world has ever seen - was picked third. Bowie has become the punchline of several Jordan jokes while no one really has ever heard of Landcaster Gordon. (And no, it is not this guy to the right.)

The data, in this case, did not tell the entire story.

Granted, selecting players in the NBA draft is no easy science, anymore than that of predicting the academic achievement of students - or what they might accomplish as the venture into the world of employment.

Gordon, #4, never fulfilled
his NBA potential
In the case of Michael Jordan, he was pegged (based largely on data) as a future superstar and lived up to the hype. Bowie, who had impressive numbers as well, was a marginal pro with a lackluster career. Gordon? Well, he was the kid with data-proven "potential" who never quite measured up.

Despite all of the assessment data we gather on our kids, there are obviously several untold stories that combine to make each and every student who they are - individually.

I argue that data - be it from common assessments, standardized testing, or any number of other formats - only tells a part of the story. If college success unilaterally foretold professional achievement, then life would be so much easier for the highly-paid executives, coaches, and players in the NBA. However, like education, success on one assessment (college play) does not mean "proficiency" on another (professional performance).

To help all students complete their own stories, educators need to provide opportunities for them to give performances in the realm of any given content or concept, but on stages of their choosing. Michael Jordan was an amazing basketball player and proved as much against the best the work had to offer. Bowie was also a stellar player, up until he faced the cream of the crop. NBA stardom was just not in his cards. (To be fair, Bowie suffered from foot injuries that were beyond his control and those kept him from reaching his true potential; ultimately, he was never anything more than a serviceable player.)

The point is, each and every college player with aspirations of playing in the NBA is given ample opportunities to show his talents against some of the best prospects in the world. The NBA has a summer league devoted to giving young, unestablished players chances to impress coaches and front office personnel. There is also a developmental league (the NBDL) for not-yet-ready players that serves as the minor league system for major franchises.

Manute Bol was 7-6!
Do we do the same for our kids? If they struggle in one aspect of learning do we write them off as Landcaster Gordons who will never cut it in "real world" environments? Are they cast off from consideration because they do not show the proper "academic" prowess that we'd like to see? Honestly, if Sam Bowie was only 6-7 instead of 7-1, would anyone have paid him any attention? And thus do we intentionally leave kids off "the team" because of what they don't possess?

Give Michael Jordan a basketball and he would absolutely amaze us with his abilities on the court. Put a skateboard under the feet of Tony Hawk and he'd leave us in awe. Place Missy Franklin in a pool and she'd leave us shaking our head in disbelief. Hand a mic to Aretha Franklin and be prepared for an all-out show. Conversely, if we gave them all a standardized test, would we be equally as satisfied?

Aside from the obvious and mandated assessment that permeates our academic landscape, look to find other ways for kids to truly show what they know. Here are just a few tips:

  • Student-made videos: These creations can let student personality and ability shine through. Upload to YouTube or share with social media.
  • Video game creations: Programs like Minecraft have become viable avenues to let students create and explore ideas. Another example of letting them use the tools they already have.
  • Cartoons and animation: From the advanced (Scratch) to the intermediate (PowToon) to the basic (Google Slides), students can tell a story in so many different ways. Let them do it in their own way.
  • 3D modeling: Tinkercad is just one way kids can create any 3D image imaginable. It's great for learning math and science especially, but works with any content. Integrates with 3D printers perfectly.
  • Interactive whiteboards: Apps like Explain Everything allow kids to talk their way through concepts and knowledge without the nervousness of speaking in front of the class.
  • Music, poetry, and other forms of art: These modes of expression are so much of our students' world right now. Let our kids be artistic and creative and fresh. Even the most timid personalities will bloom.
  • App creation: There are several free programs that provide app creation services - everything from basic features to advanced functions.
  • Ask the students: It might surprise us adults to know that our kids do possess actual talents and abilities that do not fit into the traditional mold of academia. Let that archaic philosophy go. After all, we are preparing them for THEIR world, not OURS. Sure, we know how to excel in today's world, but don't we go about our lives differently than our parents and grandparents did?
  • Genius Hour: Set aside a few hours a month for kids to explore and do what they want. The results from GHs are astounding.
  • It is no excuse that WE don't know all about these options. What's more, it is unacceptable if our students do not know about them. We are doing our kids a disservice - academic malpractice even - if we do not expose them to these options and let them explore and create.
Think about this:

What will be the basketball...the skateboard...the microphone...the computer program...that turns your kids into Michael, Tony, Aretha, or Mark.

What will they do to complete their story?

Will we let them?

Follow us on Twitter for more EdTech integration tips and ideas. Also follow Maniac Darin Anderson.

No comments:

Post a Comment