Better Assessment or Bust


4. Eric – Dan and I are Having a Moment
3. Dan – Axes to Grind
2. Eric – Response to “In Defense of NCLB”
1. Dan – In Defense of NCLB

An Open Letter

Thanks, Eric, for reading into my last letter accurately and for refraining from willful misinterpretation. I felt treated fairly, in any case, and regretted my forays into levity there at the end.

Anyway, I don’t dispute much of anything you’ve written in your annotations. You take the opportunity for expansion and maxims like, “Any test is only a valid assessment of itself,” don’t seem so depressingly general anymore.

I don’t think I’ve been clear in the past so I’ll say here that I would prefer my teaching to be evaluated on something greater, more flexible, and more comprehensive than NCLB offers. I compensate so deftly for my professional deficiencies with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a devastating jawline. I would that NCLB could look into my class’ shaded ovals and see that about me.

So, at the end of this conversation, or at least at the end of my end of this conversation, I’d like to point out that we both dig assessment and we both want better assessment. What’s better is you leave several specific action points in your annotations — more teacher involvement; qualifiable (not just quantifiable) data; flexibility; less reliance on objective measures (multiple choice, specifically).

That’s great. Refreshing. I so rarely find these calls for action within a post decrying NCLB, just a lot of decrying.

But I need more. I crave specifics. I want better assessment for me and mine, but at this point, I’m just so grateful to have any assessment that I can’t endorse an alternative to NCLB when no specific alternative has been formulated.

However the estimable Chris Sessums throws down the gauntlet in a list of resolutions:

A clear agenda (nee manifesto) and strategies to achieve both manageable and sustainable outcomes must be articulated and disseminated across the spectrum of available media.

The agenda isn’t clear yet and the passive voice doesn’t indicate who will be articulating it, but Sessums positions this as an entry-level post. I hope this conversation goes somewhere.

At this point, NCLB is a target large enough to shoot from space. Grievance without a call to action isn’t unforgivable, just kinda boring. I really hope Sessum and his Comment Coalition take this discussion somewhere new, some place specific and actionable. I’m watching, almost beside myself.  I hope to chat about it again with you another time.


I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Hey Dan.

    This is kinda funny. I was just getting online to write a brief clarification when I saw your new post, so here’s what I was gonna say:

    I wanted to make something clear to anyone who might be following the conversation between Dan and me. From what I can tell, Dan seems to be passionate about education, reflective about his teaching, and genuinely dedicated to the success of his students. That’s the best bottom line.

    Educators might haggle over educational theory and politics–and we should, and those things are important–but they pale to near insignificance in light of that bottom line.

    If more educators were constantly approaching education in that manner, much in education would improve.

    There’s a quote from Revelation that comes to mind here. God’s laying the smackdown on a church and says “because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

    Dan is hot. That’s cool.

  2. Word up. It’s great to read a passionate discussion on the web that doesn’t degenerate, that keeps its eyes on the prize. Ultimately, the point of all this is to seek the truth together and you guys are on it. I’ve had people ask me why I like to debate with my friends so much, but I feel like I wouldn’t have to explain to you. Not everyone gets the value of tangling like this, but I agree that it’s important because it keeps us conscious.