This blog addresses education vs inculcation via standardization.


…I wanted to test the outcomes of my teaching approaches, my assumptions, and my new programs. I learned that the system did not have up-to-date tests, or the types of tests that could give me the input I needed. I feared some form of inadequate evaluation using outmoded standards could be used to try to discredit the outcomes of my teaching, the Cortez Program [an experiential field program I operated near Mesa Verde], and my research. I knew standardized tests have to be continually updated and that those in vogue were years behind. Many educators had been pointing out that computers can be programmed to give most of the answers many of the existing tests test for. It was clear that unless a test measures complex mental workings (higher brain functions), and thinking skills involved in reading comprehension and data interpretation, it is of little value. Effective tests must also identify student attitudes and application processes, student motivation, and a learner’s flexibility of thought.

It became obvious I had to learn to be effective as an evaluator and to develop evaluation tools closely tied to national norms (summative evaluation) and to growth within individuals (formative evaluation).

Traditionally, course evaluation is done by testing the students enrolled in the class. If it is determined that the students are prepared to pass the tests, the teacher and materials used are considered effective. That way of testing outcomes sounds okay on the surface, but I was aware new and experimental programs are often junked as a result of this type of evaluation. The essential progression of knowledge and curriculum cannot take place if results – what we test for – is expected to be within the old parameters. Those who attempt new approaches, or write new course syllabi, won’t get old method results. When new approaches don’t have a chance to score well on biased tests, the result is the continuation of outdated curriculum and ineffective teaching.

As I developed ways to evaluate the results of my programs against summative data, and against the formative growth within individuals, I developed insights into types of evaluation which were a process of assessment*, not an end test. Testing became a means of measurement useful to me as a teaching tool. By testing during the learning process, I could adjust my teaching and focus on student needs. I began to use tests to tell me if the time and energy I invested in teaching a concept or set of facts resulted in true learning. Most important, I knew that standardized testing lost significance as a way to evaluate student outcomes after the teaching-learning process was complete. Thus, for both student and teacher, testing became a teaching tool — a way of staying on target and getting results.

I began to use the evaluation-for-growth processes in student contracts. As I wrote a contract with each student, we identified the places within their learning activities where summative and formative evaluation would focus their work. As I did that over and over again, with hundreds of students, I became aware of two very important outcomes: I had developed clear objectives which were necessary if I was to know where we were going and when we got there; and, equally as important, I was developing a way to give form and arrangement to teaching and learning.

Because I now used testing as a way to improve my teaching and better-focus student learning activities, I became aware of other dynamics in the teacher-learner process. I observed that certain things had to happen in progression if concepts were to be effectively taught and, most importantly, internalized by the learner, I began to observe a logical sequencing that resulted in retained learning. In the early 1970s, as I sought ways to evaluate student mastery, I identified and gave names to the places in the sequence where I could evaluate the teaching-learning progress most effectively. It was like a path. I called it “The Learning Path,” and set out to test my hypothesis that there were stages in the learning process where effective evaluation of teaching and student mastery would result in meaningful, life-long learning.

The Cortez Programs and my classrooms became a testing ground for the Learning Path. I asked my doctoral resource board at UNC to help me. At their urging, I evaluated dozens of text books currently being used in our schools to see if they were organized in a way which facilitated learning according to my hypothesis. I became aware that all books introduced new information by attempting to present it to the “average” reader on the grade level for which the book was intended. That was the first step of learning: INTRODUCTION. But then, I couldn’t find a text that went to the second step, ASSOCIATION, to check and see if the student responded to the introduction in the intended way. In fact, the typical text jumped from introducing a concept to testing the mastery of the concept. A few of the better texts introduced a concept, had work sheets and examples, and then tested for mastery. None recommended checking the student’s comprehension before proceeding.

I knew without doubt that if the association phase of learning was not present and carefully monitored, little or no learning would take place. I had seen the folly of the traditional system wherein the student passes or fails, a grade is recorded, and then another concept is introduced regardless of whether the student has benefited from the lesson. Yet none of the texts and few if any of the curriculum guides I examined had the essential evaluation step, the step that must follow the introduction of a concept: ASSOCIATION. From observations, I also knew teachers were ineffectual if they didn’t stop the telling process and check to see if the student had associated the introduced information into his own ken. I knew if the learner didn’t associate the new material into his experiences, he was probably learning it by rote, if at all.

One of my favorite ways of explaining the association step on the Learning Path is to teach a concept.
I am going to teach you about a Zarouph. You will be tested upon your understanding. A Zarouph has four legs, is often spotted, and has dense fur. Zarouphs can live almost anywhere on earth. They have been known to hurt people, but most of them either avoid conflicts with humans or become passive and mild- mannered.

I assume you can pass any test I give you about the above information. You will get an “A” for the unit! You are obviously an excellent student. You know everything you need to know about Zarouphs. Hold on! There is one problem. You never associated Zarouphs with anything in your ken. You have learned your lesson, you can pass any test with an “A,” and yet you have learned nothing of practical value to you – Association did not take place.

Did I say Zarouph? I mean Gray Wolf.
Aha, association!

The Learning Path (1) Introduction. (2) Association (3) Involvement (4) Application (5) Internalization (6) Contribution.

When I wanted my World History students to know what was happening in the rest of the world at the time the Anasazi flourished, an understanding that I believed essential if they were to put new world cultures in correct perspective, I had to check to see if they understood the complex ideas of geographically isolated cultures existing in developmental time. For example, did each student have a mental time-line of history that was accurate? Did each understand developmental levels– the concept of stone- age cultures, and the concept of stone-age societies existing at the time of iron age cultures, separated by developmental level and geography? I needed to know about each student’s associations to be able to teach the identified concepts.

A graphic example of incorrect association, one of hundreds I can account, popped-up in a contract meeting with a girl who had been doing quite well, but was now angry and confused, saying she wanted to drop the class. I learned that she responded to the stimulus word “Anasazi” with a response based upon the Anatole Litvak film she had recently seen about the youngest daughter of Nicolas II, the last Russian Czar. I learned she had closely associated with Ingrid Bergman, and was emotionally tied to the character Bergman played, Anastasia. When I said the strange word “Anasazi,” she heard “Anastasia.” Thus she heard my introduction to the Pueblo people through a mind-set of Russian history. When it didn’t make sense, she became angry.

I corrected the association problem for that student and got her on to the right track in a matter of fifteen minutes. Most of the time it wasn’t that easy. With other students I had difficulty getting the information I needed. Sometimes the problems of association were so foggy, usually because the student lacked basic background information, I couldn’t make a quick diagnosis and get the student on track. I needed another step for evaluating correct associations. The step I used was INVOLVEMENT.

I learned involvement is an integral part of learning. Therein, learners are actively doing, creating, building, or in any way demonstrating they understand what has been introduced.

Some of the better texts gave examples of the concepts introduced. Some used tests as a way of measuring mastery of the data. None set up situations wherein learners became actively involved in the process of learning. These situations are necessary because they give teachers the opportunity to monitor the student’s association-understanding of the concept. These exercises give students the opportunity to build experiences that reinforce the association and retention of the concepts being taught.

Depending on the student, there were many ways to get them involved in demonstrating their handle on the concept. Drawing was the most frequently used method. For example, the student was asked to draw a time line from memory. In minutes I could evaluate what he knew. Others built models, gave demonstrations using props (a globe, maps), and still others told me a story about what happened. There were many ways to let the student’s demonstrate, through involvement in the process of learning, that they had correct information and useful pictures in their heads.

As I worked to define the involvement step, I became aware that evaluation of the teaching-learning process would require another step, similar, but different enough to stand alone. I named it APPLICATION. In the beginning, I had assumed involvement equaled application. But as I examined what I needed to know about what the learners comprehended, I identified a need to evaluate by yet another means. The application step requires that the teacher ask the student questions which the student answers in a way, orally or in writing, which shows that he can apply the introduced concept to another situation. For example, if the concept of time, a time line, diverse cultures and different developmental levels existing at the same time, is identified as important for students to know, then can the student demonstrate that he has a correct basic understanding of these complex ideas? Can he contrast his life with those of people living in more primitive (or developed) cultures? As he makes the analogy, the teacher listens to ensure his thinking is clear. If not clear, then evaluation has pinpointed the problem and another prescription for learning the concept is made.

Once I knew the student was able to apply the concept being taught, I needed to know if INTERNALIZATION had occurred. It was evident I needed another evaluation tool that would “measure” internalization. I knew that to teach effectively I had to know if the learner could turn the concept in her mind and do something with it that demonstrated mastery of both facts and abstractions. Could she remove or separate the concepts and apply them? For example, could she teach another by using her own unique examples that the student she tutored could associate within his own ken? Could she use the new math formula to solve a different problem? Could she explain something as complicated as a time zone by using the example of traveling east to get west? If she could, then I was aware true learning had taken place and I had done my job. The tutoring programs gave me a chance to observe students as they applied what they had learned and internalized it. I also developed the skill of asking questions in a way that required an answer that was an application of taught information. This gave me an insight into the student’s internalization and thus mastery.

The final step on the Learning Path is CONTRIBUTION. Through all we do, there has to be a reason to teach what we teach, and for the learner to learn what she has learned. In the final step of evaluation we must ask, “What did the learner do for herself or others as a result of what we taught?” We must accept that if activities are for naught but the future, and learning is separated from contribution to one’s community and self, individuals are damaged and society is deprived of precious resources.

I came to believe that as we teach and then evaluate to see if internalization has taken place, we can allow students to make a contribution with what they have learned. The contribution phase is the true test that will tell us our educational process has resulted in true, integrated learning. In all of our academic courses, community service activities, tutoring, and archaeological programs we proved that students could accelerate and enhance the quality of learning as they learn and make a contribution to the advancement of knowledge.

Whether I was studying John Dewey or reading the rationale for a civics lesson, there was always a suggested end result from an education process: The student contributes to the society. I became aware few teachers let each student make a contribution by applying what they have learned each time they complete a unit of study. I decided our society has come to believe that contributions are made by a few people who are over forty and under sixty-five. I had noted ours is a nation that does not need its children (or its seniors).

Some opportunities to contribute are provided in our schools. A student playing in the band, being part of a group like thespians, or being a member of the track team is able to make a contribution during the application phase of learning. Student-to-student tutoring is another way. Examining what effective teachers do well suggests that each student can end the unit or course of study by making a contribution to others with what she has learned.

As I analyzed the contribution phase of the Learning Path and developed ways to implement it, I became aware that many of my fellow teachers assumed that contributions come when we get students to compete with one another. Competitive behavior seems to be a part of our human make-up, but it is not advisable to use that part of our “survival package” as an educational tool. Using a behavior that requires one to best another should be, at most, a small part of a successful educational program. Parents and educators must be aware of the damage competition outside oneself can do. I found the Learning Path works best when the student is aware of norms, but concentrates upon growth within herself.

In the 1960s as I was developing an educational philosophy, the contract system, the Learning Path, and the school in southwestern Colorado, I joked that my educational tombstone would read:


Like most jokes, this one bore more than a modicum of truth. Teaching a child in the classroom or in the real world environment is enhanced by the immediate and practical application of the concepts being taught, and by a systematic process of evaluation* which is part of the teaching-learning process.

*Note: Dan Kenley, an amazingly effective educator I have the joy of working with, uses the word “assessment” to differentiate between norm referenced “standardized” tests, and assessments used to measure the formative growth in individuals for effective teaching and learning..

Adapted from research first presented in the book: Crow Canyon: Pioneering Education and Archaeology On The Southwest Colorado Frontier. 1st edition 1993. 2nd edition 2009.