The Power of Words

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TeacherPrepWordle_full

While searching for something entirely unrelated, I came across this word cloud today. It is from the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) and is featured on the bottom of their teacher preparation page. I stared at it for a moment, just exploring the words that it features and how I felt about each set and size. The thing about a word cloud is that the size of a word in that cloud reflects the value given or the frequency mentioned.

Take a moment to look at this cloud. What are the three biggest words featured? “Science” Makes sense, it is the NSTA website. “Students.” Of course, very logical. “Assessment.”

Assessment. As I paid attention to this word cloud in greater detail, I realized just how greatly it bothered me. Look out large Assessment is! It is nearly as large as Students, and Science. And yet, there are so many better words listed that you almost have to squint to read. Reflect, for example. Or perhaps ethical, evidence, engage, fair, equitable (which is SO tiny!), effective, activities, content, inquiry… I could go on.

Equitable is in fact so small that I nearly missed it. Fair is so small it is nearly blurry and unreadable. Yet Assessment is so large that it juts out of the word cloud awkwardly. This bothers me a great deal, because while a word cloud is a bit abstract, it is still a very solid piece of evidence that reflects the values of the document that created it. So assessment is considered an incredibly valuable thing. That, in and over itself, isn’t the worst thing in the world. In the teaching environment that we are in now, it’s understandable that it would be mentioned frequently.

No, that isn’t the issue I have. The problem I have is the fact that Fair, Equitable, Ethical… all of these are given hardly any credence at all. In relation to assessment, that’s highly problematic to me. Part of the HUGE problem with the testing system as it stands is the fact that many tests are written in a way that pushes out students who either haven’t been specifically prepared for those tests, or those who have a different set of social experiences and thus a social capital that isn’t reflected in those tests. This is from a document that talks about preparing teachers – so should we not be preparing them to be equitable? Fair? ETHICAL?

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