Education Insights

Education news, trends, and highlights by Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft

Assessments...are we doing it all wrong?

Assessments...are we doing it all wrong?

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As part of the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) this week in Washington, D.C., I attended the Global Education Competitiveness Summit (GECS). The purpose of the event was to start a dialogue about international assessments, to discuss how to get students in the US to perform better on benchmark tests to ensure they are prepared to compete globally, and to look at some of the models of best practices around the world like Finland and Singapore. The meeting was sponsored by Microsoft, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Education Commission of the States (ECS), and dozens of education, policy and business leaders from the states of Tennessee, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana and more contributed to the discussion.

After listening and participating, I see a couple of urgent actions for our country to take in order to reform education in the US.

Need for softer skills. We have to start with embracing 21st century competencies. We’ve been so focused on standardized tests and assessments that we’ve undervalued that broader development of competencies. For example, in Singapore, when they think about education transformation, the language they use is that want to build more confident learners, they want to build more creative thinkers. This generation of high school students will supposedly have 10 or more jobs in their lifetime. The workforce is rapidly changing, so this notion about being much more nimble on competencies is important. I think other countries have come to this realization faster than the US has in terms of understanding and taking action. I think development of these softer skills are important in terms of how we can set aspirations for students and make school much more relevant to work and the skills kids need to compete over their lifetime. 

Teachers as icons. Where do we start change in our education system? There’s a lot of focus on teachers…how do we better prepare teachers and how can we get the best teachers? In other countries, like Finland, the role of a teacher is universally respected, and the best and the brightest become teachers. In the US, we need to show much more effort on making the role of a teacher something we look up to, like we do with doctors, lawyers, policemen, etc. We need to think about the teaching profession as the backbone of our country and better embrace teachers in our culture. In other countries, citizens think the role of a teacher is something to aspire to, that’s not always true here in the US.

IT assessments for systems, not teachers. When we talk about education transformation and the role of technology in that, I think colleges of teaching are being thrown under the bus when people say teachers aren’t trained to embrace technology.  I don’t think that’s true. If you go to any college of teaching, you’re going to see next generation learning students. They’re going to be taking e-courses, collaborating online, etc.  I think when we talk about technology or IT assessment, we shouldn’t be measuring teachers’ skills on whether they can use a browser or Word document…we should be thinking about IT assessment and asking if the school is IT-ready. Do they support digital curriculum? Are they personalizing learning? Are they assessing students and progress more regularly than once a year when kids take assessment tests? Daily reflection, change and adjustments are needed.  We should put more focus and rigor on IT assessments for systems and schools, not for our teachers specifically. From a learning context, schools should be assessed on the ability to serve curriculum, to do personalized learning, etc.

We have to take action now. The US used to be the world’s leader in education and our students at the top of assessment tests. We’ve witnessed other countries change and forge ahead of us. We can’t lose a generation of students to transform. We have to transform more aggressively and more holistically.

Michael Golden also posted on the GECS event and gives details on our collaboration with Cisco and Intel to transform global assessments.

 

Comments
  • Thanks for the tweet directing me to the login...I have a 17 day old son and am not as sharp as I was 18 days ago! There is a lot to unpack here.

    On the fundamentals we agree: we must transform our schools. I write that as a former teacher, a teacher-teacher, an academic engaged in urban school reformation, and most importantly, as a father.

    On the "whats" and "hows" we may have bigger differences, but we'll see.

    1. You write: "how to get students in the US to perform better on benchmark tests to ensure they are prepared to compete globally"

    There is not a single shred of research, anywhere, that links global competitiveness to test scores. In the conclusion you write: "The US used to be the world’s leader in education and our students at the top of assessment tests."

    When were we the leader in education and when did we outscore other nations? Never and never.

    For the record, the non partisan World Economic Forum has consistently ranked the United States the most competitive nation on the planet. If we are going to mimic Finland, let's mimic the way they treat their children and teachers...they don't teach reading until age 7...and teachers are rock stars.

    2. "We’ve been so focused on standardized tests and assessments that we’ve undervalued that broader development of competencies"

    HEAR! HEAR! Agreed and then some. We need to focus on higher order thinking skills and intelligent behavior: resiliency, perseverance, prescience, diligence, impulse control, imagination (which Einstein favored over intelligence...)

    3. "I think development of these softer skills are important in terms of how we can set aspirations for students and make school much more relevant to work and the skills kids need to compete over their lifetime."

    The bureau of labor statistics has some interesting data on jobs...not sure what kind of skills most people are going to need for work, but there are a number of skills they need to maintain their families, communities, and country in "states of integrity and usefulness." That being said, I agree that we need schools that are relevant to children's lives. The nature of the child is inquisitive, but we ignore that, forcing a stale, homogenistic curriculum on children who live in complex and dynamic worlds.

    Adopting national standards (pushed by one Bill Gates) is not going to keep people in school or lead to technological breakthroughs. Encouraging risk taking on the other hand, will. Let's put solar panels on schools and ask the children to maintain them or let's put gardens on the rooftops and ask children to maintain them...think they will learn math and science while doing so?

    4. "In the US, we need to show much more effort on making the role of a teacher something we look up to"

    Making a grown man cry here...YES. And let's make sure we reward the good one and ditch the bad ones. First, reform tenure so teachers go up for it every 5 years. Second, create a 5 point evaluation system for teachers that includes: Administrators, Peer reviews, Parental reviews, STUDENT reviews (gasp!), and an online portfolio maintained by the teacher allowing us to move from accountability to responsibility.

    5. "I think colleges of teaching are being thrown under the bus when people say teachers aren’t trained to embrace technology"

    I'd agree. In my methods class I have students design iterative, customized projects to be completed entirely online. They are wicked awesome.

    6. "Are they personalizing learning?" A HUGE QUESTION...and something that is not possible in a standardized, rigid system. Give me any child, anywhere, over the age of 6 and in an hour I'll design a curriculum based on her interest that covers more than he'll ever be able to accomplish. And when she's done, she'll see that she is at the very beginning of new research. In order to make sure that he is progressing, I'll have her keep an online portfolio (so anyone interested can see) tracking her progress.

    7. rigor

    Let's stop applying this word to education okay? Here are some definitions for rigor:

    –noun

    1. strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.

    2. the full or extreme severity of laws, rules, etc.

    3. severity of living conditions; hardship; austerity: the rigor of wartime existence.

    4. a severe or harsh act, circumstance, etc.

    5. scrupulous or inflexible accuracy or adherence: the logical rigor of mathematics.

    6. severity of weather or climate or an instance of this: the rigors of winter.

    7. Pathology. a sudden coldness, as that preceding certain fevers; chill.

    8. Physiology. a state of rigidity in muscle tissues during which they are unable to respond to stimuli due to the coagulation of muscle protein.

    9. Obsolete. stiffness or rigidity.

    I don't like any of those for use with my son's experience at school...BUT I think I know what you are looking for...you want him challenged, you want him engaged, you want the work to be just a little more complex than what he can handle so he's constantly growing...I want that too! Let's use vigor instead of rigor.

    vigor:

    –noun

    1. active strength or force.

    2. healthy physical or mental energy or power; vitality.

    3. energetic activity; energy; intensity: The economic recovery has given the country a new vigor.

    4. force of healthy growth in any living matter or organism, as a plant.

    5. active or effective force, esp. legal validity.

    That's a better word for education no?

    8. "We have to take action now." Agreed...We are losing children and I see it when I go into schools throughout my district. Bill Gates said something I once rejected and now totally embrace: "even when schools are working, they aren't working" YEP. They are based on a system of delivery and we live in a world of customization and integration. We can have schools that help children integrate their unique skills into a complex and evolving universe, but not until we, as you quite rightly call for, personalize learning.

    9. Holistic Reform

    YEP. Let's make schools community learning centers where children and adults work together on a variety of projects. Let's keep them open longer and make the hours students attend up to the students. Let's run restaurants open to the community out of the cafeteria and allow students to be in charge (I cooked my way through high school and college, learning more in the kitchen than in many classrooms). Let's ask children to grow vegetables for those restaurants on the roof, maintaining proper PH for juicy tomatoes...

    I think we probably agree on a great deal. I look forward to further posts and discussion.

    Best,

    drpk

  • Thanks for the thoughtful and HELPFUL response as well as education on the word rigor...I'll ban it from future language for sure.  Language is so important to setting the right tone and expectation in our schools so your guidance is extremely well taken.  

    On point #1...I actually think we largely are in-synch here...what I've learned from viewing other models outside the US is that despite international benchmarking...there are many factors to consider...many of which are either impossible to replicate or not consistent with the academic or personal freedoms we embrace in the US.  I think the key is to learn lesso.ns from successful approaches everywhere and identify what could work or help improve our system.

    We have great kids and tremendous teachers...we need to inspire our students to aim higher and uplift our teachers with HERO status in our culture while holding our systems and resources accountable to deliver

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