Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Test What Really Matters

I'm (slowly) going through the Ohio Summit 2.5 twitter backchannel and making good on my promise to write about the best of what occurred.

Stan Hefner, the Ohio Schools Superintendent, made the comment that future jobs will require collaboration and innovation. He went on to note that jobs that don't require these will digitized and shipped overseas.

This is the argument that Dan Pink makes about left brain, process oriented work. Pink says that if there is a script, a specific set of rules, or only a single outcome for task, it is a job that can be done by computer or cheaper by foreign workers.

This phenomenon has gone past blue collar jobs and is now steadily attacking white collar (formally safe jobs) as well.

For our educational system, I believe the State Superintendent is correct in his assessment. If he means it then he will advocate for assessment reform that is far more radical than the multiple choice re-design I fear we will get from PARCC and Smarter Balance for the Common Core assessments.

At a very minimum, every student should be required to create a personal, portable digital portfolio of their work as a requirement for graduation. At every grade level there should be a menu of options as to the types of submissions that need to be included. As students progress through their educational career, products can be based on collaborative experiences and focused on authentic problems that need to be solved in the local community. Upon graduating, students will have a rich product that demonstrates what they were able to create with, utilize, and extend the knowledge they gained from their experience in school.

A portfolio mandate would do several things. First, it would divert the fixed, unwavering glare that educational institutions have on directing instruction (the means) towards standardized assessments (the ends). Second, it would force schools to examine how collaboration and multiple pathways to demonstrate understanding of content can be embedded into every lesson. Third, portfolios would require teachers to abandon the notion that a project can only happen once a (quarter, semester, year, whatever). Finally, it would enfranchise learners who have been marginalized by the last twenty years of the "one size fits all" approach that standardization forces.

21st Century skills, at their core, require students to demonstrate how they can apply knowledge in new, unique, and unexpected circumstances. They require flexible, nimble, creative thought. This is NOT what is fostered in the single correct answer environment that has been propagated by standardized testing.

We can not expect this type of learning to be encouraged if the testing mandates continue to promote standardization (the ultimate 20th Century Skill).

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