New standards, new tests — and new schools

“The standards-and-testing model of school reform is far from dead,” writes Paul Glastris in the kick-off to Washington Monthly’s look at  The Next Wave of School Reform.  Common standards and far more sophisticated testing will transform what happens in the nation’s classrooms, he predicts.

Transcontinental Education by Robert Rothman argues for the powerful effect of common standards.

Teaching to a well-designed test that requires students to analyze and interpret is fine, writes Susan Headden in A Test Worth Teaching To. The problem is that schools rely heavily on cheap, multiple-choice tests of basic skills that cause “shallow learning to crowd out the deep.”

In America, high-caliber tests like AP exams are usually the province of elite, high-achieving students on the college track. And so you might think that this two-tier assessment system is an inevitable result of inequality—that underprivileged kids wouldn’t have a prayer on these more demanding tests. Yet the industrialized nations that consistently outshine the United States on measures of educational achievement—countries like Singapore and Australia—have used such assessments for students across the educational and socioeconomic spectrum for years. Although some are multiple-choice tests, most are made up of open-ended questions that demand extensive writing, analysis, and demonstration of sound reasoning—like AP tests.

In Grand Test Auto, Bill Tucker writes about “stealth assessments” that “are embedded directly into learning experiences and enable a deeper level of learning at the same time.”

In this vision, students would spend their time in the classroom solving problems, mastering complex projects, or even conducting experiments, as many of them do now. But they ’d do much of it through a technological interface: via interactive lessons and simulations, digital instruments, and, above all, games. Information about an individual student’s approach, persistence, and problem-solving strategies, in addition to their record of right and wrong answers, would be collected over time, generating much more detailed and valid evidence about a student’s skills and knowledge than a one-shot test. And all the while, these sophisticated systems would adapt, constantly updating to keep the student challenged, supported, and engaged.

We’re not there yet, Tucker writes, but we will be.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. That’s not actually Washington Monthly’s look at “reform.” The content was all produced by Education Sector, a policy shop that is firmly established as pro-“reform,” in the current sense of “reform.” Those are pro-“reform” opinion commentaries misleadingly packaged as actual journalism. I subscribed to Washington Monthly for a while in the past and took it seriously as respectable journalism, but apparently its policies, standards and ethics have changed.

  2. Supersub says:

    Funny, I thought all of that is what a teacher is supposed to do.

  3. Ponderosa says:

    These pie-in-the-sky theorists have no idea what they’re talking about.

    There’s a simple explanation for why many kids can’t read well: kids do not know what words mean. This basic problem requires a basic solution: start teaching them what words mean. Forget your individualized, tech-embedded, higher order curricula and assessments.

    A Taiwanese acquaintance (with degrees from Stanford and Penn) had to learn 12 Chinese characters a day all through elementary school. In class they read a story in which these 12 target characters were embedded (gives context) and then had to go home that night and draw the characters perfectly ten times each. Thus they transfered the word and its “spelling” (how to draw it) to long term memory. Over nine years, this adds up to thousands of words that they will later be able to recognize when they read them.

    We are not systematically teaching our kids the words of English. We should do it directly in the Taiwanese way, and also indirectly by robustly teaching the content areas. Technology and novel, impressive-sounding pedagogy have nothing to do with good education; they are merely distractions at best, impediments at worst.