‘Renaissance in Education’ Report Examines Assessments

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A new study focuses on one of the most important trends in US education – the growing opposition to large-scale end of the year assessments.

The study, Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, discusses two ideas that the authors refer to as “game-changers” that they believe will change the very foundation of the world of education.  The first mentioned is the trend toward digital technologies, and the second is the increasingly widespread belief that the current system is not working as well as it once had, writes Tom Vander Ark for Getting Smart.

The authors, Sir Michael Barber and Dr. Peter Hill,  go on to discuss six key features that they believe characterize the impending revolution.

The first feature, the capacity to learn, discusses the past view of the practice, which they say believes that students come to school as a clean slate ready to learn and that such learning takes place in the form of formal education.  According to the authors, this belief has been changed to suggest that schooling builds on prior learning and that all children have the potential to achieve high standards with the right motivation and support.

The authors then move on to the issue of curriculum.  In the past, it was believed that curriculum must reflect a set of facts that are memorized.  The authors suggest this view be changed to place emphasis on the learning of ideas and principles with more attention placed on understandings that support life-long learning for living in the “Knowledge Society of the 21st Century.”

The third practice, education policy, initially consisted of the school being the focus of educational policy.  However, the authors suggest that the focus of this practice change from the school to the student, with an added emphasis on personalized learning.

Opportunity to learn has historically included current age and time-bound parameters, meaning that students progress through grades by their age, attending school during the traditional school day hours of 9:00 – 4:00, across 200 days per year.  The authors would like to see this view changed to allow students to progress on an individual basis, with changes made to educational access to allow for a better alignment with current living and working, as well as a greater use of the home and community to promote constant learning, every hour of every day.

The fifth practice, teaching, was originally considered to be a teacher who shares their knowledge within a physical classroom designed for formal learning.  However, the authors suggest changing this view to include tutors and online instructors who activate the ability to learn within students.

Finally, teacher quality was originally believed to include trained individuals who work under a union as a “semi-profession” without a framework.  The authors suggest this view change to consider it a true profession with a firm knowledge base.

The authors then continued by criticizing the current assessment system, suggesting that placing too much reliance on grades does not in fact show what students can do.  Instead, the authors suggest that assessments should instead emphasize student abilities and learning outcomes, supporting both teachers and students by providing feedback for individualized instruction, while minimizing opportunities for cheating.

The report concludes that, “There is consensus among leaders in the field that we are on the brink of an assessment renaissance that will help secure high standards for all, remove current achievement ceilings and support a focus on the higher-order thinking and inter- and intra-personal skills vital for living and learning in the twenty-first century.”