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Life-Long Learners or Material Masters

Thursday, December 13, 2012 -- Shane Dennison

What’s it Gonna Be? Need for Assessment Changes in America

As educators we need to step back and put ourselves in the shoes of our students for a moment. In today’s world of increasing domestic and international competition, we must ask “what is it that our students really need to know?” Furthermore, we need to keep in mind that we should be in the business of creating “life-long learners” and not just school year “test passers.”  When we consider such abounding facts it becomes clear we need to make a transition from standardized testing to performance-based testing. Will Richardson (2012) posted recently that “remaking assessment starts with this: stop asking questions on tests that can be answered by a Google search. Or, if you have to ask them, let kids use their technology to answer them. More often than not, we ask questions that can be easily answered by technology. That is unfortunate.” His main point was “why” are we asking so many questions on our state and national assessments that are more “rote” memorization oriented instead of asking practical/applicable questions that cannot be easily answered by Google or Bing?

Performance-based assessments will not only force students to think more critically, but they will need to research for solutions to potentially practical problems. Developing the discernment skills needed “to do something with what they know” could be something that they can reflect on many times throughout their lives when seeking relative answers to issues they face.  This shift in thought and assessment must come through a “paradigm” shift within the educational community in America, pre-K through postsecondary.  Indeed, it requires a much more rapid transition to a “student-focused learning” model. Students, teachers and administrators still need to be held accountable, but if we don’t change the focus objective from “material mastery” to “applicable lifetime skills” our students will continue to lose the zest for learning when no test to pass is required. More importantly, as educators we short-change them on applicable and practical real-life skills not learned or practiced prior to graduating. Now a degree of standardized testing is still needed. (Albeit a significantly smaller degree than currently exists). We need to make sure that we can still measure students’ basic abilities to read and perform the math skills necessary so they can actually “think and perform” in ways that many relative and practical questions require. At least for the foreseeable future, a combination of standardized and performance-based assessments will be necessary.