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HERE’S Why RTTT is a Problem!

April 30, 2013

For months I’ve been blogging about the fact that RTTT and the corporate reformers are reinforcing the factory school model and working against the kind of individualization that is possible today thanks to technology…. and here’s an article and report that drive that point home!

The report, Competency Education Series: Policy Brief One [PDF], points out that, although the federal government has supported some aspects of competency-based learning, implementing the new model can be difficult because of federal restrictions.

The greatest conflict stems from disconnect with the work on the ground and federal accountability and assessment systems,” the report states. “Implementers faced with this disconnect have no choice but to juggle two systems: one required by federal law and one developed by the educators, students, parents, and community leaders committed to successful implementation of competency education.”

And where is this disconnect most evident: in the area of TIME, where the federal government wants to hold time constant while accepting variable performance while those of us who value mastery learning want to see performance as the constant while having time be the variable. The article describes the conflict as follows:

Time is the biggest point of contention between the two systems. The federal government measures school accountability as well as student achievement through time-based modules. Seat time and annual test results are the primary ways that the government keeps schools accountable, categorizes them, and targets them for intervention. And required end-of-year tests focus school instruction timelines in specific ways that do not allow students to move at their own pace, a key element of a competency-based system.

With the competency models, students take summative assessments at various times throughout the year. They demonstrate what they’ve learned as they’re learning — not just during one or two big testing seasons, as most schools do.

I would make one minor but non-trivial correction: most schools do NOT have “one or two big testing seasons”… in fact very few have “big testing seasons”. The advent of NCLB created the “big testing season”… many schools recognized the inappropriateness of summative assessments and were moving in the direction of formative assessments.

The article also explains the difference in testing between the federal NCLB/RTTT model and competency based learning:

Another big difference between the two systems is what gets tested. Competency-based learning focuses not just on content, but also on “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, and other higher-order thinking skills. In contrast, the federal assessments focus on the subjects of math and English Language Arts aligned with academic achievement standards, but not necessarily with core competencies. In other words, everything is based on a number score, not on whether the student can demonstrate that he can do each individual task determined to be a core competency.

Federal accountability standards track student achievement, not growth. Many competency-based models are tracking progression in career and college readiness as well as core competencies, and those can’t be reported to the federal government under the current rubrics.

NCLB and RTTT are obsessed with using data to track teacher and school progress; competency based testing generates information on individual student performance… and guess what parents care about? …guess what students care about? Parents care about their child’s performance and students care about their own performance. The federal government’s obsession with schools and teachers is misguided: it doesn’t meet the needs of parents or students, erodes the public’s confidence in public education, and reinforces a model of education that is outdated and counter-productive.

The only part I didn’t like about the article on competency based education was the concluding paragraph:

The KnowledgeWorks report doesn’t give a smoking-gun solution for the various problems it raises. Instead, the group intends to continue investigating how federal policies could encourage competency-based learning by studying the effects of the few programs the government has decided to fund in this area. The organization also plans to pull together best practices from states moving ahead despite the challenges and to figure out how competency-based education could be assessed in a more comparative way.

As a consultant who works extensively in New Hampshire, one of the states cited as moving forward with competencies, I’m afraid there isn’t much to see so far because districts who could benefit most from competencies are obsessed with getting their NECAP scores higher. Sadly, the “reform minded” federal government is blocking real reform by using tests given to age-based grade level cohorts as the basis for accountability.

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