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Posts Tagged ‘On-line learning’

Standardized Testing on the Ropes INTERNATIONALLY As Pandemic Opens the Door to Widespread Questioning of their Value

November 30, 2020 Comments off

The November 25 Economist featured an article datelined Seoul and Sao Paulo that described the adverse impact the pandemic is having on the use of standardized tests to sort and select the best and brightest students across the globe. Citing examples from South America, Asia, Australia and Europe, and quoting experts from those continents, the article describes how nations have varied in their decisions about administering standardized tests that determine whether most students around the world will qualify for higher education in their nation and thereby gain access to the highest paying jobs. Ultimately, the international debates mirror those going on in our country with traditionalists seeing no reason to suspend or abandon the standardized testing while progressives see the suspension and abandonment of these tests as the only way to overcome the gross inequities that result from poverty. Here’s the traditionalist view: 

Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the oecd, a club of mostly rich countries, thinks more countries could have held exams safely: “You don’t want people to talk; you don’t need them to move around; their desks are quite far apart.” So far it appears that the grades of most pupils who did sit exams this year have been no worse than usual, according to uk naric, a British government agency that keeps track of qualifications in other countries. Candidates in Germany performed a little better.

Mr. Schleicher’s argument is that the results of the pandemic-administered international tests used to benchmark the performance of various countries around the world were no different that the results of the pre-pandemic tests so, therefore, it would have been reasonable to insist that all countries administer these tests… an argument that assumes the test results reflected an even playing field to begin with, which is clearly NOT the case when 11th grade students in European countries who are only admitted to that level of schooling if they past a competitive test are compared with US students who are afforded a universal education through grade 12. 

The progressive perspective is best summarized in this paragraph:

Some psychologists worry that the pressure of exams is raising the risk that vulnerable youngsters will develop mental-health problems, early signs of which often appear during adolescence and early adulthood. Exams can also label children as failures, when they had no choice but to attend bad schools. And rich parents often pay for tutoring to boost their offspring’s chances.

But the subsequent paragraph describes the challenge progressive face: 

Yet abandoning exams creates new problems. Continuous assessment means pupils may simply “learn stuff, get a grade and then forget it”, says Dylan William, a British expert in educational assessment. Coursework can encourage students to tinker endlessly with just a few pieces of work. Junking exams only introduces new kinds of stress if the alternative is that all schoolwork counts towards final grades. Without objective assessments, learners from poor homes are more likely to be judged on their backgrounds than on their actual achievements.

So what is the way out of the woods on the question of how best to assess students? The article offers no clear answer to that question, though it does shed light on one clear consequence that seems to be emerging from the pandemic: the use of a single test as an indicator of preparedness for higher education is likely to wane: 

The pandemic may amplify calls to get rid of exams that some already thought unnecessary. Universities in America traditionally ask applicants to sit the sat or act, tests which are not required by the public school system. This year many universities waived that requirement after many exam sittings were cancelled. This delighted critics of testing, who say the exams advantage richer applicants who can pay for test-prep. About 70% of American universities offering four-year courses now operate “test-optional” admissions policies, up from around 45% before the pandemic.

In England the pandemic has raised fresh questions about the future of gcses, a flurry of exams taken by 16-year-olds. These have become less crucial as a result of reforms that require teenagers to stay in some kind of education or training until they are 18. Developing countries have been gradually junking exams they have traditionally used to decide which children may enter secondary school. This year’s crisis could speed that up.

Ultimately, as educators, psychologists, and policy makers examine the impact of the pandemic and the way technology has been used in a more widespread fashion, a consensus on the way schools are organized might emerge: a consensus that the age-based cohort groupings implemented in the name of administrative efficiency in the early 20th Century might not make sense in an era where everyone has access to self-paced learning… and given the ability to individualize the pace of instruction schools might focus more on their most important function: developing the skills students need to work harmoniously in a democracy. 

 

DonorsChoose Honors Teachers by Empowering Them to Identify and Fund Student Needs

November 5, 2020 Comments off

I’ve read and written countless posts on the “universal needs” of students and the government’s’ failure to provide the funding required to meet those needs. Among the “universal needs” are equitable access to technology, PPE and training for teachers, and the provision of social services and basic needs for students living in poverty or encountering stress.

Charles Best, CEO of DonorsChoose, a philanthropy organization that provides small bore grants to teachers, is looking at the smaller and arguably more important needs that are unique to each student and providing teacher with the means of identifying those needs and meeting them with small grants. While I am generally no fan of philanthropic funds displacing local funds and, thereby, displacing the local decision making that is achieved trough democratic means, I was immediately supportive of the approach taken by DonorsChoose. By empowering teachers to identify and solve small bore problems that are unique to them and their students, DonorsChoose is meeting unique needs by funding items that school boards could not afford, especially in the coming months and years when state and local funds will be increasingly difficult to raise.

Forbes contributor Michael B. Horn describes some the problems teachers identified and solved, and one problem in particular is a good example. Headphones, it turns out, are far and away the most requested “technology”, a need that most members of the public would dismiss as frivolous but one that turns out to be vital in households where many are using computers in a small space or households where small children, animals, and noises from the outdoors compete for the attention of students attending Zoom classes.

Mr. Cook has come away from his experience as CEO of DonorsChoose with a new respect for teachers:

“They’re so determined for their students to have the materials and experiences they need for great education that they spend time outside of their working hours telling the world about a set of materials that their students really need,” he said.

Thanks to the funding model of DonorsChoose, determined teachers can get the materials their children need relatively easily and quickly— especially when compared to the hoops they would need to jump through to get these materials through the traditional budgeting process.

Maybe after the pandemic is over school districts could develop a similarly empowering means for teachers to secure funds for ad hoc needs and, in doing so, discover “technology gaps”— like headphones— that could be addressed quickly and cheaply.

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Upbeat Article on Virtual Learning Overlooks Several Obstacles that MUST Be Addressed for it to Work Universally

October 23, 2020 Comments off

Freelance writer Amanda Woytus’ JSTOR upbeat post, “Does Virtual Learning Work for Every Student?“, overlooks several elements of virtual learning that are very problematic. That’s too bad because many of the ideas she presents could be applied universally if the gaping holes in her analysis were addressed. But by overlooking them, she ends up with an article that reads like it was written by a shill for technology corporations.

Roughly half of Ms. Woytus’ generally favorable analysis focuses on the benefits of the flipped classroom, whose efficacy is generally supported by research but whose applications are largely at the secondary or post-secondary level. Ms. Woytus also bases some of her analysis on the Calvert School, a 231 student private secondary school in Baltimore, MD. Finally, much of Ms. Woytus’ analysis is based on mathematics, a course that lends itself to the hierarchical scaffolding that virtual learning does best. By basing her analysis on these three elements, Ms. Woytus misses four of virtual learning’s gaping holes: teaching primary students; teaching subjects that are not hierarchical but rely primarily on interactions with other students; reaching children who are unfamiliar with technology; and reaching children who are unable to get technology.

I am learning from the experience of tutoring my 8-year old grandson in mathematics that it is imperative that the teacher be able to look over the shoulder at the work of children as they develop their basic skills. There are ways this could be accomplished, but the software being used by the schools needs to bake this kind of instruction in.

Mathematics, science, grammar, and other hierarchical content is easy to convert to virtual learning… but the facilitated discussions that result from a master teacher’s analysis of a poem, a piece of music, or a thoughtful video or movie cannot be easily replicated on line, especially if “efficiency” is the ultimate goal and, as Ms. Woytus suggests, standardized test scores are the ultimate metric. Without the opportunity to engage in discussion the learning opportunities are greatly diminished.

The inability of students to use technology easily is related to the students’ access to technology, and several posts on this blog and several articles in multiple national publications decry the lack of access to technology among rural students and poor urban students. This issue of inequity is completely by-passed in this article. I believe it should be mentioned in ANY assessment of the universal use of technology since it is an obstacle that CAN be surmounted IF funding for broadband access and computer hardware and software was a national priority.

As noted above and in some posts on this blog, the flipped classroom has promise and hierarchical content can be delivered very effectively online. Their promise of remote learning as universal means of instruction, though, can only be realized if the inherent obstacles mentioned above are addressed.