Put aside for the moment that segregation of public schools in the United States is at its highest level since 1968; our country has backslid. During the more than three decades from 1954 (Brown Vs Board of Ed) and 1988 (peak desegregation in the US), achieving racial equality, or at least access to equal resources was arguably a more polarizing issue than immigration, gay marriage, and abortion are today. Currently, standards-based testing, and in particular, the changes that will be effected by the voluntary adoption of the Common Core, is occupying nearly all of the mindspace of educators, administrators, and education policy makers alike. Our obsession with testing will seem trivial, however, when we begin to confront the tectonic shift in paradigm that will be inspired by Google Glass.
I have argued before that all of the edtech we have seen in the last decade, cool as it is, has not significantly impacted how well we educate our youth. Few technologies, even expertly applied, have had an impact on the end product of K12 education. STEM scores have risen slightly in the last decade, though this is probably a result of myriad federal and state programs aimed squarely at placing more highly qualified STEM educators in classrooms. Diligently applied software programs to enhance reading ability and numeracy have shown some nice improvements on student test scores; though it could be argued that any mindful application of an educational protocol, employing technology or not, will increase student test scores.
The forthcoming Common Core (CC) Assessments are the next generation of standardized tests in the US, and will meet the testing frequency requirements of the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act also known as No Child Left Behind unless congress should act to change this, which is most unlikely. Forty six of the fifty states have signed on to voluntarily administer the exams that will be written to meet the standards of the Common Core. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is one of two consortia that organizes the architecting and contracting for the Common Core assessments; SBAC is responsible for about half of the member states, including California.
I have examined the SBAC’s RFP’s for testing design and delivery of the CC assessments, and the consortium managed to construct a guide for contractors that even Finnish educators would admire. It is difficult to tell from the website, but it appears that the SBAC employed work groups that engaged school practitioners, or at least retired practitioners, to shape the tasks.
The winning bids for exam design, delivery, and reporting for the SBAC, have all gone to Wireless Generation, a company turned down by the New York Department of Education at least in part because of the parent company’s (Newscorp) role in mishandling personal data. This actually concerns me less (for now) than does the challenge that the private, for profit Wireless Generation (WG) must meet to deliver on the promise of the Common Core.
I am hopeful that WG can construct a multiple choice administration tool that is adaptive and requires less time of students to assess what multiple choice tests can; namely, what a student does not know. Call me cynical, but less time spent taking multiple choice tests is a win at this point.
Reflections on a year of Blended Learning with 1:1 Chromebooks
Physics teachers have a unique privilege in most high school settings. Most of us work with students that have elected to take our academic course, and with the exception of a growing number of physics first programs, we teach older students. Consequently, we tend to serve a population of learners that are more likely to match our enthusiasm for ideas, and entertain our whimsical diversions than might an average sampling of the student body as a whole. Many of us take advantage of the opportunity presented by this context to innovate with novel uses of technology in our practice. I am no exception to that rule.
When my idea of teaching physics in a one to one setting with Chromebooks was met with enthusiasm by both my colleagues and my administration eighteen months ago, I jumped in with both feet. Now, in April, at the cusp of another punishing two weeks of low quality standardized testing, it is time to reflect on the first year of the blend.
I had a mentor early in my career, also named Jack, who was a very well respected and well liked business owner. I worked at his company in the summers of my high school and college years as a delivery boy. Jack took me under his wing and would entertain my questions about the systems he employed in his business; an interest I have spent my entire career translating to education as a practitioner.
I was particularly intrigued by Jack’s incentive system for his delivery people; and not just because this impacted my bottom line. Growing up wanting for little, my adolescent motivation was not moved by financial incentive structures. Like many product-based business managers, Jack employed his delivery force as salesmen. We were given bonuses for new account creation and upsells. All of the incentives were financial. Even route preference awards were ultimately financial because of the potential for new accounts they held.
I got my hands on a Chromebook Pixel this week and released it into the wild. For some background on what the Pixel is, check out this review. In sum, killer laptop with incredible resolution and touch screen interface.
Students use Chromebooks in my science class. They check them out at the beginning of each period and return them before the end. On Tuesday, I substituted the slick, aluminum body Pixel for one of the older Samsung Series 5 machines.
Curious about how a student might best use the touchscreen interface, I rigged the test by handing the Pixel to one of the more active and curious students in this particular class. The lucky student (guinea pig?) was Zach.
Call it what you want; the digital revolution, the cloud migration, one-to-one. The move to pervasive use of computing as the medium for education is underway. Schools around the world have moved beyond teacher websites, and are empowering students to both access curriculum and create products to demonstrate their learning entirely in the digital medium.
To derive benefits from the move to the digital environment that go beyond the known merits of increased messaging between learning community members, schools must be able to access, save, and store student work in a way that provides meaningful insight to educators. Portfolios are an example of a meta-product that requires a student to curate his own efforts, and can help learners to extend their understanding by offering them an opportunity to make connections between the learning experiences they have had.
The assessments rooted in the Common Core standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics begin this year for 45.5 out of 50 states. Minnesota is the 0.5 because they decided only to adopt the English Language Arts standards. Other than Texas and Alaska though, I bet you would have a hard time guessing that Nebraska and Virginia are among the hold outs. Virginia? Really? Any change from the current panoply of state level assessments (un)inspired by the most recent incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act we call No Child Left Behind would be a welcomed one. But just how different will the the new tests be? And what makes for a good test?
Let’s do a comparison of the standards for second grade reading and writing under the old standards and under the new ones. To make it challenging, and easier to grok, I turned each of these four sets of standards into a word cloud, and placed them in a random order in the slide show below. See if you can pick out the new Common Core writing and reading standards and distinguish them from California’s No Child Left Behind inspired Standards for the same two areas..
I bet you couldn’t do it. I can’t even do it, and I made the word clouds! As a science teacher, I have not been intimately familiar with the NCLB English Language Arts standards here in California. Nonetheless, I did expect to see a dramatic difference when I read through the standards in preparation for this post. To my surprise, I did not. The English Language Arts Standards that were written for the Common Core very closely resemble those that were written for No Child Left Behind. So why is everyone so excited about this change?