In Classroom of Future, Outdated Testing Can’t Keep Up

| September 6, 2011 | 2 Comments
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Sunday’s New York Times article, “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores” by Matt Richtel had the wrong headline.

When describing a classroom in Arizona’s Kyrene School District, which invested $33 million from a ballot initiative dedicated to technology upgrades, Richtel laments the district’s “stagnant scores” in reading and math. He writes: “Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals.”

When technology is deployed thoughtfully in a way that feeds into a broader system that’s not reliant on the outdated factory model of schooling, the quality of learning should not be discounted — even if it can’t be measured yet.

Richtel quotes Randy Yerrick, associate dean of educational technology at the University of Buffalo, who discounts engagement as a “fluffy term that can slide past critical analysis.”

Most educators and education experts know that throwing money and technology at a school is hardly a cure-all for increasing student achievement. Devices are not the panacea. As ZDNet’s Christopher Dawson writes: “There are plenty of ways to go about making a school ‘technology-rich’ that actually take away from the real business of learning. When rollouts are half-hearted, teachers and parents don’t completely embrace the approach, students and teachers lack accountability, and teachers aren’t provided with the right training and coaching, then schools end up buying a lot of expensive toys.”

But when technology is deployed thoughtfully in a way that feeds into a broader system that’s not reliant on the outdated factory model of schooling, when educators are trained how to best take advantage of devices and software and the Internet at large, the quality of learning should not be discounted — even if it can’t be measured yet.

And this is where Richtel buries the lead, in paragraph 42, about a third of the way through the article:

“Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology in the United States Department of Education, said standardized test scores were an inadequate measure of the value of technology in schools. Ms. Cator, a former executive at Apple Computer, said that better measurement tools were needed but, in the meantime, schools knew what students needed.”

Dawson carries the point further, saying that standardized tests only measure students’ abilities to take tests, and can’t gauge intangible skills such as collaboration and critical thinking.

Richtel also neglected to point out an important piece of the puzzle: that standardized assessments are in the process of being recreated. The tests will use technology in both administering and scoring and will measure “performance-based tasks, designed to designed to mirror complex, real-world situations,” according to the New York Times.

Tom Vander Ark, who was quoted in Richtel’s piece, thinks the writer was not as forthcoming as he could have been. In his post on Getting Smart, Vander Ark writes about tech-savvy schools that have shown to boost students achievement, such as Carpe Diem and those in networks like AdvancePath*.

“Matt knows the story, he just left out the good parts: personal digital learning is transforming American public education and extending access to millions of students worldwide,” he writes.

Richtel could have also found a better headline for the story. “In Classroom of Future, Outdated Testing Can’t Keep Up.”

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  • Barnett Berry

    Great post Tina. Indeed I would hope that Mr. Richtel does not really believe PowerPoint is a digital tool. You nailed it. The standardized tests of today, built with 20th century tools and resting on 19th century principles of teaching and learning, cannot measure the effects of true innovations like Quest Atlantis — a learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse students in educational tasks push them toward deep learning. I suspect that writers like Richtel suffer from the “15,000 problem” – the amount of time the average American has spent in K-12 schools as students. T he way they were taught in the past is assumed
    to be the way others will be taught in the future. The teacher in front of the
    classroom blackboard is a familiar and static norm in the American story—even
    if the blackboard becomes a “smartboard.” So part of what 21st century school reform requires is a new approach to engaging the public of the possibilities — and you are doing it Tina!

  • http://twitter.com/AuthorJackR Jack Richards

    As a retired English professor, I have seen technology both improve and cause a decline in student’s learning and performance. This article highlights some interesting points, and I absolutely understand that throwing computers into a school isn’t an effective use of incorporating technology. But what if technology took over education? What if it went beyond incorporating technology into teachers’ lesson plans? If students were taught solely through technology would they be better educated? More productive citizens? Would it help our country or produce mindless drones? These are all points examined in a fiction novel I wrote. And I keep seeing the themes coming up in the news regarding education. Maybe it’s just my work of fiction, but I think everyone should examine the issues in depth and in the light of what would really result when thinking about technology and education.