Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Science of Learning

We receive questions frequently about student learning. One question that has been asked several times and in numerous different ways is, "Can you recommend a short list of priorities for learning?" Those items should always include the following:

• Hands-on, minds-on, heart’s-in learning experiences (experiential learning)

• Relevance to the student’s personal life whenever possible (it is relevance that makes "rigor" achievable)

• Active learning, which is how the brain learns best and remembers most effectively (engagement)

• Student-centered learning, which increases the probability of student achievement

• Technology, manipulatives, and simulations followed by student writings on those experiences

• Metacognitive learning where students analyze, reflect on, and discuss their thinking processes

• Differentiated learning, since students learn at different rates and by different means

• Diverse learning styles using multiple intelligences to address the different ways of knowing and different ways of learning

• Build from the concrete experience to the pictorial/representational to the abstract/symbolic

• Provide a physically and emotionally safe learning environment• Build upon past learning and prior knowledge (schemas)

• Learners must apply their learning in order to establish long-lasting neural connections

• Capitalize on a child’s interests and strengths for motivation (requiring “Emotional Intelligence”), while helping a child learn how to “manage” his/her “emerging talents” (a.k.a. "weaknesses") competencies, and skills.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Achievement Gap and Testing: Understanding standardized Testing Below Its Deceptive Surface (Part III)

When two youngsters are administered the same timed-test and each receives a score of 6/10 correct, we assume that they are working at the same achievement level. Student “A” may have responded with six correct answers after completing only six of the 10 items. Student "B" may respond knowledgeably and correctly to only three test items. He guesses at the remaining seven questions of which four are coded “incorrect” and only three are correct. If Student “A” had more time, he may have received a perfect score of 10 out of 10, because he actually knew the concept well, while Student B's score might continue to fluctuate solely based on the mathematical probabilities associated with guessing at four random multiple-choice items.

Don't our children also deserve to be measured by more than high-stakes test? When making decisions that have a long-term impact on our lives (college attendance, a home purchase, or which car should we buy), numerous factors are frequently entertained and multiple measures are used before we arrive at a final conclusion.

The American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education advocate using multiple resources for student assessment. There should be multiple types of information used from assessments, multiple formats of assessment, more reliance on formal and informal testing occasions where proficiency can be demonstrated, and multiple opportunities for students to “show what they know" in a risk-free, stress-free environment where the actual demonstration of knowledge is more important than what the clock says.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Achievement Gap and Testing: Understanding standardized Testing Below Its Deceptive Surface (Part II)

Pay scales for classroom practitioners are characteristically governed by (1) the degrees earned, and (2) the length and quality of job experiences, which is comparable to most other professional occupations.

However, a suburban high school, where 80 highly qualified and experienced teachers are paid an average of $1,000 more per teacher, per month than their cross-town colleagues in the inner-city, is investing in excess of $1 million dollars more per year in salaries and benefits for those educators. Yes, that substantial difference in investment certainly should yield an expected return annually.

While formal assessment and standardized testing can serve a worthwhile mission, all tests are not necessarily accurate indicators of knowledge attainment, skills acquisition, scholarly competence, or "school quality." Yet, we have faith in the erroneous equation...

more pressure on teachers = more learning = better test scores.

When the multifaceted processes of teaching and learning can be reduced to “a bubble” on a multiple-choice test item, we have significantly degraded cognitive development and the intrinsic importance of intellectual exploration. Innovative thinking has never been stimulated by standardized testing.

Even more important, many of the most beneficial human traits, dispositions, and attributes (ingenuity, persistence, compassion, creativity, dependability, controlling impulsivity, adaptability, flexibility in thinking, integrity, originality, self-sufficiency, etc.) that have sponsored the greatest advances in human development, go untested and completely ignored by standardized tests.

These characteristics typically determine the success in life and the quality of one's life, although they are most unwelcome on standardized tests.

Albert Einstein once said, "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted” or calibrated on a standardized test. As adults, our "character" is informally assessed daily, where it counts -- our professions and our entire lives.

What do you think?

The Achievement Gap and Testing: Understanding standardized Testing Below Its Deceptive Surface (Part III) follows tomorrow.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Achievement Gap and Testing: Understanding standardized Testing Below Its Deceptive Surface (Part I)

There are several predictable and pernicious economic factors that impact learning and development, which, collectively, skew standardized test results.

Parents are often dismayed by assessment scores reflecting their child's lack of success in academic progress. Yet we must remember that children grow and mature at dramatically different rates physically, emotionally, socially and academically.

Variability in cognitive development gets reflected in significant differences that we see within members of the same family. So, why is there any surprise that broad achievement bands would be found between disparate economic and ethnic groups? Strikingly different patterns of growth and development are the expected norm, not the exception.

An expectation that children should learn and master the same new content or skill at precisely the same rate is comparable to hoping that all children will grow in height and weight at exactly the same rate regardless of diet, health, genetics, or environmental circumstances.

“Performance uniformity” might be a reasonable expectation in product development and manufacturing models, but not in child development and the incredible complexities associated with human learning.

We often lament the plight of the disadvantaged student, but we seldom acknowledge what being "advantaged" really means. Comparable to a 100-meter track race, where one sprinter clearly benefits by receiving a 40-yard head start, the outcome should surprise no one.

The greatest surprise is that we continue to operate under an uncomfortable pretense that a conversation about the benefits of gross economic advantages are forbidden in our candid public discussions. Talking about the economic advantages that pave the way to academic advantages is impolite.

What we find most amazing is that the “achievement gap” isn’t considerably wider given what we know today about brain development, child development, and the correlations between social status, family income and test scores.

In Dennis Littky’s book, The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone's Business, he offers the following quote from Ken Wesson, a founding member of the Association of Black Psychologists: "Let's be honest. If poor inner-city children consistently outscored children from wealthy suburban homes on standardized tests, is anyone na├»ve enough to believe that we would still insist on using these tests as indicators of success?"

What do you think?

The Achievement Gap and Testing: Understanding standardized Testing Below Its Deceptive Surface (Part II) follows tomorrow.