21st Century Learning Styles: Standardized Testing vs. Personalized Assessments

It is a fact of life in schools that we need to measure student performance. It is equally a fact of life that “one size” does not fit all when it comes to evaluation models. Progressive education understands and supports that all children learn through different means. One child may receive information by carefully listening and remembering; another child may receive information by listening and then immediately writing down what they have heard. Some students miss most of what is presented orally to them, yet if they read it they can remember it. Other children really need to be able to repeat back what they have learned in order for it to become “fastened” in their minds. Still other students need to write everything down. Great teachers practice differentiated instruction to make certain they have the child specific “key” to unlock the child’s specific learning style.

Innovative schools are constantly looking for new forms of assessment that provide the best mechanism for evaluating student learning. There will always be a place for traditional standardized tests. They serve to give a sampling of acquired skills and knowledge within a defined space and time. They further serve as curricular “check – ups” for schools to see if any significant gaps exist within a specific subject or grade. Did all of the 3rd graders seem to not understand addition or fractions? If so, it needs to be re-taught. Until higher education abolishes standardized tests, all schools need to expose students to these types of test taking strategies.

Rather than grades and test scores, assessment that makes learning personalized and encourages students to embrace a mindset focused on discovery, engagement, and ownership of learning provides a powerful catalyst for the intrinsic motivation for learning. Research points out that those students who focus on their mastery of learning rather than their performance on tests increasingly outperform those who reverse this paradigm.

Great schools use a variety of ways of assessing students. These may include collections of portfolios of student work that allow a child to discuss with the teacher or parent what they have learned and how they have learned it; concrete examples of the work in the portfolio offer a meaningful exhibit of the outcomes. Students may be offered the opportunity to explain what they have learned to a peer or the teacher to assess what level of understanding is truly demonstrated. A child who completes a mathematical equation, but due to a careless error does not come up with the correct answer, may be asked to show and explain the steps, thus demonstrating a grasp of that concept and how the error occurred. Many of us have added a column of numbers and made a small error, thus getting the wrong answer — yet we do understand the concept. A standardized test would not take this into consideration.

As MPS grows, our teachers will continue to explore the best ways of assessing students. How powerful for a child to be given the opportunity to teach his classmates a skill that has been learned. This example serves as a validation of the mastery of the skill, making the learning deeply personal and thus relevant; it’s also a fun way for a teacher to both make certain the child understands the material and to ensure classmates benefit from the exchange. What if the teacher videotaped the lesson and presented it as a digital portfolio at parent/teacher conference time?

Assessment must also take into consideration the importance of curiosity, creativity, initiative, innovation, risk taking, and resilience. These skills, when combined with concrete academics, are the building blocks of 21st-century education.No assessment is complete without an examination of them. The best schools cultivate an inquisitive curiosity in students and teachers. Through experiential learning, the process of learning from direct experience, and active physical and emotional engagement, true learning comes through. Assessment that allows students to be active participants rather than receptacles to be filled with “stuff” is at the center of good progressive education. A balance of purposeful direction and creative freedom, of traditional and progressive disciplines in both teaching and assessment, is at the center of a school like MPS.

-Señor Jeff Escabar

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