Behind the Data
I can’t help but think our focus in education seems to be in the wrong place some times. I know that this is a bold statement to make – especially coming from a school administrator, but I’d like to give you some thoughts as to why I think we need to shift our focus.
Standardization seems to be a word that is talked about often in the educational setting. Students take standardized tests to measure achievement towards Adequate Yearly Progress. Tell me this. How many standardized students do you know? What is a standard student? Are all students the same?
As I attend conferences and meetings in my field I constantly hear what needs to be done to close achievement gaps. We talk about data, and get asked the question; what does the data say? We have gone from data poor to data rich in education in just a few short years. Don’t get me wrong though, having data is much more of a benefit that not having it. Data gives us something to go by, however, data in itself is just information, the faces behind the data must be our focus.
A school can choose any curriculum that it wants. It can implement a million programs, but the reality of these is that they do not come with a magic wand, that (if waved), will automatically produce soundly educated students. We must focus on the child first. What makes a student learn? How do we motivate students? Once we have done this, then we can bring in relevant curriculum and programs that focus on critical content.
Howard Gardner (Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education – Harvard Graduate School of Education) is a guy that I have come to admire in recent years. He has written several books that focus on the various different intelligences that each of us possess. His Theory of Multiple Intelligences surrounds the idea that each of our students learns in a different capacity. Some students are linguistic, others might be mathematical or logical. In any event, we must allow our children to learn in a way that caters to their needs.
If you are not motivated, how likely are you to learn? Bad example time…I attended Lamaze classes with my wife as we were eagerly anticipating the birth of our first child. Although, I was motivated to become a dad for the first time, I was not motivated to breathe heavily for practice. Needless to say I wasn’t much help to my wife. The point being, if you are not motivated you will not learn.
We must shift the focus. Education must be deeper than data. We live in a world that is currently on a technology fast track. The world will look much different five years from now. Our Elementary children will take jobs that haven’t been invented yet. We must teach critical content and real world competencies. We must do this in a student-centered environment where today’s students have control of their own learning and todays teachers offer guidance and support.
Teachers today must be able challenge students to think outside of the box. They must allow children to think critically and work together. Teachers must allow for communication and innovation. We need to ask the tough questions and then give students the tools they need to find a solution. When it comes to assessments and achievement tests, we need to allow children options to show mastery. I could write an essay to show mastery, or maybe I could act it out. Maybe I could write a song, sing a song, or build a structure. The point, we can take many different directions to get to our destination, why don’t we allow children to do the same in school.
I’m not a standard person and neither are you. I’m unique and so are you. I’m good at some things and not so good at others. You can reciprocate that back to me as well. We all have the things inside us that drive us and motivate us. If we allow our students to tap into their strengths – we will see achievement gaps narrow. The data will look better, and it will be because we focused on the face first.
I believe that we are making strides in the right direction. We are starting to individualize education. Classroom desks are being replaced with Maker Spaces. “Sit and Get” education is becoming a thing of the past. We must continue with a sense of urgency. College and Career Ready students are those that are well rounded in content and equipped with adequate social skills.
As we move forward, we need to make it a priority that achievement tests are offered to our students through a variety of different mediums. Let the students pick the assessment, and I guarantee you positive results.
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