In Classroom of Future, Outdated Testing Can't Keep Up

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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."

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But when technology is deployed thoughtfully in a way that feeds into a broader system that's not reliant on the outdated factory model of schooling, when educators are trained how to best take advantage of devices and software and the Internet at large, the quality of learning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."