Local Columnists

Joe Robertson: One slice of education’s future — the end of the big, bad test

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Here’s to the end of testing as we know it.

No more throwing the brakes on new learning to spend two weeks (or more) late in the school year prepping for high-stakes exams.

Smart technology, tracking student performance and flowing data into teachers’ digital grade books will take care of the measuring along the way.

The keystrokes and clicks as a student meets daily challenges — in programs that adapt to increasing skill level — will tell teachers and the state what they need to know.

The climax of a classroom experience becomes not a year-end test and all the attendant cramming, but a multimedia project, or the creation of a theory, or a group social justice action.

This is going to happen.

This is the kind of stirring idea that lights the air when education technology enthusiasts gather as they did at last week’s Gigabit City Summit in Kansas City.

They kick around ideas for the exploding technology already overwhelming teachers, picking at details, always with this overarching vision of futuristic schooling possible now.

The world’s full store of knowledge and unlimited collaboration is within reach of classrooms that have long been isolated in remote, rural and inner city outposts.

Connectivity promises an end, said the U.S. Department of Education’s head of education technology Richard Culatta, “to persistent and stubborn equity gaps.”

We have the opportunity, said Getting Smart CEO Tom Vander Ark, “to reach the 1 billion students who do not have great secondary schools now…and it could happen in our lifetime.”

Any question on where to invest in technology, said Lee’s Summit School District technologist Kyle Pace, should ask, does it “fundamentally transform the way we learn?”

So consider this testing revolution idea just a slice of a very large and fast-ripening apple.

The market is ready now to navigate the complicated world of student assessment, Vander Ark said.

The holdup on these kinds of things is that education typically runs five years behind the market, he said, and politics runs 10 years behind.

The programs that embed assessment measures in their content need to develop comparable growth measures. States need to agree on the expected performance levels.

And then state statutes and the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act with their mandated accountability testing have to change accordingly…

Maybe in our lifetime.

But it’s going to happen.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.