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Come one, Come all! Let us discuss education reform.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

 

Come one, Come all! Let us discuss education reform. We have enough seats for everyone, even you. Are you seated? Great! Before I begin allow me to tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Joshua McKinney and I have the privilege of serving as the Senior Fellow in education for the 2012-2013 academic year.  I attend Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA where I major in political science and philosophy.  My policy interest stems from my personal experience. My high school was in an under funded school district - where there were times that we barely had air conditioning, let alone up to date class materials. Although this issue was legitimate the expectation was that students would still pass the end of the year test. This, to me, seemed like the state was giving my teachers and administrators small rocks with instructions to build a house. When parents, teachers, and administrators voiced their opinions, many policy makers claimed that the children of my community had the opportunity to receive a quality education, which to me seemed totally ludicrous. How can a child receive a quality education without books or other necessary materials? How is it equal when teachers are using their personal money to buy class supplies? After studying under these conditions for four years, I made the transition to college where I noticed how large the gap was between those who had received a quality education and myself. My policy senses were awakened and my life then had trajectory. I wanted to effect change in policy issues related to equal access to quality education, college access policy, and education finance policy. Since then I have founded a youth leadership organization, entitled Project Grad, formally known as the Youth Leadership and Empowerment Program. This organization empowers students with the tools necessary to become leaders in their high school and community, while sponsoring programs that help students become involved in the betterment of their community. The goal of this program is to foster a connection between students, schools, and communities in hopes of decreasing dropout rates and increasing graduation rates. I have researched the education legislation of many countries in Europe, education finance policy as it relates to outcomes around the United States, and alternatives to standardized testing around the world. Now that the formalities are out the way, lets begin the discussion. 
       During the past decade a tidal wave of standardized testing has seemingly slowed the learning process across the United States. This surge toward assessment crazed education reform has been centered around an ill-conceived focus on high-stakes standardized tests as the ultimate form of student assessment. Teachers and students have begun to fearfully arm themselves with number 2 pencils and practice test packets rather then textbooks and lab packets - with the understanding that one test has the power to make or break them always at the forefront of their mind. While most parents and educators have started protesting high stakes standardized testing, they are scrambling to find a reputable alternative. This predicament reminds me of an adage: "often times what you are searching for is right under your nose." In this case, these words could not be truer. The answer is: a decrease in standardized testing followed by an increase in portfolio assessment. Gasp! And the crowd fell silent as standardize testing supporters frowned with distaste, and people unfamiliar with portfolio assessment wonder, "what is this portfolio assessment and what makes it so great?" No need to worry my dear, this claim will be explained in due time. Let us begin our journey through a 'new' type of education reform.
            Portfolio assessment has been around for years. It seeks to provide educators and policy makers with a complete picture of a child's knowledge, progress, and ability to learn. It typically includes a collection of a student's classroom activities, and achievements in one or more subjects. In addition, these portfolios also contain evidence of the student's self-evaluation accompanied by guidelines for selecting the portfolio contents, and criteria for judging the quality of the work. Portfolio assessment promotes student self-reflection and critical thinking, which enables educators and students to makes learning more personal and effective.
            This is remarkably different from our current system wherein the creativity of students and teachers is smothered by excessive guidelines on how to pass a test. School culture then becomes that of a manufacturing facility wherein students are treated like robots and teachers like assembly line workers. This, then, smothers their ability to think outside the box and induces a bulimic style of learning, in which students are fed information simply to regurgitate on a test and forget thereafter. This style of learning undoubtedly creates a mass of extrinsically motivated, and linear-thinking students -on the other hand, Portfolios provide a more complete picture of a student’s sustained performance and critical thinking ability, while placing a premium on intrinsic motivation and self-knowledge.
            Now before you standardized test supporters out there begin to mount a counterattack, allow me to make two things clear. First I, by no means, intend to thoroughly condemn standardized testing. I do believe that it has a place in education. Standardized test are adept at testing a student's knowledge at a recall level -- but to use recall level learning alone as the cornerstone for an education system - is to deny the importance of problem solving and critical thinking in education. Second, I do not want to portray portfolio assessment as a perfect assessment tool, it has flaws too. Portfolio assessment requires students and teachers to gathering vast amounts of data and work samples which can make portfolios bulky and difficult to manage. Scoring portfolios involve the use of subjective evaluation procedures, limiting the assessment's reliability. Educators are also required to develop a systematic and deliberate management systems to make portfolios more than a random collection of a student’s work, which is easier said then done.
            The question then becomes, "what do we do?" If both systems are flawed do we take the least flawed system and run with it? Or do we just give up and go back to the drawing board? I proposed the removal of this false dichotomy that says we can only have one system of assessment and find a way to use both effectively. Nothing is perfect, but understanding the inherent probability of flaws is the first step toward creating a system that minimizes the error. Some of you in the audience may contend that the hybrid mix of standardized testing and portfolio assessment will demand too much time on the part of the teachers and students. Although I understand that is a real and legitimate worry, I feel that there is a way for us to create a system in which the two types of assessment compliment each other. Yes, it will command a lot of our time and attention but is this not a worthy cause? With our hard work and support, we can give new hope to this country. And it all begins with a choice. See you at Hyde Park!


Joshua McKinney is the Senior Fellow for Education with the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. Joshua is primarily interested in policy issues related to equal access to quality education, college access policy, and education finance policy.  A senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, he is studying philosophy and political science, with a concentration in Political Theory. Beyond Morehouse and the Roosevelt Campus Network, he has founded a youth leadership organization, entitled Project Grad, formally the Youth Leadership and Empowerment Program. This organization empowers students with the tools necessary to become leaders in their high school and community, while sponsoring programs help students to be involved in the betterment of their community. The goal of this program is to foster a connection between students, schools, and communities in hopes of decreasing dropout rates and increasing graduation rates. He is a UPS scholar. A scholarship program that places college students in elementary schools to help tutor and mentor students. He has researched the education legislation of many countries in Europe, education finance policy and outcomes around the United States, and alternatives to standardized testing around the world. He is researching creative yet effective ways to merge portfolio assessment and minimal standardized testing, which he believes will open the door toward the improvement of college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT. Joshua's Senior Thesis examines the correlation between an effective fiscal equalization schemes and learning outcomes in public schools.

 

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