Author’s note: As I hear politicians discuss time in and time out how they are going to improve the American Educational System I cringe. I see a need to build a better model for our students, one that engages students at their core, and help to build positive outcomes that will lead to post-secondary careers and more. Our system spends billions on standardized testing, some students are leaving American High Schools, with a diploma and no clear direction as to how to build a life sustaining career. We can do better. We have the tools. We just need to think about things differently and leave No Child Behind, regardless of background. I know that this is going against the educational grain, however when I see something that needs to be changed to benefit students, I cannot remain silent.
The standardized testing movement that was created out of fear, misinformation, and causing much confusion and angst amongst parents has grown sine the first adaption of No Child Left Behind. Common Core, the latest curricular catastrophe according to pundits Donald Trump, Chris Christie, and others is facing a long slow death. Who in turn is suffering through these consistent changes and ideologies? Our children. In speaking with many educators, parents, and looking at our current educational plight, schools are grasping at straws. Educational factories in the form of Charter Schools have been built primarily to teach to the test. Public School Administrators are looking for the “Silver Bullet” to answer the testing woes. All the while there is a great divide between students in affluent areas and students in down trodden areas. Money is not the issue, there are millions of dollars being spent to assist schools in need. The truth of the matter is that students who come from poverty do not come to school as well equipped as students who come from affluent homes. So what does that mean? It means that kids who come to school who are in poverty may need to eat, may not have parents who are actively engaged due to parents having to work long and grueling hours to make ends meet. All the while excellence awards, and achievement medals are going to schools who normally have affluent students attending. So how can we truly judge excellence? What can our schools provide to all students, and how do we measure it?
We measure the outcome of where our students land, not where our students score on a standardized assessment. How do we build this opportunity? At the onset of a child’s education we build a learning profile for each student, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan – written for Special Education Students) if you will. A student’s Personalized Learning Plan would follow the student throughout their educational career. From Pre-K through Grade 12, students, teachers, counselors and parents would develop their plan. A major part of the program would be to develop specific learning benchmarks based on skill sets which would ensure student mastery. Learning goals would ensure student performance, and student interests would also be quantified and measured. Students would in turn assist in their own goal setting process, teachers would know where their students stood in turn of achievement from one year to the next, and finally parents would be part of the educational process for their child. As a student rose through the educational continuum, goal setting would include the onset of career exploration and students would explore what would be the prerequisites to build toward their eventual career. Parents and students would find relevancy in the development of their own individual goals.
Year end portfolio shares
At the end of each school year (Starting at Grade 3) students would share out to all stakeholders their Personalized Learning Portfolio. Through their presentation, they will explain how they reached their respective benchmarks academically and review their overall plan including major projects, and career exploration goals. At the High School Level students would include service learning projects, career exploration plans, and finally share their respective scores on benchmarks which would demonstrate mastery in their specific subject areas. High School Seniors final share-out would identify their next steps as to post-secondary options which include college, post secondary training for careers (tech trades, electrical, etc). High School counselors would assist students to make the effective transitions, local business would provide internships for students, and students would have real goals based upon real data and their own personal performance.
Assessments such as the NAEP, National Assessment of Educational Progress, could be used if a test of student performance is necessary. Monies that were spent on ancillary assessments such as PARCC, MAP, and other State and national assessments, could in turn provide real learning experiences for our students. Experiences based on student needs and which in turn are relevant to student growth and programs that would enhance their lives. I believe we should bring back vocational programs in our schools, higher order thinking is not limited to Advance Placement Courses. We have brilliant minds who work with their hands and can problem solve with the same ease of those who are attending Harvard. However, we are not providing these students with educational opportunities that will assist them to provide for their families.
In conclusion, we have an opportunity to turn the tide of education to better the lives of all students. Personalization and education for all students based upon appropriate goal setting, educational benchmarks, and a holistic approach to the individual student will reap more benefits for our country as we begin the process of working towards student efficacy.