Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Predictive Value of Doing Well on Tests

Zero. ICYMI that was the assessment Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, gave of the value of a student's GPA to predict their ability to succeed at Google. Actually, iThomas Friedman's recent article on How to Get a Job at Google, the word he used was "worthless."  So much for GPA, AP, AYP, SAT, ACT, ETC.

Surely there are other (though maybe not cooler) places to work than Google, but the point of Mr. Friedman's article is the disconnect between what schools focus on and the lessons needed for those seeking jobs today. The role of content knowledge makes the list, but it is 5th of 5 characteristics. In order of importance, he lists them as:
  1. Learning Ability
  2. Emergent Leadership
  3. Humility
  4. Ownership
  5. Expertise
The ability to learn is a desirable commodity in a world where knowledge is easy to come by. Consider this: How would allowing students access to the internet change the kinds of questions you asked on a test or final exam? Whatever ability enables them to search, vet, and then create a compelling or creative argument to answer the question will make them much more employable in a world in which anyone can know anything at anytime.

Emergent leadership is not about the role playing that is being president of a club or captain of team. It is about knowing when to step up because one's particular skills and talents are required to move a project or idea or class or school forward. And similarly when one should sit down to make room for another's talents and skills. Humility, therefore, is also a desirable trait. 

Putting together Emergent Leadership and Humility with Ownership is equivalent to QISA's 7th Condition of Leadership & Responsibility. Students must not only be allowed to make decisions as emergent leaders, but also to accept full responsibility for the decisions they make. These qualities are not personality traits, they are  a set of skills that can be learned and nurtured. 

Apparently, the least important quality Google looks for is expertise. The thing the most time and energy is expended on in schools: Have you mastered math? Have you mastered science? Have you mastered the Great Gatsby? Have you mastered the U.S. Constitution? according to Mr. Bock is the very thing that should take up the least amount of our time and energy.

The take away is this: It's not that traditional measures of success are not at all important; it's that they are not nearly as important as we continue to make them out to be. In perspective, doing well in school--as schools traditionally measure "well"--is fine. However, there are several other more important skills schools should be working on that would serve students better than getting As and Bs. We know how to cultivate Expertise in schools. How do we cultivate Learning Ability, Emergent Leadership in all students, Humility, and a sense of Ownership?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Anyone who reads this blog (anyone? anyone? Bueller?), knows that I am not a huge fan of bubble tests. They have their place in educational assessment, but that place is a fairly narrow one. It is a far cry from the be-all-and-end-all that they have become as a measure of success at the school, classroom, and individual level. If we really want to know all the "adequate yearly progress" a school makes with its students (and not just their left frontal lobes), we will need to measure many, many more things than reading and math scores. If we really want to know the value a teacher adds over the course of the year, we will need tools that measure engagement and love of reading as much as reading skill level. If we really want to know what a student has learned after a week, a unit, or finally, a year, they will need to make the pudding and we will need to eat it.

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," as the original saying goes. In other words, the real test of anyone's knowledge is in its demonstration and application, not its merely academic (see meanings 3 and 4) performance on a test. Rather than write an essay, write something worthy of being published in a newspaper or magazine. Rather than read a short story and prove that you have comprehended it by choosing one of four right answers on a standardized test, read a short story and produce a YouTube video of the same themes in a different genre (e.g., if it was sci-fi making it a vampire movie, if it was drama make it comedy, etc.) Number of views can be part of the assessment rubric. Rather than complete a math worksheet for homework, plan, operate, and run a small fundraiser for a local charity.

This is why real world learning holds such promise for the future of education. I have recently been learning about Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy's New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. This is indeed the direction we need to be heading. Getting out of the school building, both to learn and to prove that one has learned, is a welcome change from the cycle of tests that prove only that you can move on to the next level to take more tests. The proof of the learning is in the doing.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

s NO w Days

The number of school cancellations because of snow and cold across the country seems at an all time high. One district we work with had snow days tacked on to their holiday break and did not have school for a total of three weeks. Even schools in the south have been closed by weather this year. The steady rhythm of the school week has been regularly disrupted each week with a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday off. It's pretty difficult to hit a teaching or learning stride when its. M T W off F off off...

Under all the snow lies a fundamental assumption that needs to be dug out: That learning is something that only takes place in a school building. No school, no learning. But that's a snow-job, right? This same assumption is what makes the summer break a problem and it's what lies behind issues with homework. Somehow we have sent the message that if you are not in school, in a classroom with 25 other students and a teacher; if the bells are not ringing and their are no desks in rows; then the only thing to do is hangout, play video games, or watch TV.

Blended learning is beginning to melt that assumption. Now what we need is a blended learning plan for time off we can't plan for. We need to let students know before the first flake falls that on a school day when there is no school it does not mean there will be no learning. In it's simplest form students can be expected to learn as much as there is to learn about snow and weather and the Polar Vortex. But it is also not out of the realm of possibilities (access to technology would be an obvious concern), that teachers would have an e-learning plan to use the Internet, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media to interact with students and keep the learning happening.  I am not suggesting a full on 6 hours of teaching and learning, but teachers can plan at home learning experiences that keep up the learning even as the snow comes down.