Thursday, August 30, 2007

8th grade competencies for NCLB

The No Child Left Behind Act does a lot of mandating, with not much support to teachers, schools, and districts to get the work done. An example – this coming year school districts must report their success in teaching "technology literacy." Individual states get to define what that means. States and districts develop measures and report to the feds. Here are a few thoughts about it.

First, most educators are thinking this is for 8th graders. The law says BY THE END OF 8TH GRADE, students needs to be technology literate. So really, a good curriculum should start years earlier, culminating in an 8th grade demonstration of proficiency.

Second, many technology advocates are using the law as leverage to grab more power. Their thinking is, if we mandate a test and everyone flunks, then they will HAVE to allocate more resources toward technology.

I see trouble with that thinking. It conflicts with the mantra we have heard all these years – that technology should be in SUPPORT of learning achievement, not a stand-alone fetish. Plus, it pisses off the people you're trying to support. No one likes to fail. Not teachers, not students, not parents. Set the bar unreasonably high, and you'll get a backlash effect, with people hating the assessment and resenting the mandated outcomes.

Much better, in my opinion, to work WITH administrators and teachers in setting reasonable expectations and assessments – which by the way don't have to be exams. A variety of indicators could be used, some institutional and curriculum-based, others direct measures of student learning.

Here are three models for

- Objective exam
- Performance measure – more applied and authentic
- Curriculum accreditation – review and approve the curriculum that every child receives

It seems that some combination of these would be best. A variety of measures would give a good indication of how states and districts are doing with technology. An objective exam may be the easier path, but would yield the least valuable information about the real state of things.

Finally, technology literacy should reflect some of the breadth of how technology really is used in classrooms. Computer operations and software application, yes. But also:

- Learning other subjects with technology
- Problem solving and creative thinking
- Collaborating and communicating in interesting projects
- Creating designs for artistic or engineering purposes

This goes way beyond what typical objective exams measure, but they are the real heart of technology and learning. Let's hope states and districts open up and think broadly about what technology literacy means – then develop some measures that truly reflect that breadth!