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What’s More Important, High Test Scores or Self-Direction?

The education technology discussion is fraught with false dichotomies. One that I find particularly troubling is the false choice between improving test scores and preparing for life and work in the 21st century.

The argument on one side is that the United States is falling behind other countries with evidence offered such as our 30th place showing in math on the PISA test. In order to be competitive, we need to increase our scores on such international benchmarks. To achieve this we should:

  • Shift the focus in schools from what content is presented by teachers to what content has been learned by students. In order to ensure that focus changes, teachers must be held accountable for actual student test scores rather than just presenting the curriculum.
  • Ensure students have technology available for digital learning and collect data for real-time feedback to focus more on the needs of each individual student.
  • Use technology and blended learning to enable students to move at their own pace and progress based on mastery rather than seat time.
  • Personalize learning by providing an optimal path for each student through the core content they need to know for college.

On the other side, the argument is that the focus on test scores is unbalanced and has replaced meaningful learning with the rote memorization of facts and procedures with little critical thinking involved. This has unintended consequences of hampering great teachers’ ability to teach, while driving the best out of the profession while failing to improve test scores. The reasoning is that such rote decontextualized pedagogy is ineffective because it is irrelevant to students and gives them no context in which to place the new information in order to both understand it more deeply and remember it more effectively. This leaves students unprepared for college, but more importantly unprepared for a constantly evolving workplace. To prepare students effectively we need to:

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21st century education through the implementation of one-to-one technology
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