Monday, May 18, 2009
Having finished Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap, I am intrigued by many of his ideas. Though I was critical of what I felt were some generalizations and red herrings earlier, there is much to investigate. Some of the areas in which Wagner asks valid questions are "testing," "reinventing the education profession," and "motivating today's students" (in different ways than motivating student years ago). While I don't believe there are fundamental flaws with the system as a whole, I believe Wagner is right when he asks, "what does it mean to be an educated adult in the twenty-first century" and "how do we define rigor in the age of the information explosion" and "how do we create better assessments and accountability systems that give us the information we need."
In terms of testing, I have never been a vigorous critic of standardized testing, though I acknowledge its flaws. There is such an arbitrary nature to the questions on the exams, especially in terms of content and vocabulary. Without a standard national curriculum or even state curriculum with a set vocabulary list, there is a problematic component to reading assessment. Even the AP exams - while they definitely identify academically committed and skilled students - don't necessarily identify clearly the "critical thinking skills" that Wagner proposes and communities and employers demand.
However, Wagner offers some intriguing information on the new Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) which is "an open-ended, ninety-minute performance assessment in which students have to demonstrate their reasoning, problem-solving, and writing skills while attempting to solve a real-world problem." From the description of this test and system, it seems like a great development in assessment, and its components should become more standard even in the classroom. It's worth more discussion. What do you think?