- Marcy Daniel is the chief product officer of PowerSchool, a company that provides online learning and software for K-12 education.
- As a leader in education technology, she predicts there will be three major changes to learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Daniel says there will be a greater emphasis on mastery learning, personalized education, and project-based learning in place of high-stakes testing.
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Anyone who has attended a public school over the past 20 years is familiar with standardized testing. With a No.2 pencil in hand, each student sits for an extended period, neatly filling in bubbles on a variety of questions on the curriculum taught throughout the year. Much of the testing has moved online in recent years, but still requires proctored computer labs and takes several days of classroom time.
Standardized testing has a long history in the US education system. Originally created in the mid-1900s, it became mainstream in the early 2000s with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education reform, which uses state-mandated standardized testing as means of assessing school performance and resetting the concept of ‘social promotion;” in which kids were graduated by schools that didn’t have core math and reading skills.
While testing is a staple in the US education system, the standardized test has been “tested” itself in 2020.
With COVID-19-led school closures in March, schools scrambled to move to distance learning and the usual standardized testing fell to the wayside since it was difficult for educators to figure out how to conduct testing in a stable and fair environment.
There are pros and cons to many aspects of education, and standardized testing is no different. The biggest pro is that it provides helpful measurement, including information on how schools are performing which helps address any issues that may stand out.
However, with distance learning continuing into the 2020-2021 school year and testing continuing to be on hold for many, there is a shift taking place in education. I believe the focus on grade point averages and test scores will become less and less important in the coming years, and there will be new ways of learning that provide a more personalized measurement for each student.
Here are the three ways I believe learning will progress in the years to come. These types of learning could provide new measurement for schools and put a diminished need for, and potential end to, high-stakes testing as we know it today.
1. Mastery learning
The basic idea of mastery learning is that a student should “master” a subject and understand the core concepts of the topic before moving on to learn the subsequent information. For example, in math class, a student should not begin learning about fractions if they have yet to master addition and subtraction.
While it can be difficult to understand if each student in a classroom of 25 students has mastered a topic, learning management systems provide real-time mastery data for every student and can provide personalized data on each student so teachers can see what areas they are excelling in and where they need more work. With distance learning in place, mastery information is far more comprehensive, as learning objectives can be directly and digitally tied to mastery skill areas.
Many teachers have been relying on these analytics tools to be able to check on how their students are grasping a topic, since it’s more difficult to understand where their knowledge lies when educators cannot see students each day in person. Many programs, like my company, PowerSchool’s Schoology Learning, and a similar company called Performance Matters, offer a ‘heat map’ view of standards so students and teachers can easily see where they are ‘green’ (mastered) and where they are yellow (approaching mastery).
It also moves us forward to student centered learning — where students can see the areas they need to work on and then make a student choice of what type of learning activity (individual assignment, group collaboration project, or even something outside the classroom) they want to do to build their mastery. I believe teachers and students will continue to see the benefit in these tools even when back in the classroom to ensure each student is mastering a skill in their own time before they move on.
2. Personalized education
Mastery learning naturally flows into creating personalized education plans for students. Standardized, high-stakes, and general testing, while a necessary part of the education system, are backwards looking and don’t adapt to an individual student’s needs. If teachers can quickly identify the gap in understanding while students are in the learning unit instead of waiting many weeks or months, they can significantly increase success and comprehension.
During this time of distance learning, more educators are finding ways to personalize their learning for the situation each of their students are in at home.
An example of personalized learning would be creating a specific learning experience based on a student where their learning level is and that takes into account their preferences, environment, and designed with contextualization to facilitate understanding.
With the ability to really personalize the learning path for each and every student easily — students work at the pace that is right for them — some can move on quickly, keeping interest and engagement with their work, while others can take additional time to make sure they master the skill to a higher level, creating more success for subsequent topics.
3. Project-based or performance-based learning
Project-based learning provides a more active exploration and real-world approach to learning. While definitely possible, project-based learning has some tangible boundaries that may make it a little bit harder to do in a distance learning model for group work — but in many ways it offers benefits — results can be published through wikis/blogs and collaboration can be bigger, even having a global context.
Students can acquire a much deeper knowledge in a skill or topic area through performance-based learning — in fact, a few states have started to replace high-stakes testing with a performance-based approach, which is exciting to see.
One example of a performance task is a semester-long science project of investigation in which there are multiple steps in which the student demonstrates progressively deeper understanding with a final submission that is evaluated across multiple factors or a rubric that might include areas such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
I believe that distance learning and hopefully blended learning when kids are back in class can be a catalyst to this deeper learning model, and we will stay further away from jumping back into traditional high-stakes, multiple-choice testing.
While testing will always be a part of the education system, I believe that with the sudden closures of schools due to the pandemic, we are seeing a shift away from testing and more personalized education learning tactics come to fruition. Educators and students can see the benefits in these teaching tactics and they will become more commonplace even when students and teachers are back in the classroom setting.
Marcy Daniel is PowerSchool’s chief product officer. She is responsible for developing a unified strategic vision of PowerSchool’s portfolio products, managing overall roadmap development, and delivering to clients on the roadmap. She has managed and led multiple functional teams in the education technology space, and she has over 20 years of experience in enterprise software development.