Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Student Judgment and the Common Core State Standards

The Common Core State Standards require students to take more responsibility for learning and for reporting what they actually know and can do. This takes practice. It is much like changing from riding a tricycle to a bicycle. You can ride both on the same course but the bicycle requires that you learn to balance. And once you learn to ride the bicycle you will never go back to the tricycle.

Most standardized assessments assume a linear increase in knowledge and skills. This is acceptable at lower levels of thinking (with training wheels). But at some point, sooner for some students and tasks and later for other students and tasks, there is a large leap from rote memory to understanding. Students see this as an escape from a boring and seemingly never ending task, of following the teacher, to the freedom of realizing there are limits in which things are related in such a way they make sense and give a feeling of completeness, of mastery, of empowerment.

            I know my A, B, Cs. 

I can get a 90 degree angle from any 3, 4, 5 unit triangle.

I can increase my energy level by eating a good breakfast and not stuffing before going to bed.

Many highly marketed products are not worth buying.

What I want now and what I need are not the same thing.

The difference between traditional classroom multiple-choice and cafeteria multiple-choice is I must mark each question on the test but I don’t have to eat one of each product on the counter.

Getting from one place to another can be very complicated but at each intersection I have just three options.
Nebraska in 2009 created standardized tests that reflect the judgment of classroom teachers (see prior posts). The tests currently do no reflect the judgment of students. The relationship of what part teacher and student judgment plays in determining raw scores on the Nebraska tests is estimated in the chart. The contribution each makes as the scores increase is not a linear event.

Teachers must do the heavy lifting until students develop that sense of responsibility needed to learn and report at higher levels of thinking. There is a shift from being dependent to being independent. This is a basic tenant of the Common Core State Standards movement.

[The opposing view is that children naturally have the behavior of learning like a scientist: observe, question, answers, verify. This is how they learn to walk and talk and mimic adult behavior. If this natural behavior had not been suppressed in their early school years, there would be no need to bring it back into play later, in my case, working with underprepared college freshmen who often behaved like passive middle school pupils.]

Once students have observed that they can succeed, that they are self-empowered, they still need teacher judgment to guide them. We are then dealing with a student who knows and can trust what is known as the basis for further learning and instruction. The student is now free to be innovative and creative, to, in my case, elect to take part in voluntary projects and oral reports to the class. These students modeled for others in the class how to be successful: make sense of assignments, and their own questions, rather than memorize nonsense.

[The difference between expected and observed results in the sciences and engineering is referred to as error. That same variation in arts and letters is referred to as being innovative and creative. And in medicine and social affairs, life/death and promotion/prison.]

Children want to learn to ride a bicycle, a skateboard, and to swim. Learning is scary but instantly rewarding. The Educational Software Cooperative, non-profit, was formed in 1994 to promote that same environment for students on computers. Now a more advanced environment, for the same software, is available on tablets and the Internet.  When they feel prepared they can report using software that measures both knowledge and judgment at all levels of thinking (Winsteps, partial credit Rasch model; and Power Up Plus, Knowledge and Judgment Scoring). A quantity and quality scored test can sort out which students are just repeating instruction and which students are reporting what they trust they know and can do.

In the future, I expect that assessment will be such an integrated function that it will be recorded as students learn at lower levels of thinking or in the classroom at all levels of thinking. Online courses are now doing this. The classroom of the future, IMHO, will still provide safe day care, teacher moderated group learning and assessment, and software learning and assessment for individual students. Equal emphasis will be placed on students learning and on their development as self-correcting, self-motivated high quality achievers. Success on Common Core State Standards tests will require such students.

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