Former President, Autodesk Foundation
The Oregon State Board of Education is seeking to 1. “Ensure that the public
education system responds to the diverse needs of all students; 2. Integrate
the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM), Certificate of Advanced
Mastery (CAM), the Diploma, and
The Board is requesting reactions to its “conceptual framework” on (1) Time and proficiency, (2) State policy and local implementation, and (3) Success for all students. In particular, the Board requests reaction on which issues to “be particularly sensitive to” and would “appreciate hearing about current research and schools/models who have established or are working toward a proficiency-based system.”
It’s not an easy task to react to a policy framework in a state for which one
has only a tourist’s acquaintance
[i] . I spent my 33-year professional educator career in
The distance forces me to evaluate the “conceptual framework” more from a perspective of the students and teachers and less from the context of the near-term real-life political environment.
While the Oregon Board’s responsibilities range from K to 12 and beyond, the focus of its “conceptual framework” appears to be a student’s high school years.
High School is the “Weakest Link”. Newspapers across the country are filled
with stories of high school failure. Typical of this trend was a headline in
last summer’s Education Week : “More than Half of
As states move more and more towards standards-based systems and exit exams that count, there will be high rates of high school student failure everywhere unless states artificially lower the standards, a real possibility, or schools change the high school experience to engage and motivate students to learn [ii] .
The goal of the state in education reform is more than setting high standards for student proficiency and then testing for proficiency. It is to create a framework, or learning environment, in which students strive not just to demonstrate proficiency, but strive to become proficient, to acquire knowledge and skills, both hard skills and soft skills.
Most state systems today, with their standards and tests, are “gatekeepers” to students. They only tell students what they are required to do to mark their passageway to the great “afterlife” of college and careers. What these systems do not do is “engage” the students. They provide no motivation, no excitement, no interest, to students [iii] . What’s in it for the Kids?
The 21st Century Education Initiative asked one of the local district data experts to analyze the scores and discovered a disturbing finding. The scores in small districts and small high schools were significantly impacted by the scores of only a few students, who scored close to zero on the tests. This meant that the students purposely failed the exam. When the data experts looked at larger schools and districts, the same pattern was revealed.
For some kids, getting into a college of choice provides all the incentive they need. For some, a high school diploma does it. But for most, neither works very well. Even less successful are the new state standards. Communicating the standards to students, and their teachers, is a challenge, and the standardized tests only weakly communicate the value of knowledge and skills.
One state that has followed an
For most states the reform formula has been setting of standards, state testing,
and a high stakes test for graduation. Most, like
Arizona’s “solution”, which both marks a retreat and has merit as well, postpones
the test until 2006 and allows for locally developed “equivalent demonstrations”
or “equivalent courses” to substitute for passing the state exit exam. In
An important step in
The challenge facing the Oregon State Board of Education is to provide high school students with an educational experience that motivates them to learn, to direct their own learning, and to demonstrate their career-related knowledge and skills.
Local execution means what districts and high schools do. So the challenge for the local districts and local schools is enormous:
How can the state assist local districts and high schools in this task? What policies can be set at the state level, and what tools and programs can be developed, that would both inform and support local implementation?
An innovative standards-based learning system, developed at
The six-year old
The New Tech High Learning System captures 5 years of project-based learning
curriculum developed at
But the Learning System does more than just deliver the curriculum and the tools on a technology platform. The Learning System also provides a technology platform for new curriculum and new tool development from schools that participate in New Tech High’s replication network.
The New Tech High Learning System is an online learning platform for 21st Century High Schools. The Learning System’s curriculum and assessment tools could be used across the country. It is expandable—curriculum can be built out and new tools can be added. And it is scalable—it can be provided to schools through either an Application Service Provider or Managed Service Provider model.
The New Technology High School Learning System is proven and has demonstrated
its effectiveness. 353 students graduated from
Starting this August, the first of 9
Several lessons emerge from the New Technology High School Learning System.
One thing is clear in reading the Oregon Board’s CIM,
1. Develop an
At New Technology High School (NTHS) students see a broader set of standards,
called Learning Outcomes. These include content standards, hard skills, and
soft skills. As in
This “system” is possible because all these tools, curriculum, and databases of proficiency reside online and are integrated.
2. Motivate Students by Promoting Student Digital Work Products
A weakness in the new
Why not encourage that these student requirements be produced as digital documents, as PowerPoint presentations or web sites? For the student, digital documents can be a work of pride. They can be exhibited, or “published” on the web, and shared with peers, with significant adults, with colleges, and with employers. Such documents are tools for student communication and self-promotion, an important skill for the 21st Century.
Why not encourage that such products be assessed using assessment criteria developed by a statewide panel of students and teachers? Why not conduct this assessment online, and open it up to peers, teachers, community members and outside experts? For an example of online peer and community online assessment, go to the Global Schoolhouse Cyberfair at http://www.gsn.org/cf/rubric/index.html and click on "Peer Review".
3. Promote Professional or Graduation Portfolios (Digital)
The best student work can be captured in a Digital Portfolio [vii] . The Board should encourage high schools to make the Digital Portfolio a graduation requirement, incorporating key pieces of student work and performance.
4. Provide for a local
For CAMs to be recognized as important by students, teachers, parents, colleges,
and employers, the
Students would benefit greatly from this online “publishing” of their work.
And such an online community of students and adult reviewers from all walks
of life would bring the
These recommendations speak to the key issues facing the Oregon Board of Education. First, time will always be a working standard connected to course completion. But proficiency, linked to standards, can be better judged if students produce products, present them, and defend their ideas. And graduation portfolios make a much better proficiency requirement for graduation than does time on task.
Second, a “personalized, proficiency-based system” for students is a two-way street. It is personal, and engaging, because students do projects based on their interest and experience career-related learning experiences with adult mentors. But it is personal also because students communicate their ideas, and themselves, through work products to real audiences of peers, adults, colleges, and employers.
 Bob Pearlman is a strategy consultant for education reform. He is the former Director of Education and Workforce Development at Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network and the former President of the Autodesk Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com and http://www.bobpearlman.org.
It’s a little better than that. 5 years visiting my
[ii] See Bob Pearlman, "Reinventing the High School Experience", Educational Leadership, April 2002, http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/0204/frame0204el.html.
[iii] See Bob Pearlman, "New Ingredient for Student Success: Social Networks” at http://www.bobpearlman.org/Articles/Student_Success.htm.
[iv] See http://www.jointventure.org/initiatives/21st/21cntry.html. I was the Executive Director of the 21st Century Education Initiative at the time.
“Profile of Learning survives Senate repeal effort”, by Anthony Lonetree,
“Sanchez meets with educators to try to pinpoint top concerns”,
The Austin American-Statesman,
[vii] See Napa New Tech’s Student Digital Portfolios at http://www.newtechhigh.com/School/Students_parents/portfolios.asp. Also see the Digital Portfolios web site of John Ittelson, http://www.theidealab.net/. For exemplars of Digital Portfolios, see David Niguidula’s web site at http://www.ideasconsulting.com/dp/index.html.