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21st Century Learning | News

Ed Summit: Dump Exam Scores and High Schools Grades

Most children born this year will graduate from high school in 2030. And one group of education experts has concocted some dramatic changes to the traditional educational model. Among the ideas: forget about tests and eliminate grades 9-12 in favor of putting students together based on abilities and areas of study.

Equinox Summit's Learning 2030, hosted by the University of Waterloo's Global Science Initiative, examined how to redesign of education with a focus on figuring out how to help children prepare to face the long-term challenges of their generation, such as global warming, the fragility of economic interconnectedness, and continued state- and sectarian-sponsored violence.

Summit members examined four areas of future education: assessment, social and physical environment, school organization, and classroom tools and techniques.

"Ideas like this are already successfully happening in innovative individual schools around the world," said summit participant Jennifer Groff, a graduate researcher at MIT and vice president of learning & program development with the Learning Games Network. "We've tinkered and tweaked for decades and we have the same system. If you want different outcomes, you have to rethink of all the parts of the system and redesign them together."

A blog post by Tim Loughheed, who handled official event blogging, recounted one participant's remark: "Most students don’t really understand the marks they receive..." When grades are handed out, others suggested, students will ignore the subsequent feedback because "they are so closely focused on the particular score they have received."

A better approach, according to the summit's recommendations, is to let the student have more say in how individual progress will be determined. An outcome of that tactic may be that students move through school at a different pace than can be defined by grade levels.

"We assume 30 students in the same grade, one teacher and four walls is ideal. But what would happen if we threw out that model?" said participant Greg Butler, founder of Collaborative Impact and former head of global education for Microsoft. "The current model of grade levels and ages is flawed. We need to progress students through high school, not by their ages, but by the stages they're at."

Following through on that scenario, Loughheed reported, the role of teachers will change too. He quoted another attendee: "We’ve got to get away from this idea of marks, marks, marks. The role of the teacher has got to be a diagnostician, and not someone who hands out marks — that’s such a waste of their time."

As Loughheed added, the job of next-generation teachers will be one part researcher, one part innovator, and one part facilitator. "Caring, actively researching in their field, serving as effective facilitator, and not motivated by money," he said.

The event drew education experts from multiple organizations, young people, and a panel of advisors from public policy, finance, investment, and business. Many of the sessions have been recorded and made publicly available online. Later this year, the event organizers will issue "Learning 2030 Blueprint," a summary report with recommendations.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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