Student technology assessment panel – NECC

Yesterday at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC 2008) I was on a panel about technology literacy assessment. Agnes Zaorski of Eatontown Public Schools led the discussion, with Cathy Higgins, the state director of educational technology in New Hampshire, Ashanti Jefferson from Chicago Public Schools and me. We were there to talk about different approaches to meeting the NCLB mandate that every student be technology literacy by grade 8.

Ashanti spoke about how they have created an open-ended set of tools, resources and training, so that teachers could choose to keep technology integrated into the classroom. Cathy talked about portfolio assessment, and how they have thoughtfully planned the system with input from the entire state, and how that fit into their philosophy of students using technology to do their work, share, and save them digitally.

I’m not doing justice to these projects in one sentence, but for me, the key was the deliberation and thoughtfulness that they and many others have put into the solutions and resources.

The audience was made up of people from across the US, and possibly around the world. They too asked thoughtful questions and described situations in their own classrooms and offices where they were trying to do the right thing. But to me, a theme started to emerge.

Distrust. Not distrust of what is being said, or what is being set as policy, but that it will last. That it won’t be changed tomorrow and all the plans and implementations, successful or not, will be tossed in the trash can.

So when the federal government says in NCLB that all students must be technology literate by the 8th grade, that’s a pretty broad statement. So the states say, what does that mean? And the federal government has responded, “we aren’t going to set guidelines, we’ll leave that up to the states.” You could interpret that two ways:

  1. Hurray! We get to design tech literacy ourselves, and assess it authentically. Now let’s get to work on what that means!
  2. Uh oh, it’s a trick to make us do a lot of work and then when we come up with a solution the darn Feds will tell us what they really meant and we’ll have to do it their way anyway.

Now imagine this chain of uncertainty and mistrust of an open policy all down the line.

States don’t trust feds, districts don’t trust states, schools don’t trust district when they say things are open for definition. Because if you’ve been around for a while, you know that sooner or later someone comes along and says, “SIKE! The answer is 42”

So it’s easier to ask that the rules be set in stone, so you know you won’t go to a lot of effort creating a child-centered, thoughtful policy only to have to throw it out next year when the new principal/superintendent/state education department coordinator changes their mind.

Open policies with multiple paths to completion are what we hope for and fear. They come with a gift of choice PLUS the potential for even more work when you find out that when the powers-that-be said “choice” they meant, “choose my way”

We live in interesting times…


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