As standardized testing fails to deliver, a more personalized approach emerges

As standardized testing fails to deliver, a more personalized approach emerges

By VERSO Communications Team / May 02, 2021 / Learning Designers

As standardized testing fails to deliver, a more personalized approach emerges

Recent events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have had immeasurable and ongoing effects in many industries and social services. Schools across the world too have not been immune and have experienced the most sustained shutdown in recent history, moving to a remote learning model. 

An unexpected consequence of the shutdown has been the cancellation of many of the usual UK and US  final exams for seniors in the educational  systems that maintain this practice. For the second year in a row, seniors have been left wondering what they will use to help them access further education placements. Schools will inevitably need to use predicted grades based on previously held internal mock exams and school-based course work to arrive at final grades for the subjects students have taken or receive teacher assessed grades that they will use for their college application process. What’s interesting is that there will now be a precedent that a senior student’s grades can be determined without a final exam.

Is this a purposeful trigger for us to think differently about how we evaluate learning in schools? 

During the last three decades, education reformers in America have pushed standardized testing and policies to improve test scores and proficiency in basic skills. However, during this period that educator and author Thomas Armstrong calls the "miseducation of America," a number of troubling trends have surfaced, including a decrease in creative thinking. Schools across the country have passed a resolution saying standardized tests are ”strangling” schools. The National Resolution on High Stakes Testing, which calls on government officials to reduce standardized testing in US schools, has been endorsed by hundreds of organizations and over 13,000 individuals.  And yet, in spite of all this, standardized testing is still choking students’ curiosity, creativity, and passion for learning in classrooms around the country and potentially over the world. Stress related issues for students engaging in final exam blocks has also been a contentious issue. A study by ReachOut, a prominent online mental health organisation for young people and their parents found that the number of young people seeking mental health or medical help had doubled in the past year. 

In a recent online discussion on the future of education, Yong Zhao, internationally recognized as one of the most influential education scholars, shared that standardized testing has typically focused on two subjects: literacy and numeracy. Other subjects and domains of knowledge have been slighted or ignored. Standardized testing fails to offer students opportunities to demonstrate their learning in activities and domains that are of greatest importance to them and in which they may excel. As a result, although testing results show students’ talent in taking tests in mathematics and language, it says nothing about their strengths and their potential to be not only good but, potentially, excellent at their innate talents and interests.

VERSO turns the page

At VERSO, we have turned the page on standardized testing with an intentional focus on maintaining positive social and emotional health. We predominantly believe in the individual and will not impose a cookie cutter assessment regime to our students. While we will have a highly rigorous and deeply engaging curriculum benchmarked against globally recognized standards, we will not use a fixed testing method to determine whether a student has reached mastery in specific knowledge and skills. 

We understand that learning is not a one size fits all construct. Learning is  a complex, messy and transformative process of meaning making through connections, interactions and experiences that build on prior understandings. Each child’s learning journey should and will be quite different. Hence the notion of providing a “standard” test to determine a child's success or progress is now redundant thinking. 

Instead, VERSO students will become the designers of their own learning as we gradually support them to increase their independence. Foundational knowledge and skills started in the early years and lower school will be the platform for a developing individualized and personalized learning program based on interests, passions and things that matter to the learner. 

Movement towards Mastery Learning

VERSO is proud to be the first international school in Thailand to be a member of the Mastery Transcript Consortium™ (MTC), a growing movement of American and international schools developing a contemporary digital transcript designed to showcase students’ interests, skills and strengths, rather that simply reducing their school experience to a letter grade and a GPA score.

Together with other highly progressive schools around the world, VERSO is playing an active role with the MTC in redesigning how students prepare for college, career and life.

We monitor student learning through tracking and comparing student skill development to various developmental benchmarks. The New York State Education Department standards provide the subject area knowledge and skills to reference and the development of our own future-ready skills as the backbone to the Mastery Transcript. These are our competencies that we expect students to develop and hone over time and they will provide a detailed evidence-based view of a student’s growth, development, application and transfer of skills as they mature to a graduating senior. 

Our assessment methods are more real world. Students need to demonstrate repeated application of the skills and knowledge and these opportunities will be evidenced through interviews, conversations with their mentors and learning designers, documented in their process portfolios or digital profiles. 

Traditional assessment tasks such as essays and tests may not form the basis of most assessments as is the case in most mainstream schools. However, while writing is a deeply valuable skill and is indeed embedded in most of our work, one’s ability to write is not the way we judge broader learning skills. Students have the choice to present their learning through Showtime, which could be staged in a parent and/or school environment or in a presentation to a company or an NGO. The work that the students engage with will also have real world application and being project-based, will differ in content from student to student. However, it will enrich the development of our future-ready skills. 

Each student will graduate from VERSO with a  transcript and a rich portfolio of evidence that they can speak about - evidence that ensures that their work is real and that their achievements are authentic.

VERSO will be a lighthouse school in Asia designing our total curriculum and student assessment with this end in mind. Turning the page never sounded so great.

By Paul O'Neill, Hub Director, VERSO