Philanthropy and Assessment Tools for State Standards

My work with the Ohio Grantmakers Education Task Force continues and I am privileged to be part of this interesting process. The anticipated outcome will be a list of specific policy recommendations to the Governor of the State of Ohio on how to structure Ohio schools so they will prepare students for the Global Economy and 21st Century Skills. I have posted reflections from those efforts previously.

There seems to be growing interest in how to incorporate technology into curriculum much of which has been stimulated by Clayton Christensen’s book. I think people realize that they way learning takes place is about to change very soon and that the Standards and Assessment tools must be structured to meet those new challenges.

In our discussions some of the expert educators brought up the very important issue of research on assessment of instructional technology in classrooms. I found this site which is interesting. It is the work of people at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.

The early research confirms Clayton Christensen’s thesis in Disrupting Class, i.e. you can’t drop computers in classrooms without addressing how teachers might make best use of those technologies; otherwise, you have an electronic version of paper and pencil.

More interesting to some is the research on Universal Design for Learning (UDL)which was developed at the Center for Applied Special Technologies in Wakefield MA. The Nord Family Foundation as well as Martha Holden Jennings has supported UDL in many Ohio school districts. Speaking from this foundation’s experience, UDL and accompanying training supports the student-centered learning that the Governor calls for. I recall Dr. Suzan Tave Zelman then Ohio State Superintendent of Schools praising CAST and UDL in Ohio Schools and in a burst of enthusiasm suggesting it be mandated in every school in Ohio. This call was made on the occasion of a UDL Summit co-sponsored by both The Nord Family Foundation and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. Several superintendents spoke very highly of UDL and the transformational impact it was having on many teachers in schools.

The Nord Family Foundation provided support to test CAST’s ScienceWriter project in Lorain Schools. Our purpose in support for that project was to address the fact that,

…middle and high school students have the increasing expectation that they not only access information by reading grade-level materials, but that they demonstrate their knowledge of complex content in academic courses such as science through writing. The primary focus of the content specialist in the middle schools and high schools is the subject area (science, social studies, health, history, etc.) rather than literacy instruction. Most schools are not able to devote the necessary time, resources and staff development to ensure that literacy instruction takes place within the content areas. This issue is particularly urgent because many high stakes assessments of achievement now measure students’ competency in writing and via writing.”

CAST writes,

“To ensure that students success in the current climate of standards-based education and high-stakes testing, we need new instructional techniques that enable them to demonstrate their content-area knowledge through written language. Tchnology-supported writing can extend the reach of teachers facing minimal time and resources helping struggling learners to overcome the barriers to content-area success. The inherent flexibility offered by digital media, individualizing the learning experience becomes more easily attained. The provide more plentiful opportunities for practice and personalized feedback – crucial elements to successful reading or writing strategy instruction. With tools that can help them individualize instruction, teachers can provide learning experiences that are appropriate for their students’ diversity.”

One immediate recommendation for the Governor would be to find funding through the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Board of Regents to fund one or more centers for instructional research as it relates to K-12 curriculum. Kent State has a very fine program in Instructional Technology, and could be one option, and perhaps Ohio State. This type of funding would take the UDL pilots, supported by philanthropy and help bring it to scale. This recommendation would provide a unique voice to standards and assessment debate. Attached is a copy of CAST’s David Rose’s speech to the Aspen Institute but it is relevant to our discussion.

On a certain level, the UDL/CAST experience exemplifies the idea of innovation coming from outside the box (in this case UDL started with the disabilities community but very quickly had application to the “mainstream” curriculum.) The Foundations support and testing of UDL in many schools throughout Ohio, and its impact on reform the way students are assessed provides the foundation community and Ohio Grantmakers Forum in particular with a unique voice to the statewide effort at reform.

Stay tuned for more conversation on the matter.

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