Monday, March 3, 2014

16 Trends: # 6 and 7 standardization -v- personalization

Many of the first trends that I've written about over the past week or so are not directly connected with education, however Trends 6 and 7 definitely are.  When I worked as a teacher in the UK there were some national tests (CSEs, O'Levels and A'Levels) but no standardized tests for students below the age of 16 since the abolition of the 11+ exam in the early 1970s.  Sometime after I left and became an international teacher, standardized tests were introduced, schools were put into league tables, and schools that didn't do well on tests and inspections ended up in something known as "special measures".  Schools, teachers and students were seen as failing if they didn't do well on tests and this led to narrowing down the curriculum (spending more time on reading, writing and math and less on subjects such as the arts) and teaching to the test.

At the same time, in the international schools where I've taught, there has been a move away from summative assessment and towards formative assessment.  Teachers are concerned about knowing what students are finding difficult as it helps to inform their practice and planning - there has been a shift from the assessment of learning to assessment for and assessment as learning and a movement towards giving students choices about the ways they show their understanding - away from a cookie cutter approach where all students are expected to do the same thing.  More and more teachers are asking whether the move towards standardized tests prepares students for the future or simply freezes the students in the "traditional" education system.  In countries like the UK and USA, where teachers are leaving the profession in huge numbers, questions have also been raised about whether the pressure to "perform" on standardized tests is driving talented teachers and administrators out of education and putting off young people who may be considering a career as a teacher.

Last year one of our goals at ASB was to personalize learning.  We know that students are unique and that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work best.  We are also aware that we want to encourage creative and innovative students, not just those who can give the right answer on tests.  As we discuss educating students to be future world leaders we know that rigid systems inhibit us - our students need to be flexible to be able to thrive in a changing information age - they need to move forward not by regurgitating the status quo but by creating new knowledge and solutions.

At school both last year and this year students have engaged in Curiosity Projects and Day 9 "passion projects".  Recently we've also discussed the importance of qualities such as persistence and resilience.  In schools that have adopted the PYP and MYP programmes I've also seen a move towards transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary and multiisciplinary learning where connections are seen as increasingly important.  The world needs creative and ingenious people and there are many examples of education systems that are valuing a more personal approach - however the general trend of the past few years has been towards more standardization.

Photo Credit: Urban Woodswalker via Compfight cc


  1. How much influence does the PISA test and results have on your school and system? If you are not using summative testing then I am assuming you have developed assessments along the way to ascertain the level of skills, knowledge and ability within the curriculum area. Are you using a flexible grade level system as well?

  2. We do believe in data driven decision making and we use MAP and WrAP tests during the year. We have investigated multi-age classrooms