Experts ask: ‘What if we focused on learning?’


Experts ask: ‘What if we focused on learning?’

11:27 a.m. PDT March 17, 2016

Education leaders at a panel Tuesday night agreed – current assessment of students needs to change.

With recent changes to the Every Student Succeeds Act, alternative assessments may replace high-stakes testing methods to determine student proficiency.

Panelists discussed options for developing policy as Oregon becomes responsible for administering its own assessments. The panel met Tuesday evening at the Salem Public Library.

The panelists were Lew Frederick, an author and state representative; Yong Zhao, a professor and administrator at the University of Oregon; Rick Stiggins, retired founder and president of the Assessment Training Institute; and Elizabeth Thiel, a parent and teacher in Portland.

The panelists discussed various topics, including their views on Common Core, effective assessment roles and responsibilities, and eliminating high-stakes testing, all to answer the question, “What would our schools look like if we focused on learning?”

Thiel said the word “assessment” has been hijacked, saying educators are always assessing students, which she said isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

She said assessments can be used to reflect on teachers’ work and don’t have to solely refer to data collection and excessive testing.

However, she stressed that the way students are assessed in the current education system is not only expensive and time consuming, but not helpful to educators or students.

Zhao said education has been reduced to a “technical, mechanical process” that trivializes teachers and doesn’t focus on actual learning for the students.

He compared today’s teachers to mail delivery carriers — they (the education system) send a package to the teachers, the educators deliver the package to the students, and then the system asks, “Did you deliver the package, or did you take something out?”

“They are delivering knowledge and there isn’t much else to it,” he said.

Zhao said low scores often reflect inherited, environmental factors — such as a student’s parents’ wealth and income — but that standardized tests can’t account for these influences.

He also said that merit also has very little bearing on success, like many seem to think.

“We somehow use test scores and literacy as indication of merit,” Zhao said.

Frederick agreed, saying he believes getting students to think critically and have a deep desire to learn is the ultimate goal.

Stiggins said the future of education needs to be a student-teacher partnership, in which the students ask, “What comes next in my learning?” rather than the most important instructional decisions being based on what grade or standards are mastered or on a report card., (503) 399-6745 or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or 

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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