Students Should Be Measured on Mastery, Not Time in Their Seat
As next generation learning inevitably proliferates, states are reevaluating polices that no longer accommodate students’ learning needs in the evolving 21st century – with a particular focus on changing seat time requirements.
As a former teacher, I couldn’t be more heartened to see this development. I remember it well – standing in front of the classroom, covering the same topics while doing my best to differentiate my approach to each student to ensure I met their academic and learning needs. However, while that no doubt is challenging for even the most seasoned educator, one thing that irked me is that my students, regardless of how far ahead or behind, were required to sit through my class for a specified time in order to receive credit. In an industrial world, this made sense – we’d be preparing kids to enter a factory model system. However, in an increasingly global, and information-based, economy, that no longer suffices.
States, recognizing this reality, are taking varying approaches to solve the problem. These range from requiring outright mastery of the material in New Hampshire high schools to only allowing students to demonstrate mastery in non-core content classrooms, such as physical education and health, in other states.
In Delaware, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Starting with the graduating class of 2015, we will allow students to earn up to two foreign language credits by demonstrating mastery on nationally recognized assessments – which will be particularly helpful in trying to meet new graduation requirements. This is a smart move in a subject area where administrators highlight it’s hard to find qualified candidates.
So what could this look like going forward? For starters, we should address some of the lower hanging fruit, such as P.E and Health, both of which are incredibly important but don’t necessarily require 1,000+ hours (or 500+ for health) of every student’s time – especially if they’re athletes/health enthusiasts. The difficulty will come when we start addressing the more tricky, and nuanced questions, such as:
- What will learning look like with the Common Core and how would formative assessments fit in to the picture, which is what parents prefer?
- What role could technology play – with the Common Core serving as a language for all involved to develop better, and more intricate, ways of assessing student mastery of higher-order thinking skills?
- How do we organize classrooms/schools by mastery (if not by grade), while addressing the social/emotional needs of our students?
- What will our school funding model look like if we allow students to go through the content at faster/slower paces compared to specific number of hours?
- What could we do about virtual learning opportunities if schools can’t find highly-qualified people to staff their classrooms? How would we organize those?
These are no doubt tricky questions – ones in which all stakeholders are going to have to come together and put aside traditional notions of our schools and begin to use creative, outside the box thinking.