Grading what matters most
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
In a recent article, Edutopia’s Stephen Merrill asked a pivotal question that every educator needs to ask themselves right now: “In schools, are we measuring what matters?”
Merrill reports out on a recent interview he conducted with educator Angela Duckworth, a champion for the push to include non-academic skills and dispositions in assessment, grading, and reporting plans. Duckworth is best known for her 2016 bestselling book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” The book raised questions and concerns from fans and critics on whether the concept of grit was a skill that should be measured by schools.
According to Merrill, Duckworth had this to say: “Any assessment practice that is ‘narrower, more myopic, and more insensitive to equity’ is headed the wrong way. ‘We want to go in the direction of more holistic, better information and evening the playing field’ — so that we can broaden our understanding of human potential and see more pathways forward for all of our children.” Duckworth believes the need is great to include skills such as grit and other similar academic behaviors and dispositions because it leads to improving equity for all in an effort to help all students be college and career ready.
Let’s be honest, when was the last time that you heard of an employer who was looking for a new hire to be proficient at graphing polynomial and logarithmic functions (unless the job was that of a high school math teacher)? Will a child’s ability to recite the Gettysburg Address be the deciding factor as to whether or not they will be selected over others for a job one day? I hope not.
The reality is employers are looking for skills that go far deeper than content-specific knowledge. Schools need to think bigger when it comes to deciding what is important, and what matters for grading purposes. This is not the first time I have written on this topic. In this 2016 MultiBriefs Exclusive, I reported on how one state was approaching the assessment of what they referred to as work study practices. In this 2018 MultiBriefs Exclusive, I took a deeper dive into the topic by looking at how schools could assess one such non-academic skill, imagination.
These skills go by different names: Soft skills, employability skills, 21st-century skills, work study practices, etc. Regardless of what they are called, they matter more to most employers than any course grade that may appear on a transcript. This should come as no surprise to those who follow organizations such as the World Economic Forum as they regularly track which skills are playing an increasing (as well as a decreasing) role in our society.
According to a 2016 report released by the World Economic Forum, “In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends — and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.”
According to the World Economic Forum, the changes we are experiencing are a result of a global movement towards what is being described as a “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” led by innovations in fields such as robotics and artificial intelligence, genetics, bio and nanotechnology. We are starting to see the rise of smart systems in the residential, business, manufacturing, agricultural, and civic sectors. These systems are driving new ideas and a new outlook on how to share and integrate data and use it to operate more efficiently. All of this is bringing about tremendous changes in the workplace.
“While some jobs are threatened by redundancy and others grow rapidly, existing jobs are also going through a change in the skill sets required to do them.” Employees need different skills today than they needed yesterday. The skills they will need for tomorrow will be different still. This need is creating downward pressure on schools to constantly be evolving and adapting their focus in an effort to help all students be college and career ready.
In my 2018 Solution Tree book, “Breaking With Tradition, the Shift to Competency Based Learning in PLCs at Work,” I urged schools to assess these important skills and dispositions using an ongoing approach, with students actively tracking their own learning progression. I went on to suggest that students need ample opportunities for reflection and growth. Student self-reflection, goal-setting, and monitoring are a regular part of the assessment process that an effective classroom teacher uses, with students taking active ownership in their growth related to these.
Merrill reports Duckworth offers these final thoughts to educators: “I think any educator and certainly any parent would say that we have to broaden our view of kids’ capabilities. That’s partly because students have a rainbow of capabilities, but it’s also because I don’t want to send a signal to young people that cognitive ability is the only thing that matters. It’s not. If teamwork matters, if loyalty matters, if honesty matters, if grit matters, if creativity matters, then we have to start assessing these things, because as it’s often said, what gets measured is what gets treasured.”
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