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Why Should We Change?

Sometimes parents are left out of the change loop – why we work to transform education, why teaching methods and curriculum are changing. Like most superintendents, Dean Christensen, Supt. of the Deuel School District in South Dakota,  shares a weekly newsletter with students and parents. Last week he included information about the professional development work his teachers did with PAST.  Thank you, Supt. Christensen.

An excerpt from SUPE’S ON by Dean Christensen

“This past Friday our staff participated in professional development on project-based learning. The purpose is to develop units in our classrooms based on meaningful community issues. The result should be classroom learning that students can identify with. This does not replace standardized testing but acknowledges that testing can’t measure everything. How can a paper-and-pencil test measure the development of skills such as teamwork, initiative, or perseverance? Traditional testing measures a very narrow slice of what we want students to learn to do. To understand this, think about your typical experience with a driving test. The paper-and-pencil portion can measure your knowledge of the rules of the road, but you also need to do the driving portion to show what you can actually do.

Our goal is not necessarily to be a distinguished standardized testing school but to be able to have students prove through performance-based projects what their capabilities are. This seems like it should lead to greater real-life skills. What could this look like in an assessment? In English language arts this could take the form of an argumentative essay. In science students may conduct an experiment and write a lab report to support their conclusions. In foreign language it could mean conversation in that language. There are numerous ways to show knowledge and America needs to get over its fetish with fill-in-the-blank test scores. That is a good measure of memory but there is not a lot of practicality beyond that. If you can’t problem solve or in some way use the knowledge you have, you really don’t have any knowledge.

We continue to look for ways to make our students’ education as useful and as relevant as possible. Sometimes that looks a little different than the education of years gone by. We will continue to pursue our goal of preparing our students to be successful wherever their life takes them. As usual, if you haven’t already, do something good for a kid this week.”

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