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When schools make dramatic upgrades in technology, observers frequently hope the upgrades will increase student scores on state tests, and then they are disappointed when the scores remain stagnant. But is that the main reason we need to get more technology into the hands of students? To raise test scores?
I think people who link education technology and state test scores are missing the point. Here’s why:
1. State tests are centered on a student’s mastery of state standards. Technology and software can be used appropriately to strengthen a student’s basic grasp of the standards, but technology is best used to increase a student’s ability to do research, to deepen learning, and to make the curriculum relevant. Those things might not be effectively measured by standardized tests.
2. Standardized testing is a part of a 20th Century paradigm that was used to prepare students for the Industrial Age, an era that no longer exists, while technology is leading the way into the Conceptual Age. It’s not logical to apply a measurement system from an extinct era to the systems of a new one; thus, we shouldn’t gauge the impact of a school’s technology program by how its students are doing on tests that are designed to send our graduates to assembly lines that no longer exist.
3. Some people mistakenly believe technology will cure all academic issues in education, including the raising of test scores, but just because a person uses technology doesn’t mean that person is more prepared to take a test. For example, just think of all of the adult professionals who use technology, often high levels of it, in their offices each day. If those professionals had to take a high stakes test, would they score higher on the test just because they were using technology? Not unless what they did with the technology each day was preparing them for the test. Apply the same question to our schools and our students. Will our students score higher on a test just because they are using technology? Not unless they are using it to prepare for the test. But instead they might be using technology to do research, create multi-media projects, and to prove they have mastered the objectives in creative ways. Again, many of these higher level skills we ask our students to exhibit as they use technology are not assessed on state tests, so it’s not accurate to say technology has no positive impact on education just because the test scores might not be affected.
We must continue to stress to our public that there’s much more to a quality education than test scores. Too many schools achieve high test scores --- and then use the test scores to assert that they have achieved their goal of preparing students for the 21st Century. Let’s take that supposition to an extreme: suppose, by some miracle, we could get every student in America to pass all of his or her standardized tests, but those same students didn’t have access to any technology in schools. Would our graduates be ready to enter the global work force? No. Would we be helping them to reach their full potential as learners and as members of a 21st Century society? No.
Our students need to pass their tests to show they have their basic skills, but if we stop there, which is what our state rating systems often do, then we know we’ll be dooming our students and our society to a basic existence. There’s an old saying that “what gets inspected gets respected,” and our government and our society are only inspecting education through tests at the basic level and judging schools based upon the passage rates. The world that awaits our graduates is much more complex than that is measured through our current testing models.
To stress the importance of technology in schools, educators should assess the use of technology and report to the public how effective it is. In other words, educators should create their own additional assessment system so that test scores won’t be the main point of conversation, or in many instances the only point, when discussing a school’s educational progress. Is there a way to report test scores AND the progress made in teaching higher level skills, especially those needed to thrive in a global economy? I know that reporting model might not exist yet, but If public education is going to survive, then we must create it. Our public must begin to understand that test scores are simply the first stepping stone to the future; the rest of the path will be forged through technology. Perhaps the public will listen if we say, “Here are our test scores --- and also look at how we’re using technology, and these are the global skills we are assessing…”
Our world’s technology is changing exponentially, but society’s mindset is not keeping up with it. If we keep linking technology results to test scores, we’ll be perpetuating a 20th Century paradigm and dooming our students to second rate education. We must increase technology usage and find new ways of measuring its effectiveness. Let’s keep the test score discussions separate.