The following announcements, from the UK, and from the USA, are similar to many world-news articles I’ve been reading during the past 8 months:

  • School districts across Maine (most northeast state in USA) are reporting drops in academic performance amid the coronavirus pandemic, as shifts to remote instruction have made teaching and learning more difficult for students and teachers.  
  • After a traumatic academic year that left many behind…

Really?

Have kids actually “lost” skills?  “Regressed in learning”, or been “left behind”?

I don’t agree.

If you’ve acquired a skill, you don’t lose it. It’s yours to keep, maintain, and build-on – school or no school. Kids don’t live in a vacuum. They have family, who talk to them, maintaining basic activities, such as writing a note and reading – perhaps on a computer or TV, all within the household’s range of daily events. To “regress in learning” implies that students really never had learned well, because if they had, they’d maintain and build on what they had learned. What teachers “cover” isn’t the same as what students actually “learn”.

False, misleading announcements, such as the ones above, promote fear and trepidation among parents, schools, and the general public. These notices become an excuse for failing students, especially those students who may be poor, or from a race or ethnic group that is not totally accepted in mainstream society.

Why? Because these announcements of regressing students are based on one major source: results from standardized exams.

Most students’ reports are a compilation of standardized tests. This is a false measure, because it has a false base. Common complaints from teachers say that they’re required to “teach to the test”. Students with a good memory, strong home support, who are not intimidated by test-taking, perform well on tests, but those lower in memory skills, fearing failure, don’t perform well. Students are not standardized, so why give standardized exams? 

Portfolios, accumulating students’ work performance & progress, or using rubrics to guide students as they accomplish projects, are more useful and accurate than standardized test scores or “grades”. Following prolonged absence from formal schooling, it’s true: test scores do go down, because no one’s teaching the material needed to pass exams.

What does this say about education?

It says we need to change how we measure students’ learning and achievements. It says we have to change WHAT we teach and HOW we teach. It says that statements announcing loss or regression in learning are poppycock – babble, balderdash, bull, bunk, drivel, foolishness, hogwash, hooey, horse-feathers, in other words, nonsense.

Perhaps Covid-19 will force educators, politicians, and parents to face reality. Universities and vocational institutes, as well, need to adapt to 21st Century necessities, recognizing that vocational trades are just as valuable and important to society as university degrees.

Where do we begin transformation? and how?

  • We need to value and accept that students’ social interactions are more important than academic achievements.
  • Arts, music, drama, physical development activities, carpentry, cooking, and life-long skills are more essential to students’ well-being than excelling at calculus or physics.
  • The school-day’s length depends on whether school is a “baby-sitting service”, or for basic academic acquisition.
  • For only academics, “basic primary school work can be completed in 70 minutes”,quotes Carole Joy Seid, author and educator for 30 years. She calculates a basic middle school day needs 3 hours, and high school, 4 – 6 hours daily.
  • I concur. Currently, homeschooling my 6-year-old great-granddaughter, we complete all daily work (story-time, writing practice, word recognition, science, social studies, art, & music, technology… in about an hour. This work took ALL day (7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.) in her “regular” school because of wasted time! It’s unbelievable how much wasted time there is during a typical school day!!!
  • After lunch, she and I go to the park, walking, or using her bicycle, scooter, or skate-board. That’s our physical education class — more time than her “real” school – before Covid-19.
  • Learn from Finnish schools: high PISA scores, well-prepared, well-adjusted students. School begins 9:30-9:45 a.m. and ends about 2 p.m., with long breaks between classes. Students receive free hot lunch. There’s no homework. They spend time outdoors or in carpentry, art, music, computers. Students collaborate in teams, sharing academic projects, based on Big Questions and Big Ideas.
  • Finland has no standardized tests. Their only exception is the National Matriculation Exam, a voluntary test at the end of upper-secondary (equivalent to American high school.)
  • All Finnish children are graded on an individualized basis, a grading system set by their teacher, all of whom have autonomy.
  • Teachers usually keep the same students for 6 years of primary levels, mutually learning.
  • All universities in Finland are free and public.

We’ll need to reassess world-wide expectations – what to require, what to use as evidence, how to exhibit students’ progress. Currently, most educational entities follow similar rigidity, subjects, reliance on exams, grading, schedules, homework… to 100 years ago.

Parents are told to have kids “read aloud”. Research shows that’s USELESS – unless you’re checking oral pronunciation. It is silent reading that builds comprehension! Research by Krashen, Collier, Cummings, Chomsky, and many other linguistic experts, since the 1980’s to the present, support that the receptive skills – listening and silent reading helps with language development, reading growth and comprehension, especially non-fiction readings. We’re not talking here about text books!

Covid-19 has pushed us to transform, to implement technology, to provide “SOLE” classrooms, to emulate Finland’s success, to recognize and accept students’ learning styles. We must reject modeling our schools on 19th & 20th centuries’ curriculum, dogma and traditions. A new frontier has emerged.

Are you ready to transform, or are you still resisting?