The crumbling status quo…

univeristyK12In K12 we have the staunch defenders of two symbols of the educational landscape status quo – “rigorous” final exams and lecture-hall style seating/teaching. Responding to progressive education models, we’ll often hear these defenders of the status quo shout, “But we need to prepare them for college!” A recent article indicates there may be cracks in (and momentum toward crumbling) the traditional university model/philosophy.

Anne Knock (@anneknock) writes about a move in universities toward collaborative learning spaces and away from traditional lecture spaces: Insights for schools: Trends in university learning space design, big shift from lectures to collaborative learning design. Knock highlights how the shifts at many major universities are representative of a change in philosophy from a tutor/lecturer focus to more engaging, collaborative learning environments.

I recall another article, from nearly 5 years ago, about final exams: Final exams are quietly vanishing from college. Originally appearing in the Boston Globe, the writer described how Harvard University had only 23% of undergraduate classes administering a traditional three-hour, sit-down, blue-book final exam. Another sign of cracks in the traditional university model?

Let’s stop preparing students for the narrow world of university and better prepare them to overcome the real-world complex challenges they will face in the future.

What are your experiences with shifting summative assessments and learning environments at the university level? If these are in fact trends, how should they inform K12 leadership practice?


6 comments on “The crumbling status quo…

  1. Fantastic post that was a huge issue in my mind this year since my son was a seventh grader and had to take final exams. One exam was a 200 question multiple choice format that many students were unable to complete in the given time: a single class period. To me, final exams and a didactic approach are anachronistic rites of passage it seems. And, to continue them, especially for students in middle school who just want to “get their hands dirty” to learn, is a huge mistake.

  2. Agreed, Charlie! Some of our practices seem to be so mindless…and the “rigorous” final exam, as you describe, is total nonsense. I think part of why we hold onto the exam is because parents believe we will do away with summative assessment all together. I’m in no way suggesting we get rid of assessments – let’s just make them real and relevant. And that means the traditional “exam” must go. And then we need to provide professional development for teachers to devise meaningful summative assessments.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I wonder how many high schools / teachers are aware of the move away from final exams in so many colleges/universities. We struggle at the middle level with the concern of “preparing students for the high school.” This cannot be our focus. We need to prepare students to respond to real-world predictable and unpredictable situations using the knowledge and skills they acquire. In addition, the damage done by “tracking” students into levels below “college prep” is offensive in my mind. What message are we sending to these students? What are we saying about these courses? So many traditional practices continue to damage our students. Some will try to boast on the success of the merit scholars and ivy league students who graduate from their school. Let me tell you, more often than not, “Johnny” was probably going to Harvard regardless of the school he went to. Great post!

    • Thanks for the comments, Mike! It’s been probably 4-5 years now that we eliminated the mid-term and final-exam ritual in Salisbury, generally to good effect and positive board support. We are assessing kids now in much more authentic ways through projects and hands-on work. There are still parents, though, that will voice their opinion – how could we not give a final. It’s what they’ll have to do in college. Teachers can still give that form of test genre during the course or at the end if they want to, but most do not. It’s the way to go.

  4. The worst thing about final exams – students never get to see their graded work; students only receive the final grade. This emphasizes to the student that their learning does not matter, just the gradebook. Summative assessments do not need to be final exams. How often do employers ask their employees to sit down with a scantron for a few hours?

    • Glad it resonated, Erin! You highlight more evidence of the insanity of the traditional final exam. What good is an assessment if you can’t learn from it? Good for the system. And that’s no good, usually.

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