University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Guest Blog Post: Time for Innovation!

In The View from the OEP on September 9, 2015 at 11:03 am
Guest Blog Post by Denise Airola,
Director of the Office of Innovation for Education

OEP note: The Office of Innovation for Education is hosting an Innovation Summit on September 29th.  If you are wondering what or if to innovate, or looking for support designing innovation for your school- this is an opportunity you can’t miss!

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If not now, when? It’s time to make a change. It’s time to take a chance on innovation. Join the Office of Innovation for Education (OIE) on September 29th to Focus, Connect, and Act: Innovate education for your students! Click here for more information.

Now is the time for Arkansas educators to take a risk on personalized learning! It is time to consider it, and if you are already considering it, it is time to go for it. Why? It is simple. Arkansas’s assessment and accountability systems are in transition. Now is the best time to transition to a greater focus on student learning and empowerment. You have a fresh start, a new baseline. Time to make the most of it!

Recently, I was asked what I would change about education in Arkansas. My answer—Focus everyone on student learning! But isn’t that already the case? I would say no, it is not.

For over a decade, educators in Arkansas have seemed preoccupied with accountability, and its constant companion, testing. We’ve focused on student outcomes as if the outcomes themselves hold the key to improving student learning. It has also been true, particularly in recent years, that what we measure (i.e., what we test) is what gets done. There is an important disconnect that has gone unchecked. More importantly, what we measure on state tests is not the total sum of the learning our students need to be successful, engaged learners for their lifetime!

Yet, only recently, have we begun to return to assessing for learning as the primary reason for assessing our students. And I would say that in many cases educators are assessing for learning because we are primarily worried about what our scores will look like when our students take the state assessment of learning.

In my travels to innovative schools and to conferences on personalized learning I’ve discovered that this pre-occupation with accountability isn’t the norm, especially among innovation schools. I wonder why? Is it that their states don’t have accountability measures? No, all states have some form of federal accountability and many have additional state measures. Is it that their states have fewer regulations? Not really. So what is it? I’m not sure. Perhaps once they took a risk and focused on personalizing learning for all students the work provided intrinsic rewards. Perhaps meeting students’ needs for agency and empowerment led to more learning, and that in turn, led to better accountability scores? I don’t know for sure.

I’m not alone is this call to focus on student learning and engagement. Check out the results of the Gallup Poll—student engagement and hope outrank other measures of school success!

We are called to act. Now is the best time to transition to a greater focus on student learning and empowerment. You have a fresh start, a new baseline. Time to make the most of it!

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