Why this is Important
Many assessments — such as end of grade multiple-choice and true-false tests — test facts and skills without requiring students to apply what they know and can do in real-life situations. In today’s world, however, real-life application of this knowledge is critical, particularly as these skills prepare these youth for their entrance into the workforce. Often, the nature of these tests shapes the way the information is taught, and since most teachers think of lectures as the most efficient way to “cover” this material, many students don’t learn to handle knowledge themselves or how to apply it. As Dr. Sam Houston of the North Carolina Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center says, “our students need to know what to do when they don’t know what to do.” This concern led the Obama administration to allow 10 states (New Jersey, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma) to be granted waivers from No Child Left Behind to try more innovative ways to meet standards and to teach in a way that incorporates more creativity and better prepare these youth for an increasingly competitive workforce.
Many states have developed alternative ways to assess students learning, such as student portfolios. Requiring students to argue a case before a mock Supreme Court in Constitutional Law or applying mathematical concepts to measuring the height and volume of buildings are a few examples of project based learning being implemented in schools around the country. These best practices are not only found in states granted waivers from the No Child Left Behind regulations, but many other places as well.
Current Context in NC
The North Carolina New Schools Project highlights four high schools that have adopted active learning strategies so that students read, write, think and talk in every class, every day. They emphasize personalization, project-based learning and community outreach. Their results are impressive, typically outperforming comparable schools, even on standardized tests.