Where Does Personalized Learning Meet Standardized Assessment?

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: January 14th 2017


I had the great fortune yesterday to spend a brief bit of time talking to Sir Ken Robinson and to hearing him speak on education. Sir Ken is well known to many and is author of the most watched TED Talk of all time “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” His entertaining style of speaking, his humour and his resonance with our love for the arts, creativity and innovation would likely be at the top of anyone’s must watch list for education innovation. The reason for this blog is simply to reflect on his enduring messages and to look at how our system in BC is striving to meet his message.

First and foremost, it is important to note that his key message is not that teachers kill creativity, or principals kill creativity, it is that when the systems we have take away opportunities to be creative and innovative, then children and learning are the losers. In his recent book, Creative Schools, he writes about British Columbia and Surrey School district (p. 179-181) as one of many examples where districts are trying innovative methods and encountering success.

As I awoke this morning, I thought more about how teaching really is a creative endeavor. When I watch what teachers do, they are innovators, they are creators. Sir Ken’s chat yesterday reminded me as well of a question I have had for some time which is – where does the creativity and innovation of personalized learning meet with the push for more standardized assessment? In our short talk and on the drive home listening to one of his many podcast I was thinking of this and he said things that resonated with me:

  • data driven methods strip out the things that make learning alive;
  • culture is about permission;
  • I’m not against academic ability, I’m against equating academic ability with intelligence; and
  • If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

In Surrey, we spent a long time and listened to many voices in the creation of our vision for Learning by Design. It is a vision that believes that teachers are creators, innovators, artists and designers. Learning by Design states this explicitly:

Our teachers design learning conditions that are student- centred, inquiry-focused, engaging, and steeped in real-world experiences.

We support teachers to:

  • Embrace Technologies
  • Innovate
  • Connect Learning to the Community

Note it doesn’t say “teachers will” or “teachers shall” – we were trying to express to our community that this is the natural state of things. This is what teachers do and “we support teachers” was our core message.

Most importantly one of the things Sir Ken said and again it resonates in our vision is that we were encouraging teachers to challenge structures that get in the way of learning. In our vision for Learning, Structures, and Tools, we say this about structures:

  • We believe that time, physical space, access to information, and connection to community should provide the flexibility to support our vision for powerful learning.

The powerful subtext that we now have publicly written about and talked about hundreds upon hundreds of time is that if the structures we have get in the way, then please engage with us and work with us to talk about how we can remove the things that prohibit your creation and design of engaging learning environments. The 5×8 timetable, bells, classrooms, discrete subjects, fixed time allotments, physical space – all these things may prohibit not permit the learning environments that people want.

I will close with the standardized assessment dilemma. I believe that rigid one size fits all, compliance standardized tests do not support learning. That being said, I also believe that the system needs to adequately demonstrate to the public that our tax dollars are well spent and that we are doing good work. There have been for years many conversations about how these worlds can align. I believe there can be a “code of ethics” about evidence of learning and how it can support, inform and improve our system without the punishment brought about by the ranking of schools. I am also acutely aware, from our ongoing move to remove letter grades and replace them with authentic forms of assessment, that many in our public are incredibly nervous about system change.

Finally, to our teachers and the promise of Learning by Design. Every time I visit a class, I see your creativity and innovation at work. You do amazing things and I look forward to continuing the conversation about how we can support your work.

Leave a Comment

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.