A New Hat, a Shift in Directon

March 11, 2012 Heather Hoerle
A New Hat, a Shift in Directon

I traveled to the 2012 NAIS Annual Conference in Seattle last week, and for the first time in many years I was an attendee, not a member of the staff behind the scenes. It was quite a change—instead of worrying about whether the AV equipment was working or if a speaker’s plane was late, I was able to put on another hat entirely and take in the event from start to finish. And wearing my SSATB hat, I was struck by many innovative ideas that mesh with our organization’s plans for the future.

The conference theme was innovation. How fitting, then, that Microsoft’s Bill Gates was the keynote speaker. Gates, more than anyone, has unlocked the power of personal computing for all of us, including—or should I say especially—those of us in the business of assessment. Indeed, as SSATB rebuilds its technology, we are working with Mr. Gates’ systems and Sharepoint software.

Gates said that though 40 years have passed since he was a student at Lakeside School in Seattle, what goes on in most schools remains very much the same. Yet, he claimed, “I believe in next 10 years that education will change radically.” Gates suggested that technology within the classroom will usher in a decade of education that is more personalized and customized. The power of technology in education lies not in substituting for the teacher, but in making knowledge relevant and addressing each student’s personal needs. With online learning, teachers will be able to track what students are actually reading, where they spend their time, and where they need help—and thereby create a personal and facilitated education for each of their students. (Think Khan Academy, at www.khanacademy.org, which essentially flips the classroom. Students watch lectures outside school to get the basics, preserving class time for group work and personal interaction with the teacher). Bill Gates was proud to tell attendees that his foundation (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) is creating a website to track what’s going on in educational software innovation. It will soon allow educators to easily find a list of tested and useful tools. Watch for it in the education section of www.gatesfoundation.org.

I was also able to attend workshops for the first time—what a luxury!—and to listen as innovators from the independent school world shared their real-world experiences. Jonathan Martin, principal of St. Gregory’s School in Arizona, gave a presentation on “OCT,” or open computer testing. The use of OCT forces educators to rethink classroom assessment design, leading them to develop “Google-proof” questions that demand higher-order thinking. Martin said that this method of assessment creates deeper understanding of the material. To find out more about this flip in assessment and see some sample tests, go to Jonathan’s blogsite at www.21K12blog.net/oct.

On Friday afternoon, I attended a workshop presented by SSATB’s Senior Director of Outreach, Aimee Gruber, who paired with NAIS National Director of School and Student Services Amy Hammond to report on trends in admission and financial aid. Among the trends that SSATB is seeing in the admission world are:

  • A small (3-5%) increase in test volume
  • A significant increase in score report volume (15%)
  • A 4% increase in kids taking the test twice
  • An influx of Chinese testers
  • Increased interest from families in the Standard Application Online (SAO), SSATB’s “common” application” (Growth in the SAO has been significant - in 2008, 1,295 applicants used it; by February of this year, 17,066 SAO applications had been filed)

Aimee also shared a key finding of my “Listening Tour” with the audience: Admission professionals say that one of their biggest challenges is being able to assess the emotional intelligence of applicants. That’s part of the ongoing shift for admission folks; from being gatekeepers of a straightforward pen-and-paper process to innovators in a decision-making process that is being transformed in new ways by technology, globalism, and questions about testing.

As NAIS President Pat Bassett said in his closing remarks in Seattle, critical shifts in education are upon us. They were outlined in a MacArthur Foundation report about 21st learning, he said. ( Among the shifts: classrooms are moving from teacher-centered to student-centered and learning is moving from the consumption of information to the construction of meaning. Pat added an item to the MacArthur list: a shift that he has observed and that resonates with us at SSATB: assessment is moving from high-stakes testing to high-values demonstration.

As a leader in educational assessment, SSATB intends to be part of that shift. When I was at NAIS, I helped put together an annual Think Tank of doers and dreamers from independent schools to help plan each conference. Now, as the momentum builds for developing new ways to assess where students are in their learning and how that learning happens for each child, we at SSATB are excited about assembling a Think Tank of our own, gathering a range of thought leaders in student progress and measurement to help us dream about what comes next for admission assessment. We are in the midst of crafting what our charge to that group will be—and we welcome your ideas as we move into our own discovery of 21st century learning and its applicability to the work of enrollment management for independent schools.

About the Author

Heather Hoerle

Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer

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