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News: League News

Standardized Assessments Will Not Make Us Robot Ready

Monday, January 14, 2019  
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By: Alison Griffin

Senior Vice President, Whiteboard Advisors

League Board Member

In January 2018, Gallup and Northeastern University released a study about artificial intelligence and higher education. Northeastern University, under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Aoun, has become a leader in the national dialogue about artificial intelligence. While there were many striking findings in the report, Dr. Aoun said something during a national presentation that I want to address in this article.


He said that “if a job can be automated, it will be…but jobs that require innovation, creativity, reflection and thinking about the world in a different way cannot be automated.” When I think about automation, I think about robots. But, Dr. Aoun asserted that through the acquisition and development of “human literacy skills” or being innovative, creative and culturally agile which are all characteristics of humans – not robots, we can ensure students can proceed on a “robot proof” journey.


Robot proof? As a parent of very active elementary-aged boys, I spent their early years trying to “accident proof” my home and their environment…plug covers, cabinet locks, hand sanitizer. But I had never thought about how I was going to “robot proof” my boys’ educational journey. Until I was reminded of those early years when I realized that I could not solve for every electrical outlet, cabinet door or bit of grime. And I became ok with the fact that their exposure to a little dirt and an occasional cabinet-slammed finger could likely build some reliance and hardiness.


I thought more about whether a similar approach to their education journey might actually help “robot proof” my boys. Just like the hand sanitizer wasn’t going to protect them from every disease imaginable, I needed to stop looking at a single academic assessment, test score or ranking to tell me whether my boys’ school experience would “robot proof” their lifelong learning path. How would I instead better understand who the boys are becoming as people in an increasingly interdependent world?


For me, it was about having a voice in my boys’ educational experience. About having a choice about the type of classroom experience in which I sought to enroll them. About ensuring teachers and professional staff had the latitude, resources and opportunities to cater to different learning styles and the flexibility to approach education from a multi-dimensional perspective.


When I think about quality, I certainly think about what my sons are learning and whether they are mastering basic academic concepts as the building blocks of knowledge acquisition. I also pay close attention to how those concepts are connected to each other and how they can be practically applied. I pay close attention to whether, through learning a new concept, my sons are also learning how to problem-solve, collaborate with others who may not understand, and gain experiences that provide a new perspective to an “age old” challenge. My view of academic quality has less to do with mastery of knowledge, but rather, the application of human literacy skills.


In addition to my role as “mom,” professionally, I work in education policy. For twenty years, I have worked with federal and state policymakers on issues that span the education pipeline, but have primarily focused on the connections between postsecondary education and employment. Most recently, in the last decade, our national focus in postsecondary education has shifted from access – meaning how do we ensure academically-prepared students can enter our postsecondary system - to completion – meaning how do we ensure the students who access and enter the system actually complete and graduate- to lifelong learning – meaning how do we ensure students can build upon education and workplace experiences to allow them to contribute to interconnected communities.


Professionally, I understand we are not immune from the threat that robots, computers and artificial intelligence may replace jobs and perhaps almost entire parts of certain industries. In fact, 60 Minutes recently aired a story that suggested nearly 40% of all jobs will be lost to artificial intelligence. This assertion is in alignment with what I hear at work every day; however, AI expert, Kai-fu Lee has emphasized that there are many jobs and functions that AI will never be able to capture. As a parent, I am certain that no machine will ever replace empathy, intuition, innovation and creative spirit. These are the qualities that everyone desires in employees, community members, volunteers, and (gasp!) maybe even politicians.


Quality is a complex concept and a subjective term. As a policy influencer and a mom, I appreciate that my experience in our local charter school has provided me the opportunity to be involved in conversations at the local level (really local: across the table from the teachers who spend more daylight hours with my boys than any other adult) about what shapes the experience my boys have in the classroom. While two curious and inquisitive boys will never be “accident proof,” it is my hope that through what I believe to be a quality educational experience, I am raising boys who will proceed on a “robot proof” journey.


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