Trends in K-12 Education: Our Panel Weighs In
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Hottest Trends in K-12 Education: Our Panel Weighs In

The Newsela Team
Sep 27, 2023

You know you’re officially back to school when, as Carole King says, “you feel the earth move under your feet.” Maybe not literally, but it sometimes feels that way—like everything you knew from last year shifted completely. How are you supposed to keep up with these trends in K-12 education? And what can you do if they impact you?

To answer those questions, we wanted to hear from the people on the ground. You know, the experts, educators, and policymakers who deal with these trends every day:

  • - Chris Lehmann, Principal, Science Leadership Academy

  • - Dara Gronau, Principal, South Orange and Maplewood School District

  • - Hillary Knudson, Senior Director, Whiteboard Advisors

  • - Dan Cogan-Drew, Chief Academic Officer, Newsela

At our hour-long panel discussion, we spoke with them to learn what to expect from the ever-changing education landscape and what you can do to plan and prepare for the times that are a-changin’.

More assessment for higher scores?

Does the word “assessment” make you cringe? Why wouldn’t it when, for years, it seemed like the only way to prove a school or district’s worth to educational stakeholders had been through stellar performance scores? But high scores at the end of the year aren’t the only way to “show what you know.”

Luckily, the education community has realized the limitations of traditional standardized tests. Most educators now advocate for more low-stakes, daily formative assessments in the classroom, along with traditional testing. 

“I think differentiated assessment is the way forward,” panelist Dara Gronau said. “There’s all kinds of ways for kids to show what they know while we acknowledge the sort of overhanging requirement to perform on these larger assessments.”

“There is a desire for flexibility,” panelist Hillary Knudson said. “I think that’s a critical issue… we’re trying to use one assessment to meet a whole bunch of needs.”

And one-size-fits-all doesn’t work for today’s testing. Not if you want it to be meaningful for students. 

“I’ve yet to figure out why a kid should care about a standardized test, except they’re being told to do it,” panelist Chris Lehmann said. “And they’re being told that if they don’t, they’re going to get their school in trouble.”

Assessments should do more than just show an end-of-the-year report card score. They should also empower teachers, administrators, and other educational stakeholders to collaborate. These “show what you know” opportunities should help educators make more timely decisions that will ultimately deepen student learning.

“It has to be assessments that matter to the classroom teacher that they’re going to use,” Gronau said. “There’s so many things that are compliance-driven that are not necessarily going to be things that they can use in a meaningful way.”

So what is the solution? More formative and project-based assessments that serve a purpose for everyone involved.

“I have yet to see a sort of standardized assessment, even with adaptive, even with all that stuff that is more meaningful, more relevant, and more, at the end of the day, useful than when thoughtful teachers come together and create authentic, project-based assessments that allow kids to demonstrate their skills in ways that matter to them,” Lehmann said.

And with more assessments of any kind comes more data, and finding a way to make it work for you.

“Districts are trying to look at the best way to warehouse information, the best way to make it easier for teachers to use because it’s not helpful when pieces of assessment are in isolation,” Gronau said. “That’s a surefire way to drive a teacher nuts and that’s how to drive them out of the profession and we don’t want that.”

Education and AI: A love-hate relationship

Robots aren’t taking over the world, but they are finding their way into our schools with AI. We don’t know the full extent that generative AI adoption is going to have on education yet. On the one hand, it’s helpful to teachers for staying organized and saving time. But it also opens the door to cheating, plagiarism, and student privacy concerns. What should districts be doing about AI?

“The other day I was reading that there’s a survey that said… we’re now requiring students to handwrite their essays in order to avoid the threat of plagiarism,” panelist Dan Cogan-Drew said. “But that’s the reality where we have this sort of bifurcated response and even some of the same teachers who are having students handwrite the essays may be getting the prompt for the handwritten essays from ChatGPT.”

But is the answer to respond to every step forward in technology with a step back to combat it?

“Sometimes in education, our tendency is to police things that are going to happen anyway,” Gronau said. “It feels silly to me to have these conversations like, well, then you have to handwrite. I mean, I’m around middle schoolers all day. That’s their job to figure out a way around whatever brilliant thing you think you came up with. Let’s not do this pretend game where we just act like we can wait it out or we can policy our way out of it because they’re going to use it.”

If students are going to use AI in school (and we know they are), it’s important to teach them that AI is a tool, not a solution.

“I remember when Guitar Hero came out and kids thought they could play guitar because they could get a high score on Guitar Hero,” Lehmann said. “I kind of feel that way about ChatGPT and writing. When you use it as a resource, great, sure, awesome. When you pretend that it’s yours, not so awesome.”

“You want to engage kids in this really important real-time conversation about voice, and how you’re using it, and why,” Gronau said. “[AI] can be a thought partner, but your voice still matters.”

What do these K-12 education trends mean for you?

Debates over AI and assessment are just the tip of the iceberg for K-12 trends this school year. There are even more issues that could impact you like:

  • - Finding links between student engagement and chronic absenteeism.

  • - Teaching election season content in the classroom.

  • - Settling the “reading wars” once and for all.

  • - Finding a silver lining in leadership turnover.

But what does it all really mean for you, your students, or your district? Now is the time to prepare for both the near and distant future. Make action plans for how you can address these and other issues before they’ve fully consumed your classrooms. 

To hear even more about these and other trends that could impact your students, staff, schools, and districts this year download the resource guide with all the statistics, insights, and tips you need to be fully prepared for what’s to come in education this year and beyond.

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