by Gary Kaplan
JFY AIMS to Help
The release of the 2023 MCAS scores on September 19 stimulated a vigorous and continuing public dialogue on our public education system. In fact, this dialogue has been ongoing at varying degrees of intensity since the introduction of MCAS in 1998; but this year’s installment has a distinctive character of post-pandemic urgency. Everyone agrees that the pandemic created critical, unprecedented problems. Everyone agrees that solutions are needed. And it seems that everyone has different ideas of what those solutions should be.
The Boston Globe provided a useful summary of the dialogue on September 27 in the front-page feature “7 big ideas to fix education.” The seven ideas were tutoring; lengthening the school day and year; helping recent grads access further education or training through community colleges; raise teacher pay; overhaul reading instruction in the early grades; use individual assessments to create personalized learning plans; and don’t try to fix everything, but choose targeted objectives.
All of these ideas make sense and none of them are new. Some, like raising teacher salaries and extending school time, imply new costs. The question of how to teach reading has been debated for years. The free community college strategy has already garnered new state funding through the MassReconnect program launched in August. The remaining two ideas have particular resonance for JFYNetWorks: tutoring, and assessment-driven instruction.
Tutoring is individualized instruction. We traditionally think of it being delivered by a person. But the advent of instructional technology created another form of individual instruction– online. And the recent introduction of artificial intelligence is broadening the capability of online instruction in barely imaginable ways. Online instructional platforms routinely include assessments to determine where a student should start in the curriculum. So these two “big ideas”- tutoring and individual assessment– are readily available to schools and students.
But isn’t a human tutor better than a computer program? Those of us who consider ourselves human would have to agree. But there’s a problem: there aren’t enough of us humans to provide tutoring to all the students who need it. Just counting the 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th graders who scored in the lowest of the four levels on the recent MCAS, we have 51,422 in English and 45,920 in Math. In the aftermath of the pandemic, schools are having a hard time filling regular teaching positions. Will they be able to find enough competent tutors to serve these numbers? And these are only the very lowest scoring, those “not meeting expectations.” And they are only four grades. The next level, “partially meeting expectations,” and the rest of the grades could also use some help.
Like many in the field, JFYNetWorks recognized this problem years ago. We began using instructional technology in the 1990s and applied it to MCAS as early as 2000. We recognized the need for individual assessments and learning plans, as did virtually every teacher in every classroom. Throughout the 2000s and 2010s we worked with the available technology and upgraded our tools as the market provided better products. The advances have been remarkable in software quality, adaptability, and ease of use. Artificial Intelligence now offers significantly more responsive, granular and immediate individuation.
JFY never thought of technology as a replacement for the human teacher. We saw it as a tool for teachers. We didn’t think it could replace the core curriculum; we thought it could supplement and support the curriculum. We also thought it could support students with scaffolded just-in-time interventions to address individual learning needs. And we have always delivered it through the teacher, whose design and supervision were and are determinative.
More than a decade ago, we codified our methodology in the acronym AIMS: Assess, Instruct, Measure, Support. Those were our “big ideas.” We only had four, not seven, but we still think those four functions can do the job of bringing all students to grade level and the still-resonant, if still-elusive, goal of college and career readiness.
Our AIMS program is available free of charge to any Massachusetts middle or high school. We invite inquiries at email@example.com.
Gary Kaplan is the executive director of JFYNetWorks.
Other posts authored by Gary can be found here.
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