Your Colleague, Artificial Intelligence

Written by: Reagan Flowers, PhD

“Standardized tests are ineffective tools in measuring a student’s talent and capacity to work smart alongside machines.”

Some people believe that “the fuel you need for AI is just pure data”[1], but that is only one component. You can have all the data in the world, but to make that data useful it must be understood and analyzed. No matter who is analyzing the data (i.e. engineers, computer scientists, artists, or artificial intelligence, etc.), they must first be taught the necessary skills to do their job with accuracy and efficiency.

This then leads to the concept of teaching students to be innovative in analyzing and finding patterns within data, starting as early as elementary school. Which creates challenges for educators who are required to teach students to pass standardized tests. Although such tests challenge students on straightforward problems with a clear solution, employers are relying more heavily on Artificial Intelligence (AI), something standardized tests have not been designed to measure.

Let’s face it, you are considered as being smart when you can problem-solve and utilize technology to create the best possible solution.  Testing should evolve to measuring the overall capacity of a students understanding and ability to interact with technology to solve complex problems.

The standardized testing process and language has created its own barriers. There are many people who criticize the testing movement and colleges that are making their admissions decisions more inclusive of accomplishments beyond standardized test scores.

AI is widely integrated in all aspects of our lives from the food service industry at McDonalds to the driverless vehicles that are sharing our roads. In the age of Industry 4.0, the academic gaps created by standardized testing are leading schools in the wrong direction, away from high skilled opportunities.  Standardized tests are ineffective tools in measuring a student’s talent and capacity to work smart alongside machines.

We are beyond the computer and automation age. Work platforms are increasingly more dependent on cyber platforms that can be integrated into our daily workflow.  Student’s must be taught how to work smarter with machines.

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[1] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2018-06-22/human-iq-and-artificial-intelligence-can-work-together-business-professor-says

Brookings STEM Report

STEM Cell Economy Humor

 

The Brookings STEM Report offers an analysis of the occupational requirements for STEM knowledge.  How does “The Hidden STEM Economy” impact you?

stem_profile_thumb_16x9STEM Jobs

Really, blame the teachers and the teachers’ unions?

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People are realizing that the “reform movement” dedicated to improving America’s public schools usually begins on the right track, but often gets derailed as evidenced by student outputs. As a result of these outputs, teachers are often left shouldering the blame for underperforming students. Reformists should realize that teachers and teachers’ unions ought not be the sole target of those driving the “reform movement”.

In any given educational system, there exist areas that could use some improvement; however, it does not mean that the entire system is broken.  That said, there is no one solution to fix everything, which is why making correlations between the characteristics of a community, its residents, and performance of the schools is a viable step towards achieving real solutions. The teacher horror stories that evolve from isolated situations make for good sound bytes and headlines, and as reality TV has shown us, drama does sell and captures the public’s attention.  Unfortunately, blaming teachers has become much easier than addressing sociological and economic problems beyond the walls of the schoolyard.

From one Ward or Barrio to the next, the same curriculum standards are required to be taught just as the same standardized tests are administered.  The system lags in exposing students to appropriate grade level content at the appropriate time, and provides no real alternatives to address educating some of the neediest children.  There is a great propensity for students from disenfranchised communities, with low employment and high crime rates, showing up on the first day of school unprepared, and who have fallen behind academically, through no fault of the teachers or the teachers’ union. The inability of the teacher to get such students to perform at grade level, will result in them not passing the standardized test, and the school in turn ends up receiving a negative report card, and the teacher eventually bears the brunt of the blame.

The tendency to cast aspersions on teachers totally misses the mark. Looking at today’s 21st Century STEM curriculum, as compared to the questions asked on standardized tests; it is clear the academic system is missing the mark.  One observation is the standards set for underperforming schools are higher than people realize, and students are being challenged significantly more than when you and I were in grade school. In an era when our schools were regarded as competitive, great places of learning, teachers were afforded the opportunity of being the best they could be without cumbersome testing requirements or classes full of unprepared students from disconnected parents.

The Ethnic-minority Difference

The Ethnic-minority Difference

Large urban school districts across the nation report that they are making progress educating minority students; however, behind the numbers is a stark contrast between the higher performing Hispanic students, and Black students who continue to be left behind.  The reality is the achievement gap is closing at a faster pace for Hispanic students, and the answer might be in the rigorous English as second language (ESL) training Hispanic students receive starting in early education.

It is important that the reporting of academic performance data lumping Black and Hispanic student results together does not continue to disillusion parents, students, and policy makers. The observed results might cause you to think that things are getting better across the board; however, a different picture emerges when you separate the two groups.  Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, reports that between 2002 and 2011 Black student’s readiness benchmarks rose from 3% to 4% while that of Hispanic students rose from 8% to 11%.  The College Board reports that in 2010, Black students made up 14.6% of high school graduates and 8.6% of AP test takers; contrast that with Hispanic students who made up 17% of the graduates and 16% of AP test takers.

The numbers make it clear that the same improvements are not being equally achieved by both groups. Certain school districts have observed that the progress seen in Hispanic students can be attributed to strong teachers, the likelihood of attending better-funded majority Caucasian schools, the school culture in majority Hispanic schools being based on connections to family, and the heavy emphasis on teachers receiving professional development in teaching English as a second language to cope with this burgeoning population.

These facts suggest increased performance ratings in math and science can be attributed to the language improvements of Hispanic students.  I discovered early on in my research through CSTEM, an authentic approach to integrating STEM into Pre K through 12th  curriculum, that student’s not possessing adequate communication skills (i.e. reading, writing, and speaking) generally lag behind in math and science.  Recent data and my research therefore lead me to the conclusion that the emphasis on ESL for Hispanic students should also be in place for Black students.

There is a great need to get back to the basics with Black students who lag behind in their grasp of the English language, not because it is their second language, but rather because a vast number of Black students communicate at home and with their peers using Slang/Broken English/Ebonics, which ultimately spills over to how they communicate at school and when writing. Oftentimes in communities serving majority Black students, strong grammar and English teachers are not consistent throughout their Pre K through 12th grade education journey.  So once these students begin falling behind, there is very little teacher professional development training that focus on tackling this issue in order to improve the grammar and English language deficiencies of such students.  Furthermore, schools tend to offer remediation to Black students focused more on drills, memorization and practice questions for passing state standardized test, rather than mastery of fundamentals of English and Language Arts.

The academic challenges faced by Black and Hispanic students are clearly different, and if we are not careful when lumping the two groups together, we will continue to miss the true picture behind the data.  Having a clear understanding allows our schools to be better able to pinpoint best practices and offer services that truly aid in reducing the achievement gap for these very distinct groups of students.  It is my belief that a renewed emphasis on the development of grammar and English for Black students will result in producing a greater number of math and science scholars of the future.  The concern is failure to address this issue of grouping all minorities together will only lead to a further widening of the achievement gap, where Black students are the ones who truly get left behind, particularly in areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).