CRESST Con 2016: Social Inequality One of Greatest Challenges to Education

Conference welcomed practitioners, scholars, and researchers to share perspectives on access, technology, and evidence-based reform.

At a screening of the documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed,” at this year’s CRESST Con, Professor John Rogers challenged the audience with identifying elements in the film that reflected Dewey-era school reform in the late 19th Century, including the humanist movement, child developmentalists, the social efficiency model, and social ammeliorists.

“Engaging with this film through a lens of history may prompt us to ask some important questions,” said Rogers. “In the 1890s, you had a backdrop that is similar to today shaping the experience of schools. You had extraordinary levels of immigration… more American students who are immigrant students in the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th Century [and] extraordinary levels of economic inequality, such as we have today. You have jobs and the workforce being redefined, much as we do today.

Edmund Gordon, XXXX
Edmund Gordon, chair of the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, spoke as part of a panel on “Emerging Issues in Measurement and Assessment.”

“[Reformers] said that we had these deep racial and class divisions and said that schools needed to play a role in making the world a better place, making it more democratic. They said schools should promote capacities for inquiry, dialogue, and debate, and encourage a capacity for problem solving.”

A capacity for problem solving was a common thread throughout CRESST Con, which took place at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center Sept. 20-21. The two-day conference, offered a vibrant forum for the most innovative minds in education, assessment, technology, and policy and to examine evidence-based trends and opportunities. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Wasserman Dean of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, welcomed attendees to CRESST Con and expressed his pride in the research institute.

“If we did not have CRESST, we would have to invent it,” he said. “It’s equal parts… passionate, purposeful inquiry, and organic commitment to transform how we learn and how we teach. Over the next few days, you will create and recreate purposeful bonds to address and shape the future of education, moving forward. You will be in conversation with extraordinary members of the academic, technological, and policy sectors. I think it’s fair to say that today, education is more important than ever before. Your task ahead could not be more important, more urgent.”

Among the curated talks and panel discussions, a conversation on “Designing Innovative Schools” placed a spotlight on UCLA Community Schools. Jody Priselac shared the experience of students, faculty, and researchers at Center X in raising the bar for urban education for underserved students in Los Angeles.

Joan Herman, XXX, CRESST, moderated a panel on "Planning for Success: In Preparation for the 21st Century Workforce," featuring Jim H. Shelton, president, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Joan Herman, co-director emerita of CRESST, moderated a panel on “Planning for Success: In Preparation for the 21st Century Workforce,” featuring Jim H. Shelton, president, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

“It is about recognizing that our University needs to play a role in providing equitable access to quality education for all children, no matter where they live, no matter what their experiences are,” said Priselac, who is the Associate Dean for Community Programs at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. “It’s focused on teacher and school leader learning. Everything we’ve learned is about the power of empowering teachers. It is the teacher that is key to the experiences that the children have in schools. And it’s about recognizing that not all schools are the same, not all students have access to a quality education, and what are we going to do about that as a university in our community.”

Priselac shared the work of Center X, which houses UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, and its partnership with LAUSD, UCLA, and United Teachers Los Angeles, which led to the creation of the first UCLA Community School, located at RFK Community Schools in the Pico-Union- Koreatown neighborhood. She noted that the K-12 school, which was originally founded as a K-5 school in 2009, serves as “a site of engaged public scholarship” in the way that it respects the needs of a particular community rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all solution.

“It wasn’t about UCLA coming in and saying, ‘We’ve got all the answers – we’re going to fix you because we know what to do in this community,’ because we knew that would never work, and we’ve seen it fail over and over again in all the literature,” said Priselac. “So it’s a school where our motto is, ‘We learn together.’”

Over the last five years, Priselac said that more than 80,000 hours of volunteer service have taken place at UCLA Community School, due to the efforts of nearly 900 UCLA students, staff, and faculty. Sixty percent of the teachers are UCLA alumni, and Principal Leyda Garcia is a graduate of the Principal Leadership Institute at UCLA Ed & IS. Students are bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural; approximately 30 graduates have received the state of California’s bilingual recognition on their diplomas. A second UCLA Community School is in its launching stages at Horace Mann Middle School in South Los Angeles.

“Our students are guided by four components that every [one] graduates with,” said Priselac. “One is being a passionate learner. One is academic content knowledge. All of our students are bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. And lastly, they’re prepared to participate in a democratic society. In a zip code where typically, 14 to 18 percent of the students are admitted to college, this year – our first year where students had been at UCLA Community School for six years – we had a 99 percent college-going rate. Students were accepted to every single UC, every single CSU, and USC.

Ding Kong, a science teacher at UCLA Lab School (at far right) shares lessons from his school's iSTEAM and Mini-iSTEAM labs.
Ding Kong, a science teacher at UCLA Lab School (at right) shares DIY projects from his school’s iSTEAM and Mini-iSTEAM labs.

“For us, it’s been an amazing journey with this school. We’ve learned a great deal about what a school has to be: how to engage community, how to respect what teachers bring, how to support the leadership, and the children and the experiences they get.”

Joan Herman, CRESST co-director emerita and senior researcher, moderated a panel discussion on “Planning for Success: In Preparation for the 21st Century Workforce.” An evaluator of school reform, her most recent work focuses on the validity and utility of teachers’ formative assessment practices and the assessment of deeper learning.

“What kids need to do [has] changed dramatically since I went to school,” Herman noted. “We need to help kids in school to acquire a much deeper range of knowledge and skills [and] we’re at a critical juncture point with ESSA and with the capabilities we’ve developed through research and the wisdom of practice.”

Herman delineated the 21st Century skills – or “soft skills” – that business surveys have indicated as most desired by employers. She stated that the jobs that draw the highest salaries require social as well as cognitive skills, including the ability to think critically, communicate and collaborate in teams, culturally sensitive interpersonal skills, and intrapersonal skills such as grit and persistence.

“Whatever we call [these skills], it’s clear that they’re needed for student success in the future and for our country’s success in the future,” Herman said.

Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education at UCLA, gave his perspectives as a renowned authority on school reform and policy, saying that “the most pressing issue facing education is inequality – period.”

Matt Millar (seated) and Xu Xie of the UCLA Center for Vision, Cognition, Learning and Autonomy, display the potential of real-time hand-pose tracking for the development of kinesthetic skills such as handwriting, signing, or surgery.
Matt Millar (seated) and Xu Xie of the UCLA Center for Vision, Cognition, Learning and Autonomy, display the potential of real-time hand-pose tracking for the development of kinesthetic skills such as handwriting, signing, or surgery.

“The achievement gap that we claim to be so concerned about is really nothing more than an educational manifestation of social inequality,” he said. “We keep thinking there’s a silver bullet solution and we ignore the most basic needs of our kids. We literally have kids who are hungry in American schools. We literally have kids who are sick with asthma, going to schools that have deplorable conditions. We’re focused on the wrong things.”

Noguera, whose research focuses on the influence of social and economic conditions on schooling, as well as demographic trends in local, regional and global contexts, said that, “Only in education do we hold those who are the consumers responsible for the standards. We don’t treat standards like that in any other field – for highways, for airports, or for food and drugs. It’s backwards.”

Noguera said that raising standards in education with no regard for the conditions in which the standards are expected to be met, is unrealistic.

“We raise standards but we haven’t thought at all about what it takes to make those standards accessible to the range of kids in the schools we have right now,” he said. We hold the kids accountable for the inability of the state to meet those standards… and threaten teachers and principals with their jobs even though the state hasn’t made sure that those schools are equipped with what they need to meet the standards. Blaming kids, blaming teachers, blaming schools and shutting them down is not a strategy for improvement.”

Noguera posited that the best teachers are provided to the most successful students, not to the struggling students who need them most, and that academic performance is often confused with students’ ability and potential.

“We don’t know enough about these kids [and] we’re asking the wrong questions,” he said. “We are not assessing for ability and talent, we are assessing for how [students] do on a test. Right now, we have a big gap between research and practice. We have a big gap between policy and practice. Until we close those gaps, nothing will change.

Debra Duardo, LA County Superintendent of Schools and Pedro Noguera, UCLA Distinguished Professor of Education, participated in a panel on preparing students for 21st Century jobs.
Debra Duardo, LA County Superintendent of Schools and Pedro Noguera, UCLA Distinguished Professor of Education, participated in a panel on preparing students for 21st Century jobs.

“All kids need to be stimulated and challenged, not just the most advanced,” said Noguera. “And we need to know much, much more about context, context where the neighborhoods are impacting the school and what the schools can do to respond. Achievement is the outcome; engagement is the way to get there.”

Li Cai, CRESST director, announced the 50th anniversary of CRESST this year and an upcoming campaign and website to showcase the last five decades of its research.

“Fifty years from now – in 2066 – what will education be like? That’s the question that I am posing to myself and all of the audience,” said Cai. “What we as an organization, especially an organization within a research university, can do is continue to improve our partnership with stakeholders –public, private, sometimes international – continue to work on technology, continue to improve those tools, improve the statistical methodology for analyzing data and for sharing this with the users.”

The National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) was established in 1966 as the UCLA Center for the Study of Evaluation (CSE). CRESST’s mission is to assess educational quality and to address the design and use of assessment systems to serve multiple purposes. For the last 50 years, CRESST has conducted research for government, military, medical, pre-K through college and adult learning.

For more on CRESST Con in EdSurge, click here.

For more information about CRESST, visit this link.


 Above: CRESST director Li Cai looks back at 50 years of the research institute’s achievements at CRESST Con in September.