Seat Time


When used in the context of education reform, the term seat time refers to the use of academic credits based on the 120-hour Carnegie unit. The term is typically a derogatory reference to the perception that course credits more accurately measure “seat time”—i.e., the amount of time students have sat in a classroom—than what students have actually learned or failed to learn. For example, high school students typically earn credit by passing a course, but a passing grade may be an A or it may be a D, suggesting that the awarded credit is based on a spectrum of learning expectations—with some students learning more and others learning less—rather than on the same high expectations being applied to all students equally. And since grades may be calculated differently from school to school or teacher to teacher, and they may be based on highly divergent learning expectations (i.e., some courses may be “harder” and others “easier”), it’s may be possible for students to pass their courses, earn credits, and receive a diploma without acquiring important knowledge and skills.

Critics of “seat time” typically argue that if credits are not based on some form of consistently applied learning standards—expectations for what students should know and be able to do at a particular stage of their education—then it becomes difficult to determine what students have learned or failed to learn. Some educators and education reformers argue that strategies such as proficiency-based learning and demonstrations of learning, among others, provide more valid and reliable ways to determine what students have learned, whether they should be promoted to the next grade level, and whether they should receive a diploma.

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