Confessions of a Grade Fetishist

An interesting TedX video from a teacher about the benefits she and her pupils experienced when she broke her love affair with student grades as a measure of everything important.

"The score is what's remembered which essentially means nothing out of context."

One of the points she makes is something that has always stood out to me - there can be a whole bunch of children with the same grade, but who have very different learner profiles, needs and requirements as future learners. The truth is they tell us so little as to be useless.

She is at her most animated when she talks about what the process has done for her students.

This is well-worth watching to develop the debate about what's possible in learning.

Great At The Game. The Right Game?

Within the education field, there are some who believe that the only things worth measuring or caring about are those that can be measured. To them, data is everything. Their logic suggests that if you can’t reduce something to hard data, then it probably doesn’t really matter in education.

The result of this mindset is articles like this:

The Washington Post: This Company Says It Can Predict Whether A Teacher Will Be Any Good – Before Entering A Classroom

Quite simply – what they’re saying is that they can isolate the features of those teachers who are capable of getting children to score higher on standardised tests, identify those attributes in prospective teachers and thereby short-circuit the recruitment process.

Of course, their whole premise is based upon the idea that ability to get children to get high scores in standardised tests is the most (only?) important attribute of a teacher. To my mind, this is so dangerous as to be daunting. Worse, it can look to the public like it makes sense – who won’t be tempted by those who promise that their children will get better exam results and as a result have better higher education prospects, better work and professional potential and even a better life.

Who cares for the skills and competencies of the twenty first century? Just because you can simplify our profession down to one or two simple measures, doesn’t mean that’s wise or moral.

Chasing Bits of Paper

Teaching Times – English GCSEs Could Be Harder For Pupils

In a logical and rational world children, parents and educators would want that examinations are a fair test, skillfully put together in such a way that all students get to demonstrate their capabilities and what they’ve learned to the greatest extent. Those who have embraced the learning best would be able to demonstrate that.

Instead, what we’ve increasingly finished up with is dumbed down simplified tests that enable vast numbers to score the top marks, to the point where they no longer act as a good and effective test of who are the best students. One of the results is that Universities increasingly struggle to find any value in them to determine who would be the best students to permit to pursue further studies. Sadly, all parties conspire, consciously or unconsciously to dumb the system down and render it worthless.

If we could hav an education system in which everyone really embraced a love for learning, what would the assessments look like? How would we reward and recognise those teachers who embrace the work of enabling every pupil to learn to their best and how would we hold those who cynically tech to the tests to account?

Testing – For What?

“If we are insistent on having exams for these Primary School children, then what are we testing for?”

“Well, of course, we want to know what they have learned and what they can do.”

“In that case, is there any legitimate good reason why there should be time limits on the exam? Doesn’t that test something else?”

The room full of teachers looked at me with such horror that I felt I might need to do a quick check to see that I hadn’t just grown a second head.

I’ve long believed that there are times when, as leaders, one of our most valuable responsibilities is to ask naive and simple questions that challenge and question those things that are taken for granted within a profession. The reality is education and teaching have many of these things – practices and processes that are applied without question or application of curiosity to see whether they really make sense. This is a particular issue in schools that espouse a desire to move to more child-centric and learner oriented education methods (especially personalisation) but still do a multitude of things that aren’t really compatible with those goals – simply because they haven’t been questioned.

The conversation at the top of this post really happened. It was about 11 years ago, but I’ve also had similar conversations with teachers in other places much more recently. So, I was interested when i saw this article from New York Times and wanted to share it;

New York Times – State Will Shed Clock For Some Statewide Tests

Seeing the headline and the initial part of the article one might have reason to believe that this was all positive and a recognition and response to do something that makes sense for positive progress in education. However, reflection on the final part of the article suggests that the intent is more manipulative and potentially a devious move by those hell-bent on pushing forward the agenda of the standards movement in US public education. Could it be that this is a sop to appease increasingly frustrated and angry teachers and parents? These are people (politicians particularly) who are convinced that the way to raise standards in education and have a higher level of quality is to change the nature of teachers’ jobs by linking their remuneration and even job security to performance in standardised tests.

We only need to stop for a second to see that what they’re doing doesn’t make sense. If the question in their minds was about how to have a system of assessing children’s learning that was beneficial, meaningful and led to genuine progress n leaning for every child, then why continue with the standardised formal exams? Why not advocate for a form of more formative assessments and application of a fuller range of assessment tools and strategies? Secondly, if the time limit on the exams is removed, how does this create a level playing field for all teachers such that the data nerated can be trusted as a basis for judging their performance, determining salary increases and even issues of job security and tenure?

I continue to believe that if we are truly putting the children/ learners first – then there’s no place for examinations in the earlier years of their education at all. There are so many more effective ways of assessing progress that provide meaningful ways to plan their way forward for continuous learning progress. Exams are not some holy sanctified process for which years of learning and practice are necessary – we want to create great citizens and young people who can make a meaningful contribution to the world, not exam ninjas!

In the meantime, I will consider it my duty to continue to ask naive questions, challenge and probe so that together educators can bring positive reform in our profession.