I Don't Know. Let's Figure It Out

I Don't Know, Let's Figure It Out.

During my teaching career, I've been asking a couple of questions of my colleagues which has constituted both an informal and formal survey. The first question is, "What is the most difficult part of your job?" During the informal gatherings of as many as a dozen teachers, it begins in a jocular manner and eventually gets serious whereas in the more formal survey, teachers get serious very quickly. The consensus in both informal and formal surveys was on grading and assessment.

The other question I ask is, "What is the most joyous part of the job?" During the informal surveys, teachers overwhelmingly replied in unison, "The Students!" This is the sole dominant answer on the formal surveys, as well with longer and more detailed anecdotes explaining successes, small victories, student communications, where they are today stories and other reasons of just why the students are the most joyous part of teaching.

Teachers boldly pronounced, as gleaned from the surveys, we are in it for the students. Guiding them to the joy of learning and showing our charges the realization of the enjoyment of knowing and learning. However, just as the teachers were overwhelming adamant about the joy of the students, they were adamant about the matter of grading and assessment in response to the first question. Grading and assessment is also at the top of almost everyone else's list in this country who is concerned with education. How do we assess the learning of our students in our schools. We don't want to be confused between assessing schools and students. We need to see the trees through the forest. The students are the focus. So the problem is how to arrive at a form of student assessment which convinces and satisfies everyone concerned with education and actually improves student learning.

Grading has an aura about it which motivates students, gives teachers great power, and amazes and mesmerizes most of society. Grading data is arbitrary at best no matter how many rubrics used and incantations spoken. Grading data can be manipulated in any way possible to assess students. Data can be interpreted positively or negatively. Grading data can always support one's hypothesis or need to assess a given student. Grading is a very complex procedure. The variables are teachers, texts... The teacher giving the grade is the most important variable. Some teachers grade hard, some easy, and some erratically. Students may have more than one teacher in a given grading period. Over a span of two or three years, students have so many different teachers. Grades then are useless in evaluating the student over time. The rubrics of each teacher will vary as well as the style of teaching. Comparing the student's performance in Teacher A's class one year with the student's performance in Teacher B's class the next year with the student's performance in Teacher C's class the third year is impossible. Another varible is the quality of the texts providing the substance of the curriculum. Other variables are the many kinds of tests created or used; the physical condition of the learning environment and of the home; the edcuation of the parents number of natural parents in life; and of course socio-economic condition. There's no science or mathematics which will support such data comparison in any other real world application, yet it is done in education. How often do we hear in discussions of the best athlete in any sport the immediate differences made about the equipment used, the style of how the game is played now as to yesteryear, and so on and so on. The idea that a student's assessment is made on such flimsy evidence in such an arbitrary manner wouldn't be accepted in a court of law, in the operating room, on any athletic field, and not in any boardroom. Yet in education it is accepted practice to ignore the variables and attempt to follow a "one size fits all" situation. So we get back to the problem: How do we assess the students to the satisfaction of everyone? I don't know, let's figure it out.

To begin to solve this problem we have to consider the variables and try to make them fixed. The sole teacher assessing is the most arbitrary part and the one which can be and should be fixed first. Teachers are not the problem, they are doing a great job. (CITE Readings) Instead of one teacher doing the assessment, let's use a team. And do they all have to be teachers? Consider the community members: parents, employers, peers, and others. Involve them in the assessment process. They should use a (rubric) mutually agreed upon and created. They should also provide a (written assessment). I use the analogy of a cover letter and a resume. The resume would be analogous to the rubric, while the cover letter to the written assessment. In this way the student's work will have a variety of assessments made by all members of the community. It will involve the student, as well. This data will be hard data, irrefutable data, grounded in mutuality and consensus. It is the Age of Interactivity. (Condon at Ball St). The next question is how to make the student work available to everyone, to make it public. That is simple, too. Use the Internet. Every student makes and constructs a (webfolio) which is an electronic version of the portfolio. Instead of just the best work gathered at the end of a year or semester, the webfolio is the constant and continual collection of all of the work of the student as created over a lifetime of learning. This method will provide anyone access to a student's work from the past as well as providing a look at current work. By making the student's work public, everyone can assess based on the rubrics. In addition, we will have access to the alterations, see the results of our comments, and gauge the growth or lack of as we return to each student's webfolio over time. Providing constant access to the student's work allows, teachers, parents, administrators, policy makers, employers, and college admissions to make a more correct and efficient assessment on the work because they can view the work. This authentic assessment involves the student, the teachers, the parents, the administrators, the business community, the policy makers, the press, and all members of the society. It is democratic, authentic, and public; unlike the current forms of assessment being used across the country.

Community discussion here.

The logistics aren't difficult except it will wrest the money made from the assessment juggernaut and they will be the biggest opponents to such a plan. However, it can be done. First all students should have access to the Internet to publish all of their work. This should happen from the time they enter school. This electronic record will then begin to be amassed and over time anyone and everyone will have access to assess for scholarship, skills assessment, comprehension, growth, and learning disabilities. Teachers will have a better grasp of what a student can do by what the student has done. Parents will know what their child is doing in school. Middle and high schools will be better able to determine acceptance and placement. Colleges won't have to rely on the SAT or the variables of teacher recommendations and school grades in determining acceptance. And graduate schools will have a grand collection of previous scholarship to make the determination of acceptance into a program. The necessity of relying on a number which has no meaning or authentic association with one's work can be eliminated and replaced with a more equitable form of authentic assessment which is community based. This form of authentic assessment assists in the discussion on national standards as well. Consider that the electronic record can go with the student who moves from school to school, provides national access, and can involve a national reviewing board.

The pedagogical argument is that the students are given the opportunity to learn in this constructivist model of webfolio creation. The scholarship demanded by the public is readily available to all to see and read and comment on. In this age of interactivity, the public which wants to be involved in education can be involved in education. Peer review, telementoring, and team teaching can solve many problems of overcrowding, teacher efficiency/inefficiency variability, and different rubrics. A great concern is between the haves and the have nots (selfe articles) in terms of academic ability and technology access. As to the academics, this very public venue provides equity to all levels. Students will be able to obtain more efficient help and guidance than can be offered by sole teacher. This is beneficial to all and provides for a healthy heterogeneous community of learners. As for the technology gap, I find this to be a financial issue which must be addressed by the government and business. On one hand they demand its use and then don't provide. The government and business concerns must find a way to provide this access. If these parties are demanding that students reach and maitain academic standards, then they should be sure to provide the tools and the safe environment in which these standards can be met. The students in schools that are falling apart should not be held accountable for their standards if they don't even have a classroom in which to meet. Government and business must meet and satisfy their standards by providing a good work space, equipment, texts, opportunities to learn, and qualified teachers. The main problem in the widening gap between the haves and the have nots is caused by business and government, not the schools. They must be more active and creative so the schools can do their jobs of education. Everyone should be involved in providing the opportunity to learn. Businesses which seek tax relief in cities or threaten to move should reconsider these "terrorist tactics" and provide the funds through paying their taxes to help fund the schools especially those for the have not communities. Once we have communities which are conducive to learning, learning will happen. The teachers are good, the studnets are ready, and the building is falling apart with very old, damaged books, and useless, broken copy machines. To be sure learning is happening and that business and government get that all important return on investment, they will realize a profit by interacting with the students online via the webfolios and interact via email with these students. (More on telementoring) We want to realize the adage: "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child." The Internet will help make this happen.

Another interesting problem to consider is that this standards movement is affecting public education and not private education. Some argue that assessment currently used in public education isn't so much assessment as it is a polite form of sorting or America's form of ethnic cleansing. It is very important to remember and to be reminded that the current discussion on "hire, higher, high standards" is about public schools and not about private schools. This is not mentioned enough. Only a certain segment of the student population is being assessed. So when anyone speaks about education in this country we have to determine which education: public, private, religious. When we hear the comparison of our education with that of another country's, we are not told about the other copuntry's method, environment story. The two school systems are different in such remarkable ways that comparison is impossible. (TIMMS stuff here)

Currently we are comparing apples to oranges. Schools can be anywhere, 24/7. Why are schools designed as they are. Redesign, raze then reinvent the school via assessment.