Over the past few years we’ve repeatedly seen and heard debates crop up, rage, and then fade away over how our Saskatchewan K-12 students are evaluated.
For those of us who are clearly far too traditional for our own good, the barbaric (thank you Justin Trudeau) custom of grading kids based on benchmarks that include behaviors – the likes of late, missed or plagiarized assignments, nevermind the students’ failure (gasp!) to actually perform or demonstrate a gained knowledge of the subject at hand – is still a welcome practise.
It’s become clear recently, however, that a disturbing number of Saskatchewan Teacher’s may feel much, much differently.
Consider the response of David Hall, who’s Twitter profile describes the Moose Jaw resident as “a curriculum consultant for Prairie South School: assessment, evaluation, curriculum, educational change” (the Prairie South School Division website confirms such) to the recently released Report Card on Western Canadian High Schools. The report, compiled by the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) and the Prairie-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy, doesn’t exactly glowingly endorse Saskatchewan schools, particularly those in urban centers.
From the latest (dated March 16, 2011) post on Hall’s new blog:
“While the technical part of the (AIMS) study is based upon a variety of assumptions and these may or may not have some validity, the predominant issue that I take with the AIMS report stems more from the basic premise that it espouses… Education is not like industry or commerce… Our business is to grow people, and to do so mainly through the decisions made by people… Decisions informed by large scale assessment… these decisions, however, must also be informed by the more complex person-to-person interactions that take place from minute to minute in the classroom. I find that providing a report card based upon numerical indicators–some of which were not even available for our province–does a disservice to the public.” (Emphasis mine).
You read that last part right. One of Saskatchewan’s very own, school board employed consultants is on the record saying kids’ report cards are “a disservice to the public.”
And if that doesn’t blow your mind?
Describing why he feels “sorry” for Saskatchewan’s middle and high school teachers: ”Ever since we began our crusade to move grading practices forward from the traditional paradigm to something with greater consistency, accuracy, fairness and motivation, the focus has been on the grade 8+ teachers. These teachers are faced with reporting in percentages and they also bear the brunt of an onslaught of comments from those who believe we’re heading in the direction of a poorer quality of education.” (emphasis mine)
Oh the HORRORS!! Not only must crusading Prairie South schoolteachers face handing out actual, numerical percentages (cue Shower Scene Scream), they also face feedback from the neanderthals who don’t blindly buy into the new grading philosophies!
The Prairie South Staff site (a blogsite wide open to the public, by the way) is a gift that keeps on giving.
Check out Alan Stange, a Moose Jaw Middle School teacher who has a blog on the Prairie South site titled Edustange: meditations on the lived life of a Saskatchewan teacher.
Stange’s latest entry (dated March 10, 2011), deftly titled ‘Our ambivalence about grading’, boasts that he has “been grade free for the last two years in my fifth and sixth grade classroom”. Stange notes that he “expected friction” over this decision but “it hasn’t been an issue”, until last week when those pesky “grades and percentages found their way back into my room”.
I can’t paraphrase what comes next, simply because I have to keep re-reading it to believe it for my OWN eyes, let alone yours. So here it is in its entirety (again, emphasis mine):
“I returned a math test to the students… One student asked what his percentage was. Reluctantly I showed him how to work it out. Six others followed suit and inevitably they began comparing. They asked me if their percentages were good. I guess there is something in us that wants to compare and there is something in us that wants an easy generalization. I had an email from a parent yesterday telling me her son was disappointed in his 84%. I emailed a PDF of the test to the parent. At least she had asked me the right question, “what didn’t he understand?” ”
These kids have absolutely no idea how to self-assess their learning abilities, in fact they have to ask their “reluctant” teacher to help them figure it out? What does that tell you, Mr Stange?
I don’t even know what to say about the condescending, patronizing comment on the kid’s mom.
In October 2010, after yet another embarrassing story on Saskatchewan classroom assessment protocol had its 15 minutes of fame, the Saskatchewan government issued a news release stating that “Education Minister Donna Harpauer today committed to developing a clear policy and consistent approach to assessing student behaviour..”.
In December 2010 the province’s Ministry of Education announced a “uniform policy for all school divisions to deal with student plagiarism and late assignments” that will likely be implemented in the 2011-2012 school year.
I would love to know if the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education is aware of the Prairie South’s staffs’ blogs, nevermind the above two examples of school board staff and teachers flying in the face of current conventions. I’m not an advocate of more government legislation, but in this case I’ll make an exception. It appears that the judgment of some Saskatchewan teachers is completely off the rails, and these types of stories are not going to go away.
If this isn’t stellar proof that more – much more – needs to be done to by Harpauer and the Education Ministry to get these types of teachers under control, I don’t know what is.