Coffee Row March 16, 2011 – Saskatchewan Schools & Grading Policies – Is is time for straight-up standardization?

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!

Wow.

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?” ”

What….WHAT?

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.

 

Comments

  1. “I returned a math test to the students. The next step was a reflection on attainment of the concepts: which they knew, where they needed to grow. Partly, we were preparing for student led interviews. 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 would have preferred you quoted the entire paragraph. I think the omitted passage provided some of the context for my comments on the difference between helping a student understand where their learning is at and simply offering a number and telling them it is good or bad.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my post. We tend to listen to the people we agree with and take comfort in their approval. I think it is important to broaden my network to people who will challenge my perspective. I’m following you on Twitter now.

    • …my comments on the difference between helping a student understand where their learning is at and simply offering a number and telling them it is good or bad.

      I suppose you could have “helped” the student “understand” they were ignorant of the calculation to arrive at that “number”.

      It’s kind of obvious where their “learning is at”.

  2. There is a huge collection of research that shows the gross limitations of grading. Bottom line is that grading does not support student learning – it merely judges. If we aspire to helping kids learn, we have to stop treating assessment as an autopsy and more like a medical. In other words, we need to place far less emphasis on summative assessment and focus on formative assessment.

    May I suggest you read some of the research?

    Learning Oriented Learners: http://www.joebower.org/2010/08/learning-oriented-learners.html

    Inside the Black Box: http://weaeducation.typepad.co.uk/files/blackbox-1.pdf

    Working Inside the Black Box: http://www.youblisher.com/p/5693-Working-Inside-the-Black-Box/

    Assessment Malpractice in Saskatchewan: http://www.joebower.org/2010/12/assessment-malpractice-in-saskatchewan.html

    No Good Reason to Grade: http://www.joebower.org/2010/02/no-good-reason-to-grade.html

    Grading: the issue is Not how but why: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/grading.htm

    From Degrading to De-grading: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm

    If you wish to engage in an open discussion absent of sarcasm there are lots of thoughtful educators & parents who are willing to engage in such a discussion.

    Joe

    • Lorne Triska says:

      Right on, Joe!
      Grading is what you do to things: eggs, sides of beef, lumber. Hitler graded human beings.
      I like to think that each and every one of the thousands of students I have taught over the past 34 years were and continue to be, of equal value. I do however, continue to celebrate the successes of each one as they prepare for life after school. You could have mentioned the work of William Glasser: Schools Without Failure, The Quality School, The Quality School Teacher, and Every Student Can Succeed. I have been studying and using his ideas since 1975 and continue to be amazed at how helpful and bullet proof they are in my teaching. – Lorne

      • Hitler graded human beings.

        Hitler also said 2 + 2 = 4, therefore we shouldn’t think that. Good argument, you did say you’re a teacher, right?

        Humans have equal value, what humans do does not have equal value.

  3. Alan Friesen says:

    Tammy, you should definitely forward this information to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. I’m sure the Ministry would be interested to know that there are teachers out there who are eagerly diving into current research on motivation and the negative effects of grading, and who are actually putting these cutting-edge ideas into practice into their classrooms. I’m not being sarcastic here – they would be happy to receive this information.

    Education has changed since we were in school. Ideas about what motivates students and how people learn are much different as well. It might surprise you to know that collaborative models of education are becoming the norm rather than the exception (for younger teachers, at any rate), and that people are not motivated by money or grades, but by an intrinsic desire to do meaningful work. The old days of sitting in a high school history class, quietly taking notes, and filling out bubbles on a Scantron sheet are happily coming to a close.

    Take a look at Alfie Kohn’s books on homework and grading. Look at the success of Summerhill School in the UK and other democratic schools in North America and abroad. Read Daniel Pink’s recent book on motivation. It’s a brave new world out there for education, and all of it is motivated by the desire for students to be more motivated and more engaged than you or I were in high school.

    As for Saskatchewan: I can almost guarantee you that the new policies in the province will include no marks taken off for late assignments, and that students caught plagiarising assignments won’t be given a zero, but will be forced to re-do the assignment. This is where Canadian education is moving — and it’s a very positive move indeed.

    • Jennifer says:

      As for Saskatchewan: I can almost guarantee you that the new policies in the province will include no marks taken off for late assignments, and that students caught plagiarising assignments won’t be given a zero, but will be forced to re-do the assignment. This is where Canadian education is moving — and it’s a very positive move indeed.

      So there’s no downside to plagiarism, then?
      ..

      • Or tardiness apparently…

      • Alan Friesen says:

        The downside of plagiarism is that the assignment still needs to be done, parents will likely be called in, and it will all-in-all be a highly embarrassing and difficult experience for the child. On top of all this guilt — and consequences from home — do you think we really need to add in an academic penalty, too?

        • On top of all this guilt — and consequences from home — do you think we really need to add in an academic penalty, too?

          See Mum, the teachers and school don’t care….wheeee I can do it again, only more cleverly…

          Nothing like encouraging it with two different messages.

    • Matt Fry says:

      Right. Because apparently school isn’t preparing kids for life. How often in life do you get to do an “assignment” over and over until you get it right. Not my jobs or life.

      Give me a break. Its thinking like that is going to screw over our future generations.

      • …I failed my Driver’s Exam the first time…I am glad they let me do it over…

        …I have been late paying my Power bill…they didn’t reduce it to zero, but required me to pay the bill and more…

      • Alan Friesen says:

        There’s a significant difference between a child who’s learning how to act as a citizen and an adult who’s holding a paying job and is expected to earn her pay cheque.

  4. I’m wondering what research, schooling and experience you have in the field of education? Your very lengthy, sarcastic diatribe fails to offer any research to support your position. I’m always open to honest, respectful debate with someone who has done their homework; I learn a great deal from people who have opposing points of view from my own. Perhaps after reading the resources Joe so generously shared with you, we can have a conversation that brings about positive changes in the way we educate our children.

  5. Alika Lafontaine says:

    First off, let me say that teaching is a hard and often thankless job. I respect those who chose to teach, even more so those who put in the time to do it well.

    With that in mind, please take this next comment as someone who’d hoping to understand the non-grading position better.

    Are there any randomized, controlled studies you can quote that establish a non-graded student is more well adjusted, motivated and/or more likely to succeed versus one who gets numerical grades?

    What’s been posted is a collection of anecdotes, personal opinions and abstract theories that make wide assumptions about personality, motivation and development. If we’re making the point that we’re using evidence-based practice to make these decisions, and it appears we are, shouldn’t we use objective evidence? Based on what’s been presented, this new shift is very well-reasoned preference.

    I was graded all through life, elementary–>high school–>university–>post-grad. Now that I’m working I have quarterly evaluations that stratify whether or not I’m at the “norm” or whether I’m “above norm.” These types of labels, while undesirable, are a part of adult life.

    If we’re preparing our kids to live in the real world shouldn’t we be preparing them for the inevitability of being “marked” based on someone else’s grading system?

    • Alan Friesen says:

      “Now that I’m working I have quarterly evaluations that stratify whether or not I’m at the “norm” or whether I’m “above norm.” These types of labels, while undesirable, are a part of adult life.”

      We don’t treat adolescents and adults the same way. Adults can drink, whereas adolescents cannot. Adults have unrestricted driver’s licences, whereas adolescents have restricted driver’s licences. Adults are allowed to work full-time, whereas adolescents (generally speaking) are not.

      If adolescents and adults are treated differently in these minor matters, they should be treated differently when it comes to one of the most important social institutions of their own lives. There are different theories of learning when it comes to adults and children – grading is and should be one of them.

      • Alika Lafontaine says:

        From your response, I’d still wager that there is a lack of randomized, controlled studies that establish a non-graded student is more well adjusted, motivated and/or more likely to succeed versus one who gets numerical grades.

        In the end, this is a core component of the whole argument being presented. The deeper, philosophical question you ponder on above is whether youth should be treated differently than adults and more broadly, whether that’s of benefit to them.

        Underage drinking and underage driving are, in my opinion, designed to protect the public from the results of those indulgences as much as protecting youth from the catastrophic results of those decisions.

        I don’t believe removing numerical grades will do anything to protect the public or youth from the potential negative effects of having them present. We live in a “win-at-all-costs” culture and it will be difficult to change that environment in any setting larger than the single family home. Philosophy and belief seem to be a large part of the arguments for the change and I have yet to find any hard science behind the changes being made in evaluation, though it could be out there.

        When I began medical school, it was standard to have 10 to 12 hour days in lecture and lab. Two years behind our class, those entering students had their afternoon’s off, a significant decrease in the amount of didactic material they had to digest and they abolished marks. This was all in a move to decrease the competitive nature of medical school, create a more positive environment, engender more useful feedback and make things more “education centred”.

        Several years later I appreciate the long hours and rougher time I had relative to our lower years. In transitioning into real medicine versus the theoretical medicine I had up to then experienced, I found I was able to adjust easier than the years who had been treated with “kids gloves.”

        Anecdotal? Of course. My Dad often pointed out to me however, that a tree that grows on a windy hill and another that never has to deal with the elements has a different level of strength, both inside and out. Being pushed helps you to learn how to push back and push through.

        Competition, ranking and stratification is all a part of how this is expressed in the adult world and I think its a disservice to our kids to pretend like its otherwise.

        Perhaps you’re correct that there’s a bit too much competition, ranking and stratification in elementary and high school. I think a balance needs to be found instead of swinging the pendulum all the way to the other side.

        • Lorne Triska says:

          Yes, competition is great in the right place, but I believe that each and every child deserves to learn to read, write and compute. The average six-year-old boy who enters grade one is not developmentally ready to deal with symbolic language and runs the risk of being labelled as learning deficient. Since he cannot find success in reading, he finds other channels to explore, such as acting out. The system is not willing to wait for him to reach the developmental plateau of written language and since he is not willing to sit still with his reading failure label, he is prescribed synthetic cocaine (I believe you medical folks call it Ritalin). Cutting to the chase: real human beings reach the ability to do certain things at different rates. That is what tests are really for: finding out what needs to be taught and learned. Why is everyone so caught up with permanently labeling (grading) human beings. For heavens sake, can we not get on with making sure that our children are learning what they need to succeed in life? Do parents deliberately hurt their children so that they will know what pain will feel like in the future. My wife and I did everything possible to protect and nurture our children when they were growing up. I have been teaching for 34 years. Students respond extremely well to careful nurturing. Nurturing is feeding/teaching them the things that will be useful to them in the future. Teaching them to be careful and compassionate is far more important to learn than how to compete. They will certainly learn that soon enough, but producing people of strong character should be the goal, not self-centred competitors. Cooperation and collaboration is difficult enough to imbue. Our goal should be to inspire and enable, not measure, filter and label.

          • …producing people of strong character should be the goal, not self-centred competitors. Cooperation and collaboration is difficult enough to imbue.

            People are certainly easier to control if they’re taught to be more like cattle. Fit in, be a team player, and all the rest of the hooey.

            This country was built by entrepreneurs in competition with each other. And the production is still produced by entrepreneurs paying taxes to provide jobs for the cooperating types in public sector jobs.

  6. Fred Rackow says:

    How does not grading and judging a student’s peformance in school prepare them for an adult life where their performance is graded and judged? This is where I see a disconnect between educational research into how to educate children and what skills are required of functional adults.

    Without grading and judgement, how do you know that the students have a decent understanding of the material they supposedly learn? How does the student know they understand?

    How do you know they can have an intelligent conversation about the formation of Canada?
    How do you know they can calculate how much carpet they need to buy for their renovation project?
    How do you know they can write or orate a persuasive arguement to their MLA without sounding foolish?
    How do you know they can look past the half-truths spoken by politicians to examine the real issues and come to their own conclusions?

    In my opinion, waiting until after high school to have falacies in a students understanding of their education cirriculum come to light creates disfunctional adults.

    • Fred, I think the misunderstanding here is that grading and assessment are the same thing. This is a very common misconception, one that I, a current education student, believed to be true until recently. Grading is assigning a mark to the quality of someones work. Assessment is providing valuable feedback that allows students to learn from mistakes and make improvement in the future.

      Although they do not assign grades, I would argue that Mr. Stange and Mr. Bower are among the best in the world at assessment. Their students, instead of worrying about what mark they received, care about how to improve and build upon their knowledge and skills. Once a mark is assigned, the learning is finished.

      How does a student know they understand?

      If a student compares his grade of 78% and against his peers grade of 80% at the end of the semester, who knows more? What’s the difference? Does the second student know 2% more than the first? I doubt it. Do they know the same thing? I also doubt it. They know different things, things that they value and will use in their life. Something, I do not feel a mark can accurately reflect.

      In an adult working situation, where workers are being judged about their performance let’s consider how workers overcome a bad judgement. If the supervisor simply tells the worker they did a bad job and needs to improve next time, where does the worker begin to improve? If the supervisor, tells the worker what wasn’t so great and what specific aspects need to be improved upon, the worker will know what they need to do and can begin taking the steps necessary to make the needed improvements.

      Perhaps our workforce isn’t quite there yet, but if we begin to show our students how to learn, grow and provide valuable feedback, how much more effective would our workforce be?

      • Alika Lafontaine says:

        Grading is a cross-sectional analysis of what you knew at that moment, regarding those specific questions at a specific point in time. Its also a convenient method of comparing progression of one student versus others in the same group. Extending this into implying a deeper level of understanding at a later date requires a new exam and thus a new cross-sectional analysis. Numerical grades are useful, but you have to do a new exam each time you establish that persons level of understand and the questions must be well thought out so they ask the questions which are appropriate for the type of evaluation.

        This is, as you appropriately point out, different from providing feedback that allows students to learn from mistakes and improve.

        Numerical grades or not, if educators fail to provide constructive feedback I wonder if that’s a failure of the way we chose to educate and not intrinsic to the grading system.

        I can receive an 80% with a long talk with my examiner regarding ways I could improve and a discussion on my areas of difficulty just as well as I could receive a “pass/acceptable/non-grade” with a wave to the door.

        I think regardless of the grading system you’ll be faced with when you begin educating, you’ll decide to the former.

        That’s what makes a great teacher.

        • Lorne Triska says:

          Alika, you nailed it when you suggested that grading is a convenient method for comparing. Comparing students, comparing teachers, comparing schools, comparing districts, comparing countries. Grading has nothing to do with the process of educating human beings, but it is a great method for creating winners and losers, an artificial production of scarce resources. Why do so many not want all of our children to succeed?

  7. I loved your article. I’m not super sensitive so i can appreciate sarcasm. I’m looking forward to hearing you on Charles Adler this afternoon!

  8. Erin Found says:

    Hi Tammy great article, my wife is a post secondary instructor. She continually has students coming through that are unable to the most rudimentry tasks, reading, math etc. In addition they are entitled and cannot understand when they are not automatically moved forward and become defensive to the point of beligerant when faced with failure.

    We cannot let the self righteous preach from on high to how right they are never wrong and that anyone that disagrees is most certainly not smart enough or simply does not understand. The results of this new attitude is already eveident in our post secondary schools and is only getting worse, that is the reality.

    • Alan Friesen says:

      Erin, sounds like your wife’s problem is that the students coming into her class haven’t learned anything in high school. The sad fact of the matter is that these kids have most likely come from a school system in which they’ve received percentage marks in junior and senior high. If kids are entering university without being prepared, how is maintaining the status quo (as this article suggests) going to fix this problem?

      • Alika Lafontaine says:

        I still wonder where the evidence is to make the causal connection between “percentage marks” and “bad student/poorly adjusted citizen” comes from. I agree that maintaining the status quo is not going to fix the problem, but change for the sake of change is often a change for the same or the worse, rarely the better.

        • Alan Friesen says:

          That wasn’t my point. My point was that the students to which the original poster was referring were, in her own words, “unable to [do] the most rudimentry tasks.” These same students likely came from a system in which percentage grading systems were the norm. In other words, the system isn’t working right now.

    • “Hi Tammy great article, my wife is a post secondary instructor. She continually has students coming through that are unable to the most rudimentry tasks, reading, math etc. In addition they are entitled and cannot understand when they are not automatically moved forward and become defensive to the point of beligerant when faced with failure.”

      I was thinking that perhaps the students who enter your wife’s post-secondary class have spent so much time in a traditional educational system where the life has been sucked right out of them and now have to endure four more torturous years might be the reason for “defensive”, “unable” students? For everyone who says that the traditional educational system worked for them, I’ll show you at least one other person who is a living testament to the utter failure of it.

      Gotta go now…I’m on my way to my doctor to inform him of what he’s doing wrong…because even though I’m not a doctor, I must know more than him, right? Surely my experience of going to doctor’s appointments qualifies me as an expert in the field of medicine. Right? (My turn at sarcasm.)

      • The comparison to doctors hardly applies. Teaching, like journalism, is more an aptitude than a profession, as home schoolers have proven over and over. With better results.

  9. Mary Mullane says:

    The Foothills School Division is implementing same sort of Grading System. They tried to push it threw w/o any parent input. However they got a mouthful of letters and complaints. The see it as ‘kids compare marks and by removing percentages they are much happier” (the kids). Use Rubric for marking . Teachers just highlight marks – call them Learning Assessment Variables Beginning to Mastery. Some have marks (1 – 4).

    Parents are very frustrated as it will only hurt the kids trying to get into high school and then onto Post Secondary. (they are planning on moving it into Foothills Comp. Hill).

    Pushed by Administrators with MBA who have not been in classrooms for some time. Since the kids need min. 88% to even be looked at for BCom at UofC. Why are they doing this? They were stumped when I asked them about honors ? how to assess and award the higher achievers.

    • Lorne Triska says:

      Dear Mary
      A properly constructed and administered competency profile is the only way student progress may be objectively assessed and tracked. The problem is that presently, each teacher or school creates and uses their own. A competency profile will only have any meaning if it is constructed at the provincial or national level. That way the objectives are consistent and the scale has the same value no matter where the student attends school. The profile would also follow the student through the system. If the student moves to another school, the profile goes with him of her. The profile tells the next teacher what has been achieved and where to begin with their new charge.
      We all understand that an 80% reflects a reasonable level of competency. 90% represents a high degree of mastery and 100% is awesome.
      Let’s say the criterion is “counts by twos”. One school might have a scale of 0 to 5, another 5 to 1, school #3 uses A to F, School #4 – “does not meet expectations” to “exceeds all expectations” and so on. A real mish-mash. Parent #1 “My little Johnny scored a 2 on his ability to count by twos today. How is Sara doing?” Parent #2 “Oh, her last report says that she “sort of meets some of the expectations, sometimes.”
      I can appreciate your concern regarding the current state of affairs.
      It is not your teacher or your school’s fault. They are just trying to respond to dictums from the department of education who are offloading something they heard at a conference, but really do not understand what needs to be done.
      Until the ministries of education take the bull by the horns and standardize criteria and scales, parents will have valid reasons to be frustrated. Don’t expect that to happen on our lifetime. Developing a comprehensive competency profile would be very expensive. Getting agreement on what the outcomes, criteria and how to word them, would probably take a million years or so.
      I mean, most curriculums do not contain much worth learning anyway. Well, at least prove useful to the majority of students. Most curriculums are written with the top 5% who are university bound in mind. Shakespeare continues to have more prominence than learning to read and write in the English language. (Shakespeare is a foreign language all of its own.) From what I understand Shakespeare is not spoken on the shop floor or in the boardroom. It absolutely amazes me to see how much time is devoted to studying this foreign language at the expense of doing something useful, you know, like writing a complete sentence or even a paragraph. I also continues to blow me away when I witness the number of grade twelve students who are functionally illiterate, but will graduate anyway. Do they not deserve better? (And yes, go on to university, to the chagrin of their professors.) – Lorne

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  11. The Big Cee says:

    If it isn’t broken, why did some idiot decide it had to be fixed? Everyone who supports the new methods talks about the “problem” but nobody has yet to define what exactly the problem is. Those who are against the new methods are defining the problem as unadjusted young adults unprepared for the stressors and, ultimately, failures that affect everyone in adult life, whether in post-secondary school or work. The unprepared part is really, really easy to understand in the application of the new methods of education, by the way. But what, exactly, is the problem that we had to fix with the new methods in the first place? It sounds to me like it was designed as a way to let educators and administrators off the hook when faced with little darlings who have a habit of failing but unfortunately come from wealthy or influential families that can make life difficult for teachers and superintendants. In the new system, nobody ever fails! It’s not really the teacher’s fault, I would probably welcome a relief from having to deal with such parents also! The reality is that children, of all ages, are manipulative little, um, darlings at virtually every age and many of them will take the easy way if it is offered to them. This is the easiest way to pass your classes yet, and who is going to say it doesn’t work when the alternative is to go back to the “bad old days” when students were actually held accountable for their actions and their grades. You see, that’s my point: the system we had before required students to actually learn, teachers to actually teach, and parents to help in any way they could. It usually worked, and the students at least had a fighting chance when they got out of high school. Then, parents became part time, teachers became administrators or better yet, unionized administrators, and students don’t have to pass anything anymore or learn that if you cheat or just be too lazy to actually try to learn anything it doesn’t matter. Society is doomed, as we will never be allowed to go back to the “bad old days” as those involved will never move in the direction the tea sipping social manipulating crowd sees as “backwards”. You’ve done good with this, Tammy. Thanks anyways.

    • Rachelle says:

      “the system we had before required students to actually learn, teachers to actually teach, and parents to help in any way they could. It usually worked, and the students at least had a fighting chance when they got out of high school.”

      I beg to differ. I went through the system we had before, and to most people I was able to do quite well. You see, I was able to memorize for the test in order to “prove” that I understood what was being taught in class. After the test, I got the mark and then promptly forget everything I had “learned” in the previous chapter. You see, students weren’t required to learn. We were required to fake some kind of learning in order to pass a test. After I graduated, I went on to university and am now studying to become a teacher. Upon reaching university, I had to change my entire thought process in order to actually learn, and I was still able to fake it for two years.

      In my opinion, the old system was the one that bred failure, for it was the old system that taught students that the only thing that mattered was some percentage on a test and not the learning that happened before that. I don’t want my children to be put in that kind of system, where one only needs to play the game in order to get through life. Schools should be for learning, for helping build people who can think creatively, not for building clones of someone’s idea of a “perfect” member of society.

      • Isn’t it odd that all the great advances in technology, as well as whole countries built, were under the “old” system?

        • Alan Friesen says:

          Perhaps the opposite is true: Isn’t it amazing that all the great advances in technology, as well as the development of entire countries, happened despite the pitfalls of “old” system?

          • Under the new “critical thinking” being taught we have Mommy Earth Hour where we turn off our lights. Progress?

            Darkness vs. Light

  12. Mark Shortreed says:

    This is not sarcasm, it’s a straight forward observation.
    It’s quite compelling for any teacher to advocate for the non percentage style of teaching. The non-grading of students, allows for no ability of parents to grade the teacher.
    That’s quite handy for any unionized employee.

  13. Time for another high school teacher’s perspective.

    I absolutely believe that the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction. The behavioural issues that I am dealing with every day, in every one of my classes, are giving me incredible stress. I work in a large city high school, with an average cross section of students from both wealthy and poor backgrounds, and yet there seems to be no “type” of student that exclusively displays the entitlement and outright rudeness that I see every day.
    Of course there are students that make my job amazing, that make me smile every day, and make work something to look forward to every day. Let me be clear: these are the students that want to learn, that want to be assessed (yes, with number percentages), that want to feel validated in these assessments for their hard work. They arrive on time, are well-mannered and pleasant, and seem to generally enjoy school (as much as teenagers reasonably enjoy school). I would wager a month’s paycheque that they have parental support at home in the sense that their parents encourage them to do the best they can in school – so that they can do well in future endeavours.
    This is the majority. On the other side, I have a small, yet so vocal, core of students that require adaptations on several different levels. This in itself is not a problem; after all, that’s my job to make sure that I am doing my best to make sure that each student is getting every opportunity to learn. What is the problem is the number of students that require behavioural adaptations. Students who will lose their tempers when I take away their cell phones (often yelling and swearing) when I am trying to teach, students who cannot get to school on time and have parents who tell me that they just seem to find it difficult to get out of bed, students who go on vacation during crucial instruction time and then expect personal tutoring from each teacher, even students who cannot understand why they would be failing my class when they are rarely present and do not hand in assignments.
    At times I am speechless and completely demoralized. I agree wholeheartedly that it’s important to only assess the work that has been handed in, but only DURING THE SEMESTER. If you do not do the work during the timeframe of the class, during those 5 months, then there’s not much I can do for you!
    I have spent way too much time on this, and likely need to edit this post, but I need to run to work! I want to be prepared for those great kids.

    • …yet there seems to be no “type” of student that exclusively displays the entitlement and outright rudeness that I see every day.

      In a nation of entitlements from “free” health care to “free” education and a safety net for everything, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there exists an attitude of entitlement.

      Maybe that gives you a little stress, but the thousands of taxpayers involuntarily donating more than half their income and working life to this system also experience more than a little stress.

      You work for us, stop whining and fix it, or get out of the way and let someone who can.

      • Melissa, great post, well thought out.

        Fiddle, while I understand your frustration of having to support increasingly abusive and ‘entitled’ left of centre institutions in this country, perhaps you should reread Melissa’s post and note that she appears to be one of the good guys!

        Out of all the comments made by teachers in this post hers is about the only one that makes any sense, the most disconnected one to me was the one who inferred that the reason kids aren’t ready to be graded at university is because they are in High School, I can’t believe someone actually thinks such things.

        To me it sounds like she is one of the teachers who puts her students needs first, even when the parents don’t. This is one that we need to help let her keep up the good work

        Keep up the good work Melissa

  14. Well, when she’s spending taxpayer dollars, results are what count. If she can’t command respect, let someone in who can.

    Anyone can teach the self-motivated, that’s no point of pride.

    • Yes, fiddle, results are what counts, which I think is why Melissa sees the importance (as opposed to most of the above in her profession) of grades and I would guess if we checked her success rate is just fine. Let’s pick on some of the above comments where the teachers don’t want accountability. Her expressing frustration over student apathy is understandable. Pushing a rope up a hill comes to mind. Then you deal with the parents “my son has a hard time getting out of bed” attitude and lack of support from the school system who refuse to discipline and well… at least as she points out I’m sure the majority are actually in good shape.

      The fact that it’s lost on liberals that it was hard work and perseverance that built this country into what it is (really, where else would you rather be) bewilders me.

      By the way if you missed Tammy on Adler yesterday just go to http://www.charlesadler.com/
      You can hear the podcast there.

      Great Job Tammy

  15. You work with what you’re given. Blaming parents or the school system is the easy way out.

    Surely an educated teacher is wiser than a few disruptive children.

    There’s a saying, to teach a horse you must be smarter than the horse.

  16. fiddle: You seem like a very strongly opinionated person. Hopefully you understand that posting condescending comments about teachers who are clearly trying to do their best in a difficult situation does not help. If you have any solutions other than “Let someone else do it,” please share them. You say “You work with what you’re given,” which is exactly what Melissa is doing. You’re right about blaming parents/system being an easy way out, but parents and a flawed system certainly contribute to the problems we’re facing in education. And being wiser than disruptive children has nothing to do with being able to manage/engage disruptive children.

    It is understandable to believe that giving a student a numerical grade based on tests and other coursework should be a ‘no-brainer’. It is nice to believe that by grading and ranking students that we are preparing them for their future in the “real-world” where they are constantly ranked and graded (e.g. in Post-secondary school). But really, how does receiving an 80 on a test prepare you? Throughout high-school and post-secondary I received relatively high grades, ranging from high 80′s to high 90′s, but many of the other students in my classes were much more knowledgeable and prepared to be leading an “adult” life. My grades meant nothing, and much of the information I learned has since been forgotten. I had no desire to really LEARN the material, only memorize it so that I could get my good grade, and now it has done no good for me.

    I think the argument here needs to shift from whether or not to give numerical grades, but rather how to give them. Does a student like me, who doesn’t try to learn and gets by mostly on reputation of being smart, really deserve a 90, when the student next to me worked many times harder to get where he is today? Isn’t the student who worked harder 100% of the time more deserving of a better grade? What about the many students who have anxiety over writing exams because of the high-value placed on them, and they freeze up and their performance does not accurately reflect their knowledge or ability? That student knows 98% of the information but only has an 78%, is this right?

    The idea of using “assessment as a medical” (from Joe Bower above) allows us to truly see how our students are learning and make the changes necessary to ensure they are getting the most out of their time in the classroom. What is the point of giving everyone an exam, seeing that on average, students “know” 80% of the material, and then moving on and not addressing it? How does this help students learn? It doesn’t. If we can inspire and motivate our students to learn, then wouldn’t the numerical grades we so love to assign reflect this learning?

    So what if getting our students to want to learn involves providing other means of assessment and evaluation? They’re still there and they’re still learning what is required of them, they’re just doing it in a way that is probably foreign to many of us. If a student goes through school with a desire to learn and grow, then they will be able to take this attitude to whatever endeavors they face after school, regardless of the grade assigned to their work.

    • What about the many students who have anxiety over writing exams because of the high-value placed on them, and they freeze up and their performance does not accurately reflect their knowledge or ability? That student knows 98% of the information but only has an 78%, is this right?

      What about the employee who freezes during high stress work? The employee knows the work but cannot perform during high stress, is it right they are paid less?

      Apparently, some people live in some fantasy world where actions have no consequences.

      The idea of using “assessment as a medical” (from Joe Bower above) allows us to truly see how our students are learning and make the changes necessary to ensure they are getting the most out of their time in the classroom.

      Who does the assessment? The union teacher who wishes to make themselves and their favorite experiment method look good? And perhaps you could be good enough to explain by what measure the taxpayer (you know, the people who pay for it all) assesses the results?

      • Being a student is not equivalent to being an employee.

        In no way are we saying that completely eliminating numerical grades will solve the current problems in education. However, if reducing the emphasis on grades and increasing the emphasis on student success will help begin the process of fixing problems in schools, why are we stopping it? (And if you don’t think there are problems in schools, it’s time to spend a year or two in one. Arguing that good things came from the old system holds no weight. Good things come from bad circumstances all the time, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve the circumstances.) We are trying to transform education into a system that allows students to learn and improve with a purpose.

        So why do we need numerical grades to judge things by? Because people like numbers? We are conditioned, through our own schooling, to judge academic performance based on numbers. Really think about this though, if you were educated in a school and society which didn’t give out numerical grades, we wouldn’t be having this argument. You would probably think it crazy to propose that we could accurately and fairly assign a number to each child’s learning.

        Now take into account that each teacher places a different emphasis and value on each part of an exam question. We did an exercise where a group of teachers were each given the same completed student exam and asked to grade it. We had to assign the value for each question, and in the end, the grades ranged from 72 to 94. Did the student perform the same? Yes, it was the exact same exam. But which number truly reflected the student’s knowledge? The 72 or the 94. Or perhaps one of the numbers in between. Now if we were simply assessing the student’s knowledge, we would all agree that the student knew the same amount of material and could improve in certain areas.

        And for those who so love our “taxpayer” argument: Were you upset that you and those around you had access to schools? Would it be fair for people from less fortunate circumstances wouldn’t have access to education, lessening their opportunity for higher paying jobs, increasing the gap between wealth and poverty, and keeping information and education for those who are already informed and educated. If you are so tired of being a taxpayer, giving your money to institutions and programs you don’t see the value in, then stop paying taxes. Live off the grid. But don’t expect anything from society if you’re ever in need. We the taxpayers pay for public education so that every child can have the opportunity to attend school. The goal of this is to create more educated citizens who have the ability to think critically about the world around them. If accomplishing this means removing a numerical grade and really focusing on student learning rather than competition, what is the problem? You, the taxpayer, don’t have a number to base everything on? Why don’t you assess the results by seeing students become more interested in their education, more successful in their learning, and in the end, better citizens because they participated in a system of education that motivated students to learn for self-improvement rather than for a number on a piece of paper.

        In any case I’m ranting now, so I bid you adieu. It is supper time in my house.

        • Being a student is not equivalent to being an employee.

          One would hope they are employees or employers in training. Preferably the latter. Or would you rather they be on welfare?

          Now take into account that each teacher places a different emphasis and value on each part of an exam question.

          Good argument for standardized tests :)

          The goal of this is to create more educated citizens who have the ability to think critically about the world around them.

          I would have thought the point of education is to enable people be productive enough not to be a burden on society.

          Why don’t you assess the results by seeing students become more interested in their education, more successful in their learning, and in the end, better citizens …

          In other words, pay your taxes and shut up. Anyway, I think you misunderstand, the assessment would be of you, as teachers. I thought you were all for assessment?

          • I see that the pattern of taking quotes out of context is being continued so this is the final statement I will make.

            Your perception of schools seems to be that they are factories, producing employees whose primary purpose is to enter the work force. I hope that you can come to understand the potential for schools and education to be so much more.

          • Alan Friesen says:

            “One would hope they are employees or employers in training. Preferably the latter.”

            Wow. I don’t teach employees in training. I’m not interested in the betterment of corporations. Let corporations hire graduates and train them themselves. As for me, I teach people, people with all their warts and flaws and imperfections.

          • I’m not interested in the betterment of corporations.

            Where do you think the taxes come from that pay your wage? Maybe teach about that rather than the politics of Mommy Earth Hour.

            Critical thinking, indeed.

  17. “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.”

    If you are going to reference someone and use part of their quote, then make sure you reference and use it correctly. Mr. Hall is stating that the use of the AIMS report and it’s basis of factors (some of which are not available for our province) does a disservice to the public. You twist it around and say that a school board employee is on record saying kid’s report cards are a disservice to the public. Anyone can misuse a quote such as you have done to further promote their cause. If I was grading you on your reading comprehension and understanding of course content, I would have to give you an F or below 50%. Not a very good mark for someone who has your experience.

  18. Found this gem from one of Edustange’s entries, in reference to Internet Broadband provision:

    “….The socialist in me rails against self-justifying capitalist mentality that says if money can be made off of something, then it should be. That sort of thinking leads to millionaire artists and athletes and struggling police and fire fighters. I cannot accept that.”

    Astounding.

  19. I’ve been reading comments but to get back to your original post it’s not only in SK it’s in AB too and probably every province. They are totally putting it out there…..everything! Their disdain for the establishment, , I’m sorry I can’t imagine any job that i’ve had in the PS where I could criticize them constantly and keep my job. I’t so ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as having an entire committee scrutinize the word not……..really?!

    I love your blog girl, and i loved you on Adler! You’re writing the stuff I want to hear so keep up the good work!

  20. Almost as ridiculous as having an entire committee scrutinize the word not……..really?!

    They’re applying their “critical thinking” skills. :) You didn’t know critical thinking is much more important than learning the skills to support yourself? At least, so the “professionals” tell us;

    The goal of this is to create more educated citizens who have the ability to think critically about the world around them.

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