On a Thursday night a mathematics teacher from around Vancouver was looking for sympathy on Twitter...
She said: What do you do when a student skips a math test and the parent thinks YOU are unreasonable expecting them to have been there?
I looked at this, and thought a few things. I thought about the entire idea of the classroom test. I thought about a teacher picking a fight with both students and parents in the week before Christmas. And I thought about the amazing amount of potential educational time "we" in schools waste on fighting battles over compliance which do absolutely nothing to help kids either learn a subject, a skill, or learn to be successful adults.
|from, F in Exams by Richard Benson|
So, I jumped in... and away we went...
Me: does the student know the maths in question?
British Columbia Maths Teacher: the formative assessment says they know some....
Me: then, is the test important? What will it show?
British Columbia Maths Teacher: it is summative assessment. It will show what they can do.
Me: ok, but can't she do the same thing lots of ways? Is the test format of some special value?
British Columbia Maths Teacher: yes. It is their opportunity to show me what they can do.
Me: ok, I've just never understood either the classroom test or why it would need to happen at any specific moment... I think teachers have a million ways to gather information about where their students are. And should do it continuously
British Columbia Maths Teacher: [to another in the twitter conversation] the policy is a zero [My thought, a “Zero” as a student score is actually at “minus 65,” a cruel and bizarre rating for anyone to receive]. But this entitlement to my time is frustrating. We have two weeks of holiday. I don’t work tomorrow.
British Columbia Maths Teacher: ok you sound like the father. You aren’t helping, sorry.
Me: sorry, its what I tell all the teachers I work with, around the world
British Columbia Maths Teacher: I’m sure they love that message.
Me: we are pushing back against the testing culture at every level, which creates schools which are better for kids … so we say we don't rank either students or teachers by these test scores
British Columbia Maths Teacher: we spend hours creating fair assessment for this purpose. This one took me 4 hours.
Me: tests are never equitable assessments. They create big problems for some kids
British Columbia Maths Teacher: lol now I know you have no idea. Thanks, but you don’t get it.
Me: think of all the time and energy you wasted, making the test, giving it, now fighting about it. You could have been teaching
British Columbia Maths Teacher: have a great evening. You are right, my time is important.
|from, F in Exams by Richard Benson|
Then, she blocked me
I did suggest: good night, sorry you're not open to doubting your practice. Maybe some day
Perhaps I was harsh, she went onto Twitter about this not to look for a solution, not for professional development purposes, but simply to whine and find people who would tell her she was right. I didn't do that, and neither did some others, and she got frustrated and angry. That's ok. That, perhaps, is the exact same reaction she is getting from at least one of her students - as this teacher blocked me to avoid an uncomfortable conversation about her skills, so this student might have skipped this "summative assessment" for the same reasons.
But, I do ask teachers all the time, "why?" Why is this form of assessment important? Why is this assignment, project, book, test, chair, schedule, good for this student, or what this student needs? And I also ask, "is this worth the time you are investing in it?" How much of your day do you want to devote to law enforcement, or conflict, or teaching a particular form of etiquette? Are their better ways for you, and your students, to use your time?
And I often think about something an Albemarle County (Virginia) middle school teacher said to me one night, as we left a bar during a conference in Williamsburg: "I don't know how you can do this job," he said, "unless you have angst every day about the job you are doing?"
Anyway, that abusive "testing culture" we complain about in the United States, in Britain, in Canada, in Australia, in Irish secondary schools... does it really start with government bureaucrats like Arne Duncan and Michael Gove or with corporate thieves like Pearson? Or does it start with the practices we too often allow to exist in our classrooms?
- Ira Socol