Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"The Assessment Tail is Wagging The Dog" - Reflections on Francis Gilberts LWF2012 Talk

(I cannot believe I haven't posted for a week! My goal of at least 2 posts a week, preferably more, seems to be getting more difficult, especially as my travel schedule picks up.  I will have to be more diligent.  The good thing about the travel though is I am out and about talking with teachers, teaching myself, and so getting some fodder for my posts.  This should get the creative juices going).

I wanted to reflection on another talk from the Learning without Frontiers 2012 because I find them quite thought provoking, especially as I go back and re-listen to them.  (See my previous 2 reflections, "Technology Is Neutral" and Mobile Devices In Education). The talk I want to focus on this post is from Francis Gilbert, a teacher in the UK. Francis gave a great talk called Escaping the Education Matrix, which I have posted below.

I agree with all Francis' points, and, even though he was speaking from a UK perspective, I found what he said about assessment and teacher evaluations creating a 'regulatory' matrix that controls the ways in which teachers and students operate in school and which defines and impacts teacher and student self-esteem to be applicable to the US educational arena as well.

I want to focus on the assessment component he speaks of (standardized testing as well as teacher observation/evaluation) which directly creates  the "regulatory discourses" that control teachers, or create the "matrix" in which they live in and teach in,which is directly related to self-esteem. As Francis puts it "the assessment tail is wagging the dog" and "creates the atmosphere we are creating for our education system".  Meaning that assessment is dominating everything that goes on in education, and as a result, we forget the intrinsic reason for education and why teachers do what they do.

Francis' gives an example of a teacher who had a heart-attack as a result of a low rating on an observation, which immediately made me think of all the horrible things going on currently here with NYC posting the ratings of teachers based on standardized test scores (read these two related stories on "the worst teacher in NYC": The True Story of Pascale Mauclair and Value-Added Evaluation Hurts Teaching). This trend of rating teachers based on the standardized test scores is becoming prevalent (Texas is about to do the same), and it is not going to improve anything, but rather, as Francis' points out, ruin the self-esteem of teachers and make us lose site of the purpose of education.

So, what is the purpose of education?

Certainly, judging quality education and teaching based on an observation at one point in time or a test score given on one day at one point in time (standardized testing) disregards the complexity of our educational system and the complexity of good teaching. I completely agree with Francis' when he says "we need to question discourse that reinforces inequality and creates false-hierarchies", which is very much what these standardized test scores, NCLB, RTTT and publishing teacher ratings are doing.  Francis' talks about education being about experiential learning, where teachers and students are engaged in sharing, promoting, stimulating knowledge and focused on individual identity.  Let's get back to that type of teaching and learning.

Demoralizing teachers is NOT going to make things better - it's going to put the focus on minimal skills needed to pass the test, it's going to drive quality teachers out of the classroom, and it's going to leave us with a shortage of teachers and a more dire situation than we already have.  It's going to create stressful classroom environments, for both teachers and students. Teachers are going to be focused on that single test score or evaluation for which they are being judged. They won't be focused on quality teaching and learning, rather, they will focus making sure their students do well on the test.  It's NOT THE SAME THING!

As an example, my 11th grade daughter came home yesterday complaining to me that for the past week or so, her English teacher has been going over test taking strategies (how to eliminate answers on MC for example) because of the Texas Assessment test coming up tomorrow in English (TAKS).  Quote from my daughter: "It's so stupid and boring - a week learning how to guess correctly and set up a paper for a four hour test that is so stupid and easy to begin with, all because her job depends on the score we get".
If my daughter's class has great scores, does this mean the teacher is a good teacher? What about the rest of the year?  Can my daughter read a story and analyze it?  Can she write a logical argument or research paper? This example simply supports Francis' point that the educational culture we currently work under creates an atmosphere ruled by "anxiety, dependent learners, managers,motivation by fear, depression, closed-off, and obedience".  I don't know about you, but I don't want that to be the culture in which my daughters have to learn.

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