INKSHED XXIII May 5, 2006

Phyllis -- Implementing the new middle years' assessment policy in Manitoba: What should support look like?

I'm also wondering what role teachers have in policy development? How much influence do they have? How are they involved in the process? What roles are faculties of education playing in courses being offered for future teachers?

Our faculty has invited government representatives to present their directions/intentions to our students. After six hours of "Assessment Workshops" our students do not in general feel much closer to knowing exactly what they would be required to do if they were teaching next year nor how to do it, let alone do it well and confidently. A closer liaison with the government might help my students -- or it might help them learn government agenda. My sense of academic freedom leads me to think that government agendas should not be my curricular priority. -- Pat Sadowy

I want to write about another context of assessment and assessment policies. As the parent of two children who have gone through the public school system in the 1990s and early 2000s in Ontario, I have lived through and experienced the strange twists and turns of new ways to assess, outcome-based assessment, etc., etc. I always felt that a lot of these policy initiatives (on the part of the Ontario Ministry and government) in terms of assessment were creating/reflecting parental fear about children's vulnerability in the new globalizing economy. I have witnessed parental anxiety growing and also seen what appears to be an increasing divide between classroom teachers and parents. Government attempts to "reform", "standardize" assessment seems to widen this divide. -- Patricia

I don't see how a teacher would change in response to these new injunctions about assessment -- especially if, as Phyllis says, the concept of familiar assessment is alien to them to begin with. I can't see that anything can, in fact, happen except that teachers will stay hunkered down and hope (nay, expect) that this, too, shall pass. How tough it must be to be a teacher in a context like this . . . -- Russ

The point (quotation slide) about teachers needing to see examples modeled by the right kind of mentors seems to indicate that in this context, the teachers are thrown back into the student's role, and despite being practicing professionals, struggle with the same difficult relationship with institutional power that undermines student learning. Scary! -- Brock

I'm having a hard time responding to this talk on any level except as a parent of a middle years child. The assessments he has done throughout elementary school in Manitoba seemed a senseless waste of time; results were never given to parents -- what were they used for? Parents are no longer involved in curriculum or instruction in middle years -- will we learn anything from this "new" assessment. The students suffer, but as Phyllis pointed out, so do the teachers. I really hope (in vain, most likely) that standardized assessment soon goes the way of the dodo bird.

But it has long seemed to me that the more local educational decisions are made the better. And so I would argue for giving individual teachers as much control over their classrooms as possible.

I listened to this talk with a kind of appalled fascination. I've never heard such a lucid account of warring contexts and a depressing explanation of how the lowest political purposes overwhelm worthwhile educational goals -- the very ones the Ministry endorses.

I think the situation that Phyllis describes is, unfortunately, not atypical. It illustrates the tensions and currents between administrators, government, teachers and parents. Between the needs for reform, assessment, theory and everything else, I worry about the students. I sometimes wonder if we forget that's what it's about, so I really appreciated Phyllis' conclusion -- if she wants to know the child understood she takes the time to interact and ask. -- Miriam

The story of policy development that proclaims supports for the learners/implementers and then withdraws the supports sounds dismally familiar. Somehow, drafters of such policies need to know that it's no easy thing for their theories to be conveyed to those who receive the word from on high.

What matters most for teachers is the classroom and the school. Will we each learn to simply ask the kids and their teachers about how well learning is achieved?

I'm not clear on how accountability for improved student learning is actually implemented and who is ultimately responsible and accountable for improved student learning. Government, which develops the policies, teachers, who put it into practice, or the students themselves -- perhaps they are ultimately responsible for their own improved learning.