Saturday, October 5, 2013

Some serious people think education needs serious changes

This past week, a conference was held in Waterloo called the Equinox Learning 2030 Summit.  The goal of the conference was to look at how education in 2030 (the Grade 12 year for students born this year) can and should change from the way it is today.  The Communique summarizing their findings is interesting reading.  If you do not want to read all six pages of the communique, this blog post from the conference summarizes the summary.

In this post I want to address the statement from the blog post that "portfolio work could replace letter-grades as the primary criteria for evaluation".  That one statement resonated the most with me, although I also like the other main ideas of changing teacher roles and changing student groupings away from age-grouped classes to more ability-grouped classes.  My last post (quite a while back, I had a busy semester 2) discussed how giving grades takes parental and teacher focus away from student learning.  Watching The Agenda on TV last night (October 4, 2013) made me think about what we, as a society, are doing with the grades teachers give.  

The answer I came up with is that grades provide some limited feedback for parents but otherwise the only organizations that use grades are Colleges and Universities for the purposes of student admission.  No employer looks at grades.  If an employer feels that a prospective employee needs to have a certain skill then the employer uses the interview process and/or the training process to make sure the employee has that skill.  Why can't post-secondary institutions do the same?  I would estimate that teachers spend 15-20% of their time and get 50% or more of their stress from creating evaluations (tests, projects, etc.), marking evaluations, and defending the evaluation process.  Yet all that time, effort, energy, and stress is only in aid of providing a free service to post-secondary institutions, some of which are private, profit-making organizations!

A student's final grade is supposed to represent that student's overall achievement in terms of mastering the curriculum expectations.  Yet courses at high school typically have 10 - 15 overall objectives on which the students are supposed to demonstrate their ability.  How does it make any sense to turn 10 - 15 different skill/knowledge sets into one single grade?  Current changes towards strand-based evaluation in high schools will mean that teachers will have the information necessary to report on every single one of the 10 - 15 overall objectives for any course.  It is foolish to create a situation where the teacher has all that detailed information but is then forced to lose all those details by turning that information into one single grade.

I hope that provincial education bureaucrats and school board higher-ups are paying attention to the Learning 2030 Summit's conclusions.  Those conclusions look like a path towards an improved education system for the children being born right now.

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