Sunday, July 15, 2012

The guide on the side: obsessed with assessment

One of today's truisms is that schools are over-assessing kids at the expense of educating them. People tend mostly to blame No Child Left Behind. But educational ideologues--generally not fans of NCLB-- are equally to blame.

While the kinds of "authentic assessments" favored by ideologues may look to some like a big improvement over standardized, multiple choice testing favored by politicians, such alternative assessments, "authentic" and "formative," and "holistic" as they are, extend over longer periods of time and are arguably at least as intrusive. Those promoted by curriculum developers at Pearson and embraced by the visionaries running the Montgomery County MD Public School, for example, involve assessing kids every 9 weeks during a 3 week period, via rubrics, checklists, and student self-ratings. Teachers walk around and observe kids during classroom activities, asking them how they are doing, what they are doing, and why, presumably taking copious notes on clipboards.

The odd thing is that the point of such assessments doesn't appear to be to  provide feedback for curriculum and pedagogy, but, in the words of one Pearson developer, "tracking progress to predict success in post-secondary education.”

Why all this assessment merely to make predictions?

Answering this question means considering the broader Constructivist framework, which views teachers as "guides on the side" rather than the "sages on stages." If teachers are no longer front and center directing lessons, then they need other tasks to occupy their class time. How about facilitating, managing, and... assessing? And if teachers aren't teaching, they need some other raison d'etre. How about predicting which of their students will succeed in post-secondary education?


Mnemosyne's Notebook said...

What would the teachers do with those predictions? Place bets with the High School Assessment/Gaming Commission?

"I'll bet $300 that Tommy earns no better than a C in Algebra II when he takes it 3 years from now."

Or over/under bets, "Billy will either drop out due to boredom or get an A in pre-calculus."

We could pay middle school teachers less and have the better ones supplement their incomes this way, though we'd need to come up with a system to prevent collusion with the high school teachers.

Mnemosyne's Notebook said...

I remember first reading the phrase "guide on the side" in the teacher's edition of one of Paul Hewitt's "Conceptual Physics" textbooks. That was his prescription of what teachers ought to be. I thought, "well, okay, I guess." Then I watched some of the tapes of his lectures that were part of the course materials I was supposed to use. He would say things like " F = what?"

No response from the class.

"F = rhymes with 'no way.'"

"ma" from the class.

And I'm thinking 'this is a guide on the side?" How is this different from 'a mage on the stage?"

I liked the guy's lectures and the textbook was good for teaching a math-lite physics class. It left me wondering if effective teachers who said they were "guides on the side" were just fooling themselves.

James O'Keeffe said...

This is also a symptom of the New Clinicism in education: teachers in white lab coats descend upon the student/patient, diagnose academic weaknesses, and deliver "treatment" in the form of the latest, hippest, cutting-edge, "research-based" pedagogy. But education is not medicine because being "educated" is not a natural state. The current generation of bean-counting "assessment" experts would do well to remember that.