Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Data Driven Triangulation

Like many educators I often find myself frustrated with the education world lingo. Every once in awhile some new initiative comes down the the Ministry of Ed that forces some modifications that, in essence, just takes us back to something that used to be with a new name. Not entirely what I am about to talk about, but it is definitely related.

Current big ideas/words/phrases
- triangulating assessment
- observations and conversations

We are continually told that there are things we can do and tools we can use that can decrease the marking work load and lead to more reliable and accurate grades for our students. The current thing being "triangulation of assessment" - where we consider student products (the part we all know and love), observations, and conversations. And this is all well and good - we effectively use these all of the time. For instance, maybe in conversation with a student they showed understanding of an idea but on a test they struggled to use the correct terminology, etc in a question. I may give them the benefit of the doubt based on the conversation. Really what we are now being asked to do is have written "evidence" of these conversations and observations and include them as part of the grade calculation. Less work? I think not.

Now there are some really neat ideas, don't get me wrong. And I am more than aware that there are students who gain understanding and then struggle to read and/or write about those ideas. So the question is, how do we determine the value of all of this and what can actually predict the success of these students in the future? The last thing I want to do is lead a student to believe they will be academically (or otherwise) successful when they, in fact, may get to the next stage of their lives and discover they are missing a valuable skill. Or maybe I am just over-thinking all of it.

The one thing I like and can take away from this right away is feeling like I have permission to translate the inquiry based lessons and process that I use (especially in my Applied classes) into grades. One of those lessons from this semester was manipulatives I created to get my grade 9s to show me Bohr-Rutherford diagrams. I used a word processor to create a document with a large nucleus, small electrons, and various numbered charges (protons/neutrons). I printed them on coloured paper and cut-out 5 copies so that I could put students in groups of 4. It seemed helpful for many of the students, especially those who had missed one of the lessons needed to successfully draw a BR diagram. So here is my problem - now I have to either find a way to record each student using them (i.e. recording each other on flip cameras for me to view later and assign a mark) or spend more hours creating enough manipulatives for each student to have a set (the 5 copies took me more than an hour). Either way, time required...and how many really benefit from this compared to drawing a BR diagram on paper?

Of course I should collect data. Try it both ways. Reverse the order with another class and try it again. Analyze. But I am frankly sick of the data driven obsession that has been created recently. Everything is about credit accumulation and wanting to increase these numbers and increase graduation rates. The way I see it, what we end up accomplishing are skewed grades and students ending up in streams, grades and levels that they are not yet ready for. I would way rather help a student succeed at their pace than use some way of assessing that increases my credit numbers and pushes students into things they are not prepared for. It does them no favours.

Please bare in mind in this entry that I am barely grazing the ideas and issues at hand. I am aware that there is more to it and that there are many like-minded people that will seek to answer these questions and help students to the best of my ability. I just needed to rant so that I can go to sleep and wake up refreshed tomorrow to seek for more answers.

Despite our system's difficulties, I love my job. Let's keep the conversation going.

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