Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Let's Lift our Expectations

Some time ago, I was sitting with our principal, Jason Levy, and Dean of Instruction, David Prinstein as we devised one of our action plans. As part of the rationale for the action plan we considered possible causes and effects using a fishbone method that listed administration, teachers, students, and parents as stakeholders. For one of these possible causes, we identified low expectations of parents and students as a problem that could be attributed to the bigger issue at hand. We weren't pointing our finger at parents and students, merely acknowledging that maybe they didn't have a voice.

At the time, I thought the exercise was interesting, but time-consuming when I was just itching to write up next steps for action to solve whatever it was that was the bigger problem that we were addressing.

Today I've had a wake-up call though. I attended my son's parent-teacher conference and was given a break-down of his results by one of his teachers. This teacher explained that the students had completed a 'multiple choice comprehension-style' assessment at the start of the term and from this, and one other in-class write-up of an experiment, their grades were derived.

So I asked the obvious question: "Do you mean to say that you've taken his grade from a baseline assessment?"

"Yes, I guess so...," she said, obviously a little taken aback that I knew something about assessment.

"Doesn't that strike you as absurd?" I asked. "That means that you're just reporting back on what he knew before he attended your class for a term."

"I guess so," she said. "I hadn't really thought about it before."

Now, I don't want to start teacher-bashing because there are plenty of others lining up at all times (for all manner of political reasons) to take a swing, but this one got under my skin.

Kids are being duped. Parents are being duped. And other teachers are being dragged down as well by such low expectations. It's not even that I desperately want to know what my child does and does not know. I'm more interested that he learns how to learn, not how to be assessed (and poorly at that). The really sad thing is that many parents who are not teachers really don't have a voice in challenging this low level education.

Maybe we should be stirring up the parents as educational activists - now wouldn't that be interesting. I'm not sure that I'd be game to go down that track...but it would be interesting.

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