Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ranking & Sorting - An Essential Service

What is schooling for? In the midst of a teacher strike that is now entering its second week, the BC Labour Relations Board provided an answer - to rank and sort students. Upon application from the BC government, they declared that providing Grade 12 student marks was an essential service, and on Friday afternoon, that reviewing Grade 10 and 11 marks provided by school administrators was an essential service. Also essential is the provision of provincial exams, which students wrote last week behind teacher picket lines.

I guess we already knew that time in the classroom learning was not paramount. Many Districts across BC have shortened the school year by a week or longer to address chronic budget shortfalls. Some have even adopted a four day week. So it was already evident that time involved in learning activities with teachers can be jettisoned - if it saves money. No surprise then that the government appears to have very little interest in ending the strike and re-opening schools before the end of June.

We also knew that somehow the BC government thinks that limiting the constitutional right to strike should expand far beyond genuinely life threatening situations. It was all the way back in 2001 that the Essential Services legislation made the provision of education "essential". But what is increasingly clear is that was is  "essential" for government has nothing to do with educating. What is "essential" is that lists of marks are available to rank and sort students - no matter what they had the opportunity to learn and no matter how inaccurate those rankings might be. And what is also essential to government is that essential services legislation continue to erode the right to strike.

The government lockout prevented teachers from planning and marking. For the last several weeks of school, assignments were abridged, trips were cancelled, and learning activities cut short. Teachers simply could not continue to teach in the manner they do under the terms of the lockout and the severe restrictions on the working day. In my district, six out of the seven secondary schools also cancelled final course tests. In my daughter's school, the decision was made by the school administration and announced on the PA system before teachers even knew. In other words, the final month of school, which is about 20% of second semester courses, was shortened. And grading and assessment was altered - in many cases without the teacher even having any control over it.

Many teachers forced to submit Grade 12 marks on Friday did the only thing they think is ethical and honest in the circumstances - they assigned an "In Progress" mark. They acknowledged that the assessment of student work is not in relation to all the learning required in the course. They did what is a fair and accurate representation of student outcomes given the lockout's impact. One teacher I know even went further, providing a range of potential outcomes each student might achieve if they had the opportunity to actually complete the course, including final assessments.

Next week teachers will be asked to "review" a mark provided by an administrator. I don't know where these marks are going to come from. Perhaps they will be term marks from term one and will not reflect any student work completed since April. Perhaps they will come from some other magical place. What I do know is that administrators have not taught these students and have no mechanism to provide a genuine professional opinion about the level of student achievement in relation to the learning outcomes of the course. So why are they putting marks into the system? I guess because they have been ordered to do so.

At the end of the day, administrators will place a grade on every grade 10, 11 and 12 student's transcript. That grade will in many cases not reflect the student's abilities relative to the full course curriculum. But it will provide some data for someone else to make a judgement about that student. And this is ultimately what these grades are for - to rank and sort students. And apparently this is essential.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that the Fraser Institute is so deep into the pockets of the Ministry of Education (partly due to the continually growing transfer of public money into private schools) that the "Lie"berals are simply following corporate business models to ensure a steady and increasing flow of taxpayer dollars into management levels of both government and those who benefit from the lowest tax rates in the country.