So, for the past several years one of my main responsibilities on the SMTS exec has been the planning of the annual SUM conference. The panel, which originated out of a need to re-jig the schedule because of money constraints has naturally become my very favourite part of the conference. I know this really isn’t what most folks come to a conference for, but I love love love it. Given what’s going on with our provincial government meddling in education in unprecedented ways right now, I was pretty much over the moon when they agreed to send a representative from the Assessment division. (To be fair, the majority of the panel was not directly directed specifically at this panel member, but towards the end it was getting awfully obvious that folks wanted some ANSWERS gosh darn it.)
The representative held her own for the majority of the panel, and gave, if nothing else pretty bland answers in regards to the purpose of assessment from a provincial government point of view. Nothing overly controversial, and it may even be fact that she really believes her job helps teachers. That seems like a discussion for a different day. However, one audience member was able to really cut to the heart of what I think this “debate” is all about. I’ll have to paraphrase since we didn’t tape it (next year!)
The assessment representative gave a long response to what the purpose of the new assessments would be and how they would be fundamentally different from the old ones. Her points were clearly all good intentioned – we need to communicate what it is students can and can’t do to parents and stakeholders, the old assessments were given at the wrong time of year and took forever to mark, the new ones will be online and give teachers and students almost immediate results, etc. An audience member, bless her, said, essentially “No offense, but I can, and do, do all those things more effectively with some whiteboards. It makes me feel like you think I’m incompetent when you imply I need you to do this.”
AND THE REP RESPONDED WITH “Well I’m sure you can, it’s not you I’m worried about, you’re at a math conference. But your colleagues, I don’t know about them.” And folks, this is when my jaw hit the floor. Because, this is one of those rare instances where I think a person in a semi-political position made the mistake of saying what they actually believe and not what they claim to believe.
You see, if you trust “me” but not my neighbour, you don’t actually trust me. You don’t trust me, and you don’t trust us as professionals to regulate our teacher training or our professional development. You don’t trust that we’re all trying to get better at this teaching gig. You don’t actually trust that I have students best interests at heart.
In return, I no longer can trust you. You see, as flawed as they were, I actually believe the old assessments really were in the interest of teacher and student learning. The way they were framed, and the way the data was used year after year led me to trust this was true. The data was even useful in certain ways. Sure it could have been much more useful with some easy changes, but you work with what you’re given when it comes from the government. However, I can no longer believe this to be true about the new assessments. They have all but been framed in the context of the government truly believes that many of us (the majority even) are not capable or interested in doing our jobs. How can teachers be asked to support something that comes from this place of suspicion? Why would we be interested in using this data if there is something just slightly threatening hiding around it’s edges?
Trust. It’s a tricky beast at the best of times. It’s just become a whole lot trickier in education land around these parts.
Post to follow on what I actually think the government could be doing with all these millions of dollars they’ve magically found in the budget to spend on making and delivering standardized tests every year. That’s still assessment and reporting based (and not just a nice salary increase, although I wouldn’t sneeze at that either.)