Monthly Archive for February, 2008

Educator Opposition to Evaluation — a Long History

Continuing to archive material from my files, I came across this letter to the editor deploring lack of proper evaluation in schools and a preponderance of teachers on school boards. Notice the mood being described. Parents and public want concrete information about the achievements (or otherwise) of their schools. But the response is more PR – public relations. In today’s scenario the teachers union is actively campaigning in the press and with parents to withdraw students from FSA (fundamental skills assessment in reading, writing and numeracy) in Grades 4 and 7 in public schools and provincially funded independent schools.

Feb 25, 1981
Globe and Mail
Dear Sir:

Parents, students and taxpayers are the losers when evaluation is not routine in our schools. We must begin with the premise that if anything is worth doing, it is worth assessing. So, why is education exempt?

Not only are teachers and administrators opposing evaluation of their own performance (G&M, Feb 23, 1981), they are also opposed to testing of students. There is presently, in BC, considerable lobbying by teacher groups against standardized tests, with the feeble suggestion that teachers should design their own tests. 

But, the majority of teachers have little experience, training or inclination to prepare tests. Nor should we expect it. While checking and feedback are part and parcel of everyday teaching, evaluation of the broader effort is best measured by objective, unbiased means. 

There seems to be an ominous defensiveness surrounding the whole area of student and teacher evaluation. What is there to hide? Is there a cover-up? This reluctance to assess results and effectiveness is probably the number one reason the public education system suffers credibility problems today. 

To further blur objectivity regarding schools, we see more and more teachers becoming trustees, thereby eroding the democratic principle of public control of public education. (Need I say that part of trustees’ jobs is to ensure competency of school staffs and effectiveness of instruction?) 

In BC we have had provincial testing of basic subjects for a number of years, but it is disappointing to realize that the testing is provincially referenced and has little comparative value against Canadian norms. In the most recent round of testing of reading, our own school district, though scoring well, felt the tests were themselves inadequate. Inflation of scores (making the students look good) was the perceived result since many of the questions were ambiguous, irrelevant to the skills tested, and some were downright too easy. 

Poor, watered-down tests (or no tests at all) are not the way to go if parents are to be assured that they have enrolled their children in good schools, that students are not being cheated of their education, and that taxpayers are to be convinced that their money is well-spent. So far, educators have failed to convince me that evaluation is detrimental. Surely, quality is possible to demonstrate, especially at a time when there is so much concern about rising educational costs and people are questioning their support of such a high expense service. 

Parents sending their children to the University of BC for their first year are not happy to hear that their son or daughter stands as much chance of failing as of passing their English composition test. The controversy that this year’s record 46% failure has unleashed is showing no abatement, with as yet, little agreement over the source of the problem or the means for solution.

However, we are grateful that we have at least one concrete measure of school success (?) that helps focus concern and problem-solving. We do NOT have, as the United States does, the kind of reputable testing programs which caused Dr. John Goodlad (a Canadian educator, now working in the U.S.) to question parents’ misplaced faith in American schools After completing a massive 7-year study of U.S. education this is what he said: 

I don’t think parents are as acutely aware of the achievement decline as many other people are….I think there’s an enormous unawareness on the part of parents as to what the schools are doing.” (Christian Science Monitor, June 9, 1980) 

Is this the kind of evidence we are being steered away from in Canada?

Unfortunately, when dissatisfaction about schools surfaces, the response is for more PR – public relations – rather than black-and-white evidence. What I find happening is that parents who are denied concrete information about their children’s school success, and who are denied meaningful voice in their schools are responding in a way which is telling indeed – flight rather than fight. Frustrated parents are looking for exits from the public education system and are pleased to find attractive alternatives via private schools, correspondence courses or home teaching. 

My message is this: If the public school system does not respond intelligently to consumer need for accurate information, they may find themselves without consumers.

(letter not published by G&M)