Thursday, April 29, 2010
What Are Teachers For?
I have heard it said that teachers are assessors and that assessment is part of the teaching and learning process. I often wonder if the meaning of the word ‘assessment’ is sometimes stretched and perhaps misused in contexts to do with learning.
At the moment, NCEA standards are of two types. There are Unit Standards, awarded to learners who meet all component criteria for a particular standard. There are also Achievement Standards, awarded as Achieved (just a pass), Merit and Excellence.
A learner, who does not meet the criteria for a unit standard or for an award in an achievement standard, can choose to be re-assessed after a period of re-teaching and further study.
My thinking has never been aligned with the philosophy of teaching to a standard. I don’t believe that’s what ‘education’ is about. However, as a teacher, I have no choice but to accept the assessment system that is now intimately bound with secondary education in New Zealand.
At least re-assessment permits the learner to revisit the learning and allows the teacher to do some more teaching.
NZQA is reviewing, again, the process of assessing learners for NCEA standards in New Zealand. The specific issue that I bring to this post is the matter of what’s called a re-submission. I’ll explain.
When a learner completes and submits a standard assessment test, and it is not clear to the assessor whether the learner has actually met the standard, the test script can be returned to the learner for amendments to be made. These are performed by the learner under test conditions before re-submitting the test script for the assessment to proceed. This process is called re-submission.
Furthermore, during re-submission the learner is not permitted to study on the topic, nor receive any teaching, coaching or advice associated with the standard, before revisiting assessment tasks they performed in the test script. They are only permitted to consider their answers and perhaps amend them.
There have been many debates by teachers about what constitutes a case for re-submission. Performing a re-submission is quite different from entering into a phase of re-teaching followed by re-assessment. Teachers like things to be cut and dry. So many discussions at the moment centre on the criteria for re-submission.
A disservice to learning
As a teacher who is more interested in what learners learn and how they learn, than what they achieve in a standard test, I am often in a bind over the issue of re-submission.
I feel that I’m doing learning a disservice if I do not permit (and cannot permit) learners to revisit the learning. This is precisely what happens, and must happen according to the rules for standard assessment, when re-submissions are permitted for learners who are very close to meeting criteria for a particular standard.
In such instances, I start wondering what my role is as a teacher and educator. I also wonder if I am doing learners a disservice by permitting them to re-submit their test evidence without any further teaching and learning taking place.
I feel that if learners are in need of more teaching and learning, then they should be given the opportunity to receive just that. This opportunity is denied learners who gain a standard on re-submission.
What are teachers for?