Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When will these Fossils make the Great leap Forward?

Sometimes I get really depressed about the rut in which some of of our schools are stuck. Well, not so much depressed in a clinical sense, as head-shakingly baffled by their persistent and backward-looking stupidity.

Queen Margaret College deputy principal Rosey Mabin apparently proudly told parents that "her school refused to offer subjects that gave pupils the chance to take the 'easy route'".

By the 'easy route' she appears to mean allow her colleagues to exercise their professional expertise and judgement and assess the performance of their own students themselves. Oh, no! Not for Ms Mabin. She doesn't trust her staff, despite an overwhelming weight of research that shows modern professionals (like Ms Mabin's staff) assess students fairly and accurately, and, moreover are able to devise assessment tasks that allow students to show what they can do in a wide variety of contexts.

Instead Ms Mabin, from the security of her own medieval keep, insists students of her esteemed academy submit themselves to "external examinations". In something akin to the delight expressed by Spanish Inquisitors, she says her "students are actively encouraged to take demanding, academic courses" which, it goes without saying, are only assessed by external examinations. You can almost hear her smirking at the prospect of the flagellation.

But there is the rub. Who marks the external exams? Why secondary school teachers! In fact, the same teachers she doesn't trust to assess their own students! So perhaps it isn't that she doesn't trust her own staff.

Ms Mabin's colleague in medievalism, Roger Moses, is quoted in the same article thus: "I am not saying unit standards [ie. internally assessed standards] are wrong; it is important for schools to shape courses to students' needs but it is possible for kids to never sit an external exam paper."

Ah, now I understand! It isn't that fair and accurate assessment is desirable, or that assessment of a wide range of skills and knowledge and capabilities is sensible, or that tasks which engage students are valid assessment tools.

Rather, the nub of the matter is that sitting external examinations is somehow character building and "good for the soul." Listen carefully and you'll hear her saying "They didn't do me any harm!" Oh really? one might ask. That must be why our justice system still uses the ducking stool!

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