“Take as long as you need…”

Ok, so apparently the Georgia Senate is looking at passing a piece of legislation – Bill 364.  To read it in full, visit: http://www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/2011_12/versions/sb364_As_introduced_LC_33_4469_2.htm 

The Assembly is opposed to ‘standards based achievement’, ‘formative assessment’ and ‘assessment for learning’ (page 3). Here is what most leapt off the page for me regarding GA Senate Bill 364… 

 The General Assembly finds: “The assessment focus is on equal outcomes for all students, referred to as mastery of minimal standards, in which students can take as long as they need through the school year to meet standards without incurring grading penalties, and further, it removes grade averaging for all students, with the sole outcome based focus on meeting standards”

 Now, I may not be well-versed in Georgia politics and as a foreigner I obviously do not have the my finger on the pulse of the educational issues there.  I have read this bill in its entirety, but there may be more local sides to this debate.  Qualifiers aside, I do have a few thoughts on this bill.

First, I would think that mastery of minimal standards would be a good thing, regardless of the political jurisdiction.  If I am  misguided on that, I hope that someone will enlighten me.   

 Secondly, as an educator who has taken on some non-traditional grading and assessment methods, I have never stated nor implied that one of my students can ‘take as long as he/she need’.   Rather, I have endevoured to put intervention systems in place to support learners who do not get work in.   For that matter, maybe I should try to allow a student whatever time they need, but perhaps not as much time as they want.  Even that may be questionable…

I think across the board, we need to accept that general human conditions exist in every sector of society – including schools.  I know a few adults who procrastinate as well, but who will deliver great pieces of work when pressed to do so.  If we measure their understanding and ability according to a set of learning outcomes – they would score very high.  If the measure is their ability to meet a deadline, it would perhaps be quite low.  Arguably, placing grading penalties on work that is late will not get I, nor the educators in Georgia, the data that is most helpful.  I have come to believe that including late penalties only obscures the results in my gradebook.  Penalties, if required, are most effective when they come as close as possible to dealing with the real issue – in this case it is time.  I have always recognised that some students need to put in more time in order to get things done, and thankfully in the past few years I have stopped penalizing them academically for it.  Homework rooms, academic support blocks and work completion sessions often socially ‘sting’ students who would rather socialize with friends at lunch or after school, but introducing these interventions tends to result in more work completion.  If we allow students to get work in ‘whenever they feel like it’  we can anticipate that they will act like many people do; they will stretch it to the last minute.  Sound Grading practices need not fall into this vague and limitless trap of apathy.  Many students need guidelines and a set of corresponding consequences if they are not followed.  I know that  applying behavioural consequences to behavioural infractions  not only works better than academic penalties, but doing so still allows me to accumulate grading data that is a measure of learning outcomes.

Furthermore, schools are increasingly asked to take on the role of the ‘judicious parent’ and in many cases the table in the classroom is the replacement of the kitchen table in years past.  Mentoring, coaching and indeed parenting is about working with students, not incessantly grading and ranking them.

In my experience, people who champion the case against AFL and Sound Grading by arguing that students can ‘do whatever they want whenever they want’ have lost sight of the real issue.  Students need and expect guidelines and support – regardless of the task.  The real quest for me as an educator is to find the line between measuring academic merit and modeling behavioural norms. 

I hope this determination does not fall into the realm of legislation.

5 thoughts on ““Take as long as you need…”

  1. Myron, this bit of ugly news came to me via Google Alerts on 11FEB2012. I have yet to find the words to express my disgust with politicians whose ignorance, arrogance, and hubris leads them to believe that they can legislate the application of research-based assessment practices to satisfy an equally ill-informed segment of their constituency. (Are we getting a taste of what Galileo felt when he challenged the astronomical beliefs of his day?)

    Thank you for your measured response.

  2. “Students need and expect guidelines and support – regardless of the task.” It is my belief that this is true on any ASSIGNED task. However, if we changed school and we gave total choice (please don’t go extreme Lord of the Flies), would that still be true? Why do my kids have to learn about world War 1 for the 4th time?(is it because they really didn’t learn it the first three times?).
    We can’t imagine what kids would be like if they never went through the institution. Kids are institutionalized and we think it natural the way they behave.
    There was a time when males couldn’t imagine women voting. We couldn’t imagine women having the same rights, education, and “worldly know how” as men…we were wrong- we do the same thing now when we think of giving kids freedom to choose what and how to learn. We feel we must assign obstacles, roadblocks, and stop watches to learning. We don’t create highways to learning we create road blocks in the name of our own “expertise.”
    Your posts have many forward thinking thoughts in them- but they are all inside the box. Any thoughts on how we get rid of the box? Any considerations to letting kids learn without making them have to prove it to a self proclaimed assessment expert? What would that be like?

  3. I am with you Mike, trust me. I have pondered your reply for a few days now and I guess I remain ‘in the box’ as I see it will be a little while until we emerge from it. Perhaps i am trying to bring a little of the outside…in. I too try to imagine a system where people can follow a passion, and escape through a portal into a realm of personalized learning. A friend of mine, who for years home-schooled his kids, is the person I have seen come the closest to this type of paradigm shift – and it is exactly that – a paradigm shift. What would it look like? How would it function? I don’t know. And I will freely admit that I also am hesitant to remove accountability as I have not seen a system yet that hums along without it.

    In the meantime, I have introduced choice inside of parameters, personal measure (yes, I said measure) in a system nearly void of it and a grade that reflects what it is supposed to. I believe that I am achieving a landscape where anyone can learn, prove it, and benefit from it regardless of background.

    Thanks for the comment, and I will be looking over the horizon.


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