31 March 2007

Auntie Em! Auntie Em! It's a Twister!

One of the conference sessions I attended on Thursday was presented by a school district which is just a little bit farther into the throes of standards-based grading and reporting than ours is. Their biggest lesson learned (so far) is something that we are just starting to find out for ourselves: teachers are hungry for "stuff." This is what that district termed all of the different tools teachers want: alignment documents, assessments, rubrics, and so on.

Here's where my thinking diverges from the other district. They look at the development of stuff as being cyclical, moving between a need expressed by teachers and a document created to fill that need. I think it's more of an ever-increasing death spiral: a real twister. A Curriculum department isn't just scratching a teacher's itch. It's feeding a hunger that can't be filled. It begins with something like identifying aligned curriculum materials and creating guides for using them. But then there's a question about accompanying assessments for each reporting period...and rubrics. Then intervention/remediation materials are needed...but having things by reporting period isn't quite enough. It's too long of a time frame. Now teachers see the need to have these same tools unit by unit or even questions about common rubrics for the assignments contained within. When I think about this across all grade levels and content areas, my head hurts.

For those of you thinking that this looks like I have perpetual job security, I admit that it looks that way on the surface. But at the same time most teachers are saying that The District should provide these, they're also wanting the Curriculum department to be disbanded. Go figure.

But more importantly, what's so wrong with teachers asking for this "stuff"? If it frees up teacher time so that they can focus on instruction, isn't that a good thing? Absolutely. I agree that teachers should have these tools---there isn't anything wrong with this motivation...this need to grasp something solid while educational reform whirls around them. My concern is that some of our teachers have a different source of desire for these materials---and for them, nothing can satisfy it. These teachers want to be able to remove elements of subjectivity from their practices. What could be better than knowing without a doubt the performance level of every kid in the class and being able to justify and communicate this to outsiders without agony. I understand that want. I know I've had many restless nights pondering the evaluation of my students. At some point, however, we just have to realize that we're humans making judgements about the achievement of other humans. No matter how many tools we have or hours of training in using them are we ever going to be able to be completely objective about things. I'm hoping that teachers who act with the best of intentions on the part of their students (which is nearly every one) will learn to accept their humanness in this process and forgive themselves of any faults along the way. Perhaps they can find the eye of the storm around them and have some peace of mind in the classroom.

1 comment:

OKP said...

I read this just in time...80-some research papers waiting to be graded, a rubric that can't possibly cover every contingency; I'm feeling overwhelmed.

Thanks. I appreciate the perspective.