Wish I’d Played Angry Birds

Over the weekend, I was in Boston for a planning meeting for the annual CSTA (Computer Science Teachers’ Association) conference.  As an aside, if you’re a computer science teacher or just interested in things computer technical, you’ve got to consider attending this conference.  Look for full details to be posted here in the future.

Back to Boston.

I still want to get a sense of what’s happening at home so I check out the local newspaper online.  There was a story title that immediately caught my attention:  Local school boards score below average  I read the story and was incensed with the content but was impressed with the comments of my former Director of Education.  I’ve always been impressed with his leadership and felt that his comments were bang on.

My thoughts about this public posting of results have not changed.  I’ve blogged about this previously.

The weather was pretty bad in Boston so I did get to Logan International with lots of time and free internet access.  That means lots of time to kill and I’ll do it online.  I kept refreshing tabs with the status of my flights and in between actually opened the links to the reports from the Fraser Institute.

Eventually, we did get on the plane and were cleared to take off.  Once we reached cruising altitude, I plugged in my headphones to listen to some music and then decided to take one last look at the tabs with the flight delays.  Then, I did take a look at the tabs for the “Report Cards” for elementary and secondary schools.

My first reaction as I looked at these “Report Cards” was that teachers do a much better job with report cards.  Sure, there’s the actual evaluation (in this case a number from 1 to 10) but teachers work long and hard to give meaningful information explaining the evaluation along with giving suggestions for improvement.  Here there are numbers and that’s it.  If you take a look through the document, the technique for generation is described but the mathematics and the methods of data collection probably don’t provide much guidance for the average reader.

So, I did flip through the document.  I think I understood much of their methods but then I found myself doing what I suspect much of the general public would do.

  • I checked out my kids’ schools;
  • I checked out the Catholic schools in the same area;
  • I checked out the school where I used to teach;
  • I checked out the schools I attended in my youth.

I looked at the ESL figures, the % of special needs, the parents’ average income.  I checked out the schools in the newspaper article and tried to make a judgment given all the evidence.  Then I stopped.

It didn’t feel right to be doing all of this.  I think back to a teacher doing report cards.  It is the one way that teachers report achievement to parents.  But, there’s a major difference.  As a parent, you get your child’s report card.  You don’t get to look at the progress of her classmates.  You don’t compare one against another.  Yet, the Fraser Institute Report Card allows that so easily.  Since the results are organized by geography, it’s actually very easy.

Standardized testing, like it or not, is bound to be around for years to come.  The consumer of that information needs to be informed about what they’re reading.  Who do you believe?  The Toronto Sun?  The Peel District School Board?

As I blogged earlier, in the Public Embarrassment piece, I still question the way the results are distributed.  If it’s a report to parents, that’s one thing.  Send it home with students on computer letterhead or have the school information available in the office or during parent/teacher conferences.  The idea of a public report card pitting one school against the other just doesn’t seem to have appeal to me.  Students don’t wake up planning on how to mess up at school.  Teachers don’t wake up planning to do a poor job of teaching.  Yet, all of those students and teachers will go to school on Tuesday knowing that they’ve been graded and they’re #.#/10.0.  That should make for a great start to the school day.

In the plane, I closed my browser.  I didn’t need to read any more.  In fact, it didn’t feel right.  I wish that I’d just loaded Angry Birds and passed my time that way.

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