High school: the more things change

High School Gymnasium

Thanks to Julia Mackey for taking this picture and letting me use it.

This could be any gym in any high school at this time of year: prepared for final exams with tables in a row – inspiring the fear of cheating, whispering, failing.

Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed and experienced such incredible change to how we access information and communicate with each other:

In 1985 Network file systems were invented so people could access and share data between computers.

The World Wide Web came into play a few years later and over the next little while things started to really speed up: from technologies that allowed us to access the Internet to those that allowed us to communicate to each other through it – browsers, email, html, pdfs… all of these have been around for over 20 years.

Since then – to name a scant few inventions that have not only increased the ability to bring people and information from around the world closer together but have also changed what we can do with that information – we have seen the emergence of Windows, Wikis, mp3, flash, Google, wifi, Blogs, Facebook, YouTube, iPods, Tablets, Twitter, Apple watches…

And we are still testing our children in quiet rooms, with tables in a row – inspiring the fear of cheating, whispering, failing.

High School Gymnasium

Thanks to Julia Mackey for taking this picture and letting me use it.

But what is remarkable about this particular room is that it is not just any gym. The picture was taken in 2015 but it could have been taken in 1985, when I wrote my final high school exams at one of those desks.

Last week I attended my 30th high school reunion. There had been reunions in the past but for one reason or a few, I never participated. This was the first time I really revisited my high school as well as the people who went there with me.

High school wasn’t a highlight of memory in my life. Walking through its halls last weekend, I didn’t remember where my locker was or where most of the classrooms were. I have vague memories of soccer games, dances, drawing, our vice-principal’s office, some classes but I think my first two years were mainly spent trying to fit in and figure out how to be a teenager, and my last two were spent trying not to fit in and figuring out how to grow out of being a teenager as quickly as possible.

During the week before the reunion, much like a student during the week before exams, I felt off. There was a slight buzz of anxiety in the background of everything I did. I thought I was possibly coming down with something but, as always, my body was transmitting messages. I was looking forward to the reunion, absolutely, but I realized the people on the list were people I knew, but no one (save 1 or 2) were people who I ever really got to know. Was I feeling the old high school tension of fitting/not fitting in? Was I the only one feeling that?

I woke up the morning after the reunion tired but the background buzz was gone. The night had been a most comfortable meeting of familiar strangers. And it is because, though I had not seen the vast majority of people I spent time with that night in 30 years and though I had not spent a lot of time really getting to know them during my high school years, we were all from the same high school (and elementary schools, for most of us!) and that was enough. That night, I began to get to know some of the people I remembered/didn’t remember from high school and since then I have continued through Facebook, somewhat. And it is good.

For some of us, our children have gone through or will soon be going through the same testing process that grants them release from high school into the ‘real’ world. Some of us have younger children and, if I have anything to do with it ;), high school will be recognized as part of the real world by the time they get there and the testing process will no longer be structured along rows of desks, silence, and fearful anxiety.

However their high school will be structured in terms of academics, it is the people they will remain connected with. Without even realizing it, I remain a part of the community that is Mac High, Graduating Class of 1985. And it is good.

**dates for points in technology history from 25 Years: A technology timeline on GCN.com

“National Canine Latin Barking assessments” – Canadian version

I read Michael Doyle’s posts about the frustrations of the whole standardized hoop-jumping, I mean testing, situation with an odd sense of voyeurism. We just don’t have that kind of thing here…dare I say yet? In Ontario they do, maybe in other places in Canada, too. But Quebec is so involved in being unique that we have our own kettle of fish to conquer here in trying to balance uniform end of cycle examinations with individualized programming…

Though…this year I am working at a school whose school board is located in the US. Our students took Canadian Achievement Tests (CAT-4) this year, which are meant to be benchmark tests for the federal government. The powers that be at our central board decided to do PD around comparing results in different domains and then told teachers to look at the domains that scored higher and ask the teachers who taught those domains to share their secrets to success, so to speak. Suggesting that teachers who scored higher (that is the actual phrase she used) were more successful (better) teachers than those who scored lower.

That immediately raised my hackles. My domain, English Language Arts, scored the lowest. Given the logic of the recommendation given in our PD session, I should go speak with the Math teacher, whose domain scored the highest, for advice on how to raise our students abilities to score higher on timed standardized testing situations? Not to mention that our students took these tests in October at which time I had known them for approximately 4 weeks. And this situation was mirrored at different campuses in our school system.

The ire that shot through my system for just that moment was shocking to me. And I got a fleeting sense of what it would be like to live with this kind of reality on a day-to-day basis.

At the moment the Canadian version of the National Canine Latin Barking Assessments is contained to a few independent schools (at least in Quebec) but I fear it spreading. I really do. I don’t want to teach with an ounce of that bitter feeling I experienced when I heard the phrase, ‘teachers who scored higher on the tests’…

Is testing what is needed to get teachers to work harder?: Checking out Ontario’s Progress Report on Education

So…I received an interesting email message yesterday from the Ontario Premier’s office:

Hello,

My name is Grahame Rivers. I’m the social media coordinator in the Ontario Premier’s Office. I wanted to let you know that Ontario has released it’s progress report on education.

Based on the family focus of your blog, I thought this might be helpful information to provide your readers.

Ontario schools have smaller class sizes, higher test scores, talented teachers, and more students graduating and going on to college, university or apprenticeship programs. Based on international test scores and evaluation, Ontario has one of the top 10 education systems in the world.

This information has been pulled together in a web-friendly format and can be found here: http://bit.ly/mLFvFx and a video can be found here: http://bit.ly/leZcLy

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you,

Grahame

Grahame Rivers
Social Media Coordinator
Office of the Premier of Ontario
d. 416 325 1807
c. 416 562 4516
www.twitter.com/riversgr

And so I clicked through and checked out the progress report. According to the data it has released, it seems to be true. Numbers seem to be going up (or down, depending on the desired direction) in all the right areas.

I’ve had a little under a year’s experience in the Ontario public school system, at a rural school in Eastern Ontario. One thing I can certainly attest to is that the teachers in this school are amongst the hardest working teachers I’ve met. They are held, and hold themselves, accountable for the learning that goes on in their classrooms and in those of their colleagues. Learning is shared, planned for, and reflected on. Both within the classrooms and within the staff room, learning is deliberate.

And then there’s EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) – that’s the ‘higher test scores’ the province is so proud of. I’ve heard Grade 3 and 6 teachers talk about EQAO testing as this anomaly in their teaching year. It’s like there’s teaching and learning and then there’s EQAO. Teachers are under pressure to improve test scores but not help their students succeed on the test. Students in all testing grades (3, 6, 9, & 10) are stressed about it. Looking at what that really means shows us stressed out 8 year olds. ETFO (Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario) has called for a moratorium on the testing. The following is from the ETFO website, as part of their official stance on the EQAO testing:

EQAO’s most recent annual report indicates expenses of $33 million in 2009-10. A further $77 million is spent by the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat designing and mandating programs designed to improve test scores. And individual boards spend more. Think about what that money could do if it were spent on education instead…

Sobering, isn’t it. That’s over 100 million dollars directed towards testing.

Teachers hate testing because it takes away from the ‘real stuff’ of teaching. I hate standardised testing because I like to craft what happens in my classroom based on the people in the room and not an arbitrary test. BUT. Numbers are rising. There are more graduates. More literate students. Because of this goal to raise test scores, teachers are collaborating to improve literacy and numeracy skills.

Is all of this worth teacher and student stress?

Is there a way to improve literacy and numeracy without the EQAO testing pressure?

or…

Is testing the thing that is needed to get teachers to work harder?