Tuesday, August 17, 2010

About Reader's Workshop: Unfair and Unrealistic Assessment

Each year in Queensland, our Year 4, 6 and 9 students are required to complete QCATS, Queensland Comparable Assessment Tasks in English, Maths and Science. These are supposed to be more 'realistic' tasks, similar to assessment we complete in the classroom. An alternative to the standardised testing that is NAPLAN. But . . .

Well, to be honest, I'd rather have my students doing NAPLAN at the moment (and I do both, so I know what they're both like!). Standardised tests are unfair, but a smart student can do well at them. This year, the English Year 6 QCAT is all about celebrating mediocrity.

There's three parts to the English task - 2 reading and 1 writing. (So far we've spent 5 and a half hours on this task and some are still going) The first part requires students to identify textual features (mostly) of a stimulus text. The stimulus text, two persuasive forum responses are quite poorly written. Students are asked to identify adjectives and adverbs in those texts, but one of them contains no simple adverbs (the types that are obviously describing a verb) even though the marking grid requires students to be able to list an adverb to get a D mark. Just to add insult to injury (we had tears on this section) we got an email over the weekend saying that the adverbs on the 'sample A response' were incorrect . . . . even the writers of the task couldn't accurately complete it.

Part two compares a visual text to the stimulus. Here, like in the first part, the questions want them to find examples, to prove their point. However the space provided is minimal, one or two lines. It's an interesting mix of wanting a lot (justify your answers -expecting more than one response - using examples from the text) and expecting little (but you only have 2 lines to answer this question - better not have big handwriting).

There has been an emphasis in the standardised testing world to ensure that tests at least try to be relevant to most of the students taking it. However, in a state with a huge number of indigenous and rural communities a long way away from owning many of the technological goods that clutter urban life, a task which requires them to discuss those goods is clearly unfair.

Part three is the writing part. Students are given a good topic, nice planning space (though written on the back on the writing part, so kids have to keep flipping back and forward) and reminders of what they are required to do. But the killer is that this 5 paragraph essay needs to fit under 200 words.

40 words a paragraph? Really? A persuasive argument with a topic sentence and supporting evidence? With adjectives and adverbs?

As teachers who give and support this task and then have to mark it, where are we supposed to go? Do we simply disregard the word limit and potentially have our hands smacked at moderation? Or do we insist that students give us substandard work, not the best they can do, with limited supporting evidence?

Although I admire those who move into renegade teaching, I've never really thought of myself as a renegade teacher before. Sure, I refuse to join in on 'highlighter reading' or 'whole class novels', but I've never wanted to deliberately 'break the rules.' Yesterday I did. When my best writer was forced to write a one sentence conclusion and was despondent about her writing, I broke them. I told her to remove the word limit, to aim for 250 words, to just simply write the best persuasive text she can. Sure there might be repurcussions, but I'll wear them myself. There are things worth fighting for, and requiring our students to complete the best possible work is one of them.


A Reader's Community

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Queensland, Australia
A Reader's Community is a place to find ideas, information, resources and recommendations about Reader's Workshop.

This Blog has five main types of posts.

About Reader's Workshop - information about Reader's Workshop in my classroom and how it works

Reader's Workshop Tools - resources you can access and use to help you with reader's workshop

Book talks - Book recommendations of two or three books centred around a particular theme

Book letters - in-depth reviews of one particular book

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