Thursday, February 4, 2016

Breaking Down the Walls for CBE

In the discussions of Competency Based Learning (or Outcomes Based Education or Performance Based Stuff), a support that emerges from time to time is that CBE will "break down the walls between curriculum and assessment."

On the one hand, I see the appeal. In a perfect world, education shouldn't really have to stop cold for assessment, and the burden really should be on the teacher to discover what the student knows and can do, rather than putting the burden on the student to sing and dance her Proof of Achievement. Just keep learning, students, and the teacher will figure out what you know and what you can do by using the Power of Watching.

This, in fact, is what the best teachers do-- constant monitoring and collection of data, gathered by our eyes and ears, and stored and processed in our brains. That's a huge part of the job, and we've already been doing it for ages.

The unspoken issue here is that it's not enough for some folks that the teacher and the student know what's happening-- it has to be made visible to an assortment of third parties. Some of those third parties like, say, building administrators, are not a stretch. But having to make learning visible to third parties such as Pearson or a far-off government bureaucrat is more of a challenge, not unlike having to prove to a complete stranger that you have a good marriage. Actually doing the thing (teaching, learning, marriaging) is one challenge; giving outward and visible proof of the thing to other separate people is a whole other challenge.

In other words, breaking down the wall between curriculum and assessment for students, teachers, and maybe even building admins-- that's easy. Breaking it down in a way that still leaves a big fat data trail for off-site lookie-loos is more problematic.

Now the data and progress largely carried in my head and my classroom records, folders, portfolios, etc isn't good enough. I have to create some sort of digitized data collection, and that means one of two things has to happen:

1) Data via clerical work. Part of my job becomes data entry, repeatedly and relentlessly and daily plugging the data that I've collected via quiz and worksheet and exercise and observation and clickity-clacking away at my computer to get it all recorded in whatever format the provided software (because you know nobody is letting me pick that out myself-- it'll have to be compatible with all manner of systems) demands of me.

2) Direct data collection. All of the student learning activities are done on computer, so that all the data stirred up by whatever company-provided activities are involved will be automatically harvested while the student works. Doing all of her significant classwork on the computer.

There is a third option--

3) Worst of both worlds. In a nightmare scenario, my district gets a data harvesting system and I am required to digitize all of my teacher-created assignments, quizzes, tests, etc so I get the pleasure of hours and hours of mind-and-finger numbing clerical work, while my students still get to enjoy education-by-screen.

All of these options suck. Option one represents a huge increase in the work hours of a teacher, which means either blowing off your family or cutting back on actual instruction or, most likely, both. More data entry, less actual teaching. This is not a win for teachers or students. Option two has already been tried in various forms, most notably the Rocketship Academies that were going to change the education world by plunking students at computers all day. That was a fail. Creating a system in which all student educational activities must come via computer is expensive, frustrating, and counterproductive.

Both methods of data collection also pressure the process to create materials and activities that fit the limitations of the computers, which means, among other things, no real writing instruction and no critical thinking. Because the center of this system is a number-crunching computer-driven data-gobbling monster, it can't help but replicate all the shortcomings and failings of Big Standardized Tests on a large scale.

Advocates will claim that all this data collection will help teachers teach better. They are full of baloney. Any teacher who is any good at all already does all the data collection possible, and there is nothing that running it through the computer will help that teacher do. Conversely, teachers that are Not So Great will not be improved by giving them big data printouts to examine.

I don't mean to diss this kind of data collection entirely-- there are some very specific, very focused areas in which having the data-crunching assistance of a computer can be helpful for a teacher and her students. But as an approach to the Whole Educational System, it's baloney.

Breaking down the wall between curriculum and assessment is a very worthy goal. That's why teachers have been doing it since the invention of dirt, and all without the benefit of any highly-marketed highly-profitable software.

1 comment:

  1. Too bad these idiots never step into a real classroom. The first thing students do when they are working on a computer and don't understand is to raise their hand to call the teacher to them to explain it.