Get Rid of School Based Assessments
By Sharon Philogene
The season of moaning and groaning about School Based Assessments (SBA) is upon us, but when I walked into class a few weeks ago, there was a spring in my step. I had read the rather late submission of second reflection of an English SBA and I had seen what every teacher hoped for in every student -growth! The language had me captivated. That aspect of the school-based assessment required the student to comment on the language of the research material being used for the portfolio. The student had noted the "wittiness of the language" in the piece he was assessing. I scoured the piece for the author's use of wit and the hunt is still on. Suffice it to say, when I conferenced with the student about the work submitted, he was shocked that he had spoken about the "wittiness of the language" used by the author. In fact, he was unable to explain "wit", or even give an example of it. This brings me to the crux of the matter, Get Rid of the SBA! Though well intentioned, the SBA does not give a true assessment of a student's ability, it encourages unethical behaviour among teachers, and it compromises the value of exam results.
Without any reservation, I boldly declare that the SBA does not reflect the true ability of many students. In years past, I listened, maybe even unsympathetically, to many colleagues especially in the business and history departments speak of the often-flawless papers they receive from many students to be marked and submitted to the examining body to be counted as a percentage of their grade for the exam. What is often most concerning is that many of these flawless papers come from students who are struggling or show no interest in the subject areas. Although much effort is made to work on these assignments in school, the home component always seems to overshadow what many teachers know to be the true ability of many of these students. The SBA is supposed to be a project developed with guidance and feed back from the subject teachers. Students are supposed to submit first, second, and even third drafts to teachers in the process of refining the work for the final mark but rarely does this process work. Oftentimes, the first draft might be the only one received from certain students, and there will be no indication that the teacher's comments and suggestions were even read because there would be no evidence that they were heeded in the final paper -the work of Art! It is bad enough that teachers feel exploited by CXC because of the amount of effort and time it takes to tackle students and wrestle the work from them, so to hope that detective work becomes part of the process when deadlines are looming is asking much. So, in certain circumstances, a student is awarded a mark, but the teacher is fully aware that the calibre of work does not reflect the student's ability.
To add insult to injury, often, the work submitted by a few of these students is the work of colleagues in other schools. Teachers often boast of having written SBAs for students. They relish the idea that they may have fooled a colleague; they boast that all such assignments they have written have earned the student top marks and it becomes their sales pitch. Students talk! They are often very happy to share with their friends and even with teachers that they paid $120 or is it $125.00 or more to have their History or other SBA assignments written by a teacher at another school. I know times are hard and money is a scarce commodity, so I understand the moral dilemma. I trust that these teachers are as forgiving of their students who cheat as they are of themselves. It is challenging enough to pinch one's nose to grade the work of degreed moms, dads, aunts, cousins, and family friends, but when professional respect flies out the window in the name of money, we have lost the battle.
It is clear, therefore, that the SBA component compromises the value of the exam results. I have sat in too many classes with too many children who I have hardly been able to extract much from because of mere apathy to work and who in the end have surprised me with a grade 1 or 2 in English having submitted SBAs not synonymous with the work they produced during the school year. In fact, I am still peeved that a student dared to submit work to me last week that his aunt had done. Interestingly, neither he nor his aunt were astute enough to realize that what he had done in my presence could not compare with what she had added to the portfolio. My response, "this is not your work. I will not grade this. You will work on the entire assignment in my presence,". This time it was submitted "early", so I could intervene. Often, it is not, and when the pressure of a deadline is looming ahead, and the mental health of the teacher is on the balance; the latter will tip the scale. The result-the students will be given a grade for work often he/she may not have even read. How do I know? The comment made to the student about the work often flies above his head. The questions asked about the work remain unanswered. SBAs are often due by the end of the second term and by then, teachers are so fatigued from the job of excavating everything from students, that this battle is not worth the fight. Then, to add insult to injury, not considering the lengths that teacher have gone to get the assignments, when the work is due and it is not forthcoming, a few principals want the teachers to get blood out of stones. I hold the view that life is about choices. If one does not do the work and submit at the due date, the obvious mark is a zero. How else would we teach that what one sows is what he reaps?
Finally, there is the added issue of using one SBA for two different exams. The mark assigned for the English SBA is a compliment of the English exam grade and if the student has written the Literature exam, a compliment of the Literature grade. The same situation exists for the accounts and business exam. Utter nonsense if you ask me. I am still trying to figure out how such a decision was made, and I am waiting for the day when the examining body realizes that this watered-down approach to ensuring everyone passes the exam is doing no one a favour, not the students, and certainly, not our Caribbean region.