This question is not that much off the mark in light of the recent push for Online Schools1. But seriously, we can’t do without teachers because they bring in the human aspect of teaching into the learning process, and learning just like teaching is a dynamic process and innately human. Learning is not the same as acquisition of knowledge. For that we have an ample amount of books and the online world at our disposal.
Practitioners alone know how to cultivate supporting environments conducive to real learning through observation, evaluation and cyclical feedback, and given enough credence, they also know the standards and due processes for measuring success of their own teaching and learning outcomes of their students.
Why then do we have standardized assessments knowing well that externally devised assessments and benchmarks are not a measure for learning outcome? The simplistic answer, which we hear repeatedly, is to create an equitable platform commonly referred to as a “leveled playing field”. But this is a pseudo-argument considering that there are many exchanges contributing to the dynamics of the learning process which in turn determine the learning outcome. These include socioeconomic, cultural factors and variances, student agency, school culture and teaching quality.
Perhaps there are other reasons and underlying assumptions some of which can be traced to an unspoken mistrust of the practitioner as the evaluator of the student learning outcome and lack of confidence in student learning motivation and agency. The latter exasperated by the very existence of an assessment regime that permeates throughout the school system at all levels. But the main reason, it seems, is an insatiable appetite for statistical data, graphs, and summary reports something that the assessment system in place can produce effortlessly at a push of a button. While this is not explicitly stated anywhere a statement from Education NZ review document1 strikes a similar chord:
“Education NZ faces a big immediate challenge in stepping up to provide informed, highly valued information, data, analytics and insights to drive industry and government agency decision-making. We must become a knowledge-led organisation, generating highly useful and sought after intelligence and making sure it gets to the people who really need it.”
This is at best a trade-off mainly serving statistical legerdemain at the expense of a quality education. This is not to say that statistical analyses are not important, what is argued here is that they should not be the ends but the means by which policies, initiatives and mandates are formed and implemented. Given the standards of reporting and criteria for statistical gathering, teachers, and schools for that matter, are fully capable of producing meaningful data fit for purpose to support effective planning and reporting in line with frameworks already in place.
The qualifications and assessment frameworks, as important as they are, can continue unimpaired without reliance on standardised summative forms of assessment which are mainly used to collect data for accountability purposes rather than assess students’ knowledge and level of understanding.
Concluding thoughts and steps forward
What can we do if the prescriptive assessment regimes are already entrenched in the system? Obviously nothing will change and things will continue as ordained if we are silent on the issue. But if we are truly clear on the purpose of education and know how students learn in real life, what motivates them to learn more and on a deeper level, then keeping silence is doing gross injustice to everyone involved. The more the issues are brought forward into the public debate, however, the more likely there would be a broader awareness and chance to reverse the status quo. This new consciousness should permeate the entire education debate and put a well-deserved trust in practitioners’ professionalism with the understanding that reductive evaluation strategies are just a means of simplifying teaching. They produce contextually meaningless data to either appease parents, feed statistical tables for various reasons or rank schools. In effect they undermine teachers’ real contributions.
Teaching is not, has never been and will never be easy nor confined to numbers.