Should numbers define what matters?

2012-05-28 07.35.07







“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Albert Einstein.

Have you noticed how we tend to split what goes on in a child’s education in school into two categories? Sometimes we call them the curriculum and the extra-curricular. The meaning of “extra” here is that it is outside. More recently people have preferred to use co-curricular, so it is “with” rather than “outside”, but still not the curriculum. Sometimes we just talk about lessons and activities. I suppose this implies that lessons are not active, and in many cases this may be true. However the converse which is that activities are not where students learn is definitely not true.

The big distinction, though, is that there are a range of things that students do that matter, and we show this by attaching a grade to them, a number or a letter. Alongside, there is another range of things that we do not grade, and so they do not matter so much. However much we might like to agree with Einstein, there is a very strong implication in all schools and all educational systems that things that are assessed are more important than things which are not. Why else would you hear students asking “Will this be graded?”, “Will this be put on the assessment system?” and “Is it on the exam?”

And yet, we all say how important the “extra” or the “co” or the “activities” are! We all encourage students to take part in all things that go on in our schools that are not in the assessed courses, so perhaps deep down we really think they are important and we recognise that learning happens everywhere, Why do we insist on practising assessment apartheid on these second class experiences?

Let’s stop all this by including everything a student does in an assessment system that allows them to showcase the evidence of their learning from wherever it comes. Give them the freedom to add anything from inside the school or outside the school (Heresy! Kids learn outside school too?) to the collection of evidence and let them ask for assessment comments from coaches and instructors, peers and collaborators and even (gasp!) parents. Let’s then take the next step of dropping the grading that reduces a wonderful child’s experience to a number.

An assessment system like that would be worth having!

If you think that the numbers are not a problem, try to assign a grade to the two wonderful pieces of Art at the top of this post in a way that really tells you something about them and doesn’t reduce them to ridicule.

Hong Kong Roofs: Joyce Hadiwibawa

Guernica. Pablo Picasso


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