Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Assessment Malpractice in Saskatchewan

When a profession is run by those who have no practical experience or professional training, the professionals who do the actual work tend to be thrown to the sidelines where they will sit until they are alienated into marginal obscurity.

Want a good example of this? 

In Canada, look no further than Saskatchewan where their Minister of Education Donna Harpauer has declared martial law on teachers and assessment. She has unilaterally stepped into "save" teachers from their professional responsibility for assessing and evaluating their students. CBC news writes:

The minister of education says she is preparing a province wide grading policy that will require teachers to deduct marks if students don't do their work.
In Alberta, such a move by the Minister of Education would be considered malpractice and in violation of the Alberta Teachers'Association's Code of Professional Conduct:

2 (1) The teacher is responsible for diagnosing educational needs, prescribing and implementing instructional programs and evaluating progress of pupils.
   (2) The teacher may not delegate these responsibilities to any person who is not a teacher.
I understand that elected politicians play a role in the big picture, but when they meddle with the minutia of a profession, they risk making decisions based on pseudo common sense that is built on a house of uninformed superstition. 

For example, some "educational experts" (I use this term very loosely) have concerns about grading:

But one concern raised by educational experts is the practical problem that results if various school boards have different grading policies. An 'A' in one school division may not be equivalent to an 'A' in another.

Are they really saying it's possible for two different teachers to give the same assignment two entirely different grades? 


Are they really saying that the same teacher might grade the same paper twice in one night and give it two different grades? 

Oh my God!

Stop the presses! 

Okay, so what's the solution?

Well, in Saskatchewan Donna Harpauer has a full proof plan: because she found that five or six school divisions don't deduct marks for bad behaviour, her solution is to dictate from afar a new standardized policy for the entire province.

We really shouldn't be surprised when distant authorities, who spend little to no time in schools with children, try to solve messy problems like assessment with neat and tidy standardized policies. Standardization is a convenient solution for inconvenient problems, but so is closing the blinds during a tornado.

There's a reason why teachers are afforded the right and responsibility to be the primary assessors for their students. 

Decisions about kids should be made by the people closest to the kids. It makes little sense to me to drive the decisions further and further away from the classroom teacher, but that is exactly what is happening in education systems all over the world, including Saskatchewan. More and more people outside of the classroom are garnishing more and more power over those inside the classroom.

On issues like this, I have a whole new appreciation for what Susan Ohanian wrote in her book One Size Fits Few:
I bleed over educational insanity wherever it occurs. I knew then as I know now that it is my moral duty to offer a counterargument to people who would try to streamline, sanitize and standardize education.


  1. I must apologize. Apparently, the governor of Texas has family in Canada. If they are not related, they should be. Both seem hell bent on destroying education.

    I feel for you with poor leadership like that. In the States, too many business people are convinced we are raising widgets and not citizens. Maybe one day they will figure it out. My guess is that it will be too late at that point.

  2. As a teacher in Saskatchewan from a school division with a clear policy against grading behaviour, I appreciate your writing on this issue.We don't know the details of this new policy. Perhaps I should not be too hasty. If it is as advertised, it will be an epic fail.

    The policy to grade behaviour (mark off for absents, missed assignments, and plagiarism) contradicts the demands in this province that assessment be based solely on curriculum outcomes. The problem is never the problem, the solutions we apply to the problem are the problem.

  3. This is absolutely disgusting. I am sickened to see that someone believes that the best way to motivate students to hand in work on time is to deduct late marks. While I agree with you Joe, the bigger issue than imposing such a policy on teachers is that it is just a BAD POLICY.

    Making a wild statement here, I believe that students learn at different rates. And as a result, it should not be a surprise, it should be EXPECTED that students hand things in at different times. Why wouldn't they?

    We have spent a great deal of time dealing with this in our school, and the interesting part is that students still get the work done. And the best part is, MORE students DO the work.

    Not wanting to get into the whole mark debate here, but why would I hand in something that I know that the absolute highest mark that I can get is 50%? Talk about motivating a student NOT to do work. Do people think that deducting late marks from reluctant learners that already are unmotivated by marks makes a difference? If you don't believe me, go ask a reluctant learner if that sort of policy means anything. And at the same time, ask them if they are motivated by attendance policies too.

    The natural consequence for students not doing the work is to DO THE WORK, not get marks deducted.

    Great post Joe.

  4. I've been working with my American colleagues for a number of years now and have been continuously alarmed at the fear that has been apparent with recent years' tenets of standardized testing and the like. I've been proud of Saskatchewan's belief of Assessment For Learning - [hopefully] authentic assessment of evidence of learning to help us with teaching practice. Donna Harpauer's latest statement is appalling to us who have proudly been [attempting] to assess learning outcomes. Sadly, this statement has been received as a celebration from the nay-sayers of our hard work. tsk.tsk.

  5. Susan Ohanian bleeds; I weep and leave my classroom to fight this insanity in another arena. Too bad it is bleeding over into Canada. Resist. Encourage parents to resist.

  6. Micro-management at work in the Saskatchewan education system....


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