Protect our young from grading game
A DAD'S LIFE:Spirit-sucking exercise is bad for our children, writes ADAM BROPHY
I HATED the Leaving Cert. It loomed at the end of secondary education with its whopping great red pen and its insistence that it would determine the rest of your life.
It was a greedy, nasty, self-obsessed exam. The type that said, you will give me the answers I have told you to give me, and if you dare suggest that an alternative may be appropriate I will wreak havoc with this here red pen and you, sir, might well find yourself signing nothing more than your name, weekly, on a dole slip, for the rest of your days.
I see no reason to think anything has changed. Most students who sat exams last month will have their immediate future dictated by those grades. Little or no consideration will be given to personal circumstances or particular non-academic talents. Very little attention will have been paid to students’ particular aptitudes and what careers might actually suit them. As usual, the brightest will go on to study medicine or become actuaries, not because they have any interest in easing human suffering, or care that your house has been built on a flood plain, but because that’s where the kids with six A1’s go.
The next time you sit in a surgery, fretting over the results of blood tests and your prognosis is delivered with sledgehammer subtlety, ask yourself is the person facing you suited to the rather sensitive job he or she is in?
Are any of us? Or are we muddling through ill-fitting careers due to a set of results that came on an August morning many years ago?
Our final school exam rewards students who can absorb information and regurgitate it. Unfortunately, we need more than that.
On a global scale we need to think our way out of the tricky situation our economy, and our way of life, have floundered into. On a personal level, to achieve any level of happiness we need to find at least a small amount of satisfaction in our work. For people to be encouraged into areas where such satisfaction is possible, far greater attention needs to be paid to their end-of-secondary-education assessment.
Neither of my kids are facing into the exam any time soon but our first ever school reports landed through the letter box recently.
Primary school kids, from first class up, face standardised testing in language and maths skills. The results for our pair have shown that they are both, to our relief, academically fine.
If they continue to concentrate, and study the required revision notes in years to come, they should be well positioned to serve up the usual guff about Hamlet’s procrastination and repeat their French teacher’s views on trade unions and the treatment of HIV, complete with appropriate idiomatic Gallic phrasing. In other words, they’ll be university ready.
So far, so normal. What concerned me about the reports was the huge variation in their teachers’ grades on both kids. Both scored similarly in the standardised testing, but to read the actual breakdown you would think one child was a Mensa candidate, while the other was struggling to stay afloat.
This concerns me. Neither of the breakdown marks reflect accurately the real strengths or weaknesses of these kids. And this makes apparent to me that, even if standardised testing has been introduced, standardised assessment has not. Different teachers have wildly varying benchmarks against which they assess the kids in their classes. Some are enthusiastic and exuberant, others overly demanding and negative. Neither of which are accurate or useful.
Until there is clarity on how even the youngest of kids should be graded, don’t grade them at all. Instead, help them to read, write, multiply and divide, and encourage them to inquire and create. Foster investigation without the fear of being graded. Allow the spirit-sucking exercise of grading be put off until their secondary school days.
I would rather a broader assessment of a student’s abilities be the basis on which college places are awarded, but until that type of assessment can be impartial and accurate, maybe the points system is the best we can do. But can we keep that education by fear ethos away from young kids.