The Slippery Slope
“The principal goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” ~Jean Piaget~
For the first time in almost 20 years, my school, along with the rest of Ontario’s public elementary schools are missing out on the annual ‘conversation’ about the results of the annual grade 3 and 6 provincial EQAO assessments. EQAO opted not administer the assessments after public elementary teachers refused to participate in the testing process as part of the work to rule sanctions imposed in the spring. Whatever one’s opinions are on standardized testing (not the focus of this post) it has made for an interesting fall.
Normally, at this time of the year school and system leaders are responding to the results on multiple fronts. Depending on the numbers, one could be dancing in the hallways and serving cake in the staff room, or sweating through an angry parent meeting trying to articulate the plan that will raise the scores and floating in stream of the annual media hand wringing about the decline of our system and our inability to ‘compete’.
Serendipity being what it is, our school board did engage in some broadly-based data collection last year- we conducted a system-wide student engagement survey. Near the end of the school year students in grades 5 to12 were invited to complete a questionnaire on a few key aspects of their life at school. Over 52,000 students completed the survey (mostly online) representing 72% of our student population- a pretty robust sample size.
One of the key areas the survey focused on was how our students perceived their schools as engaging, modern learning environments. A slice of data in this area of our student survey is represented below:
The percentage values on the left (light blue) represent responses from our gr.5-8 (middle school) students and those on the right (navy) are responses from our gr.9-12 (high school) students. What is noteworthy for me is the quantity of students who feel that their voices, values and interests are not evident in the school they attend and the decline in each category’s percentages from the middle school to high school results.
It reminds me of the results reported from the survey the Gallup organization conducted with a similar aged cohort of over 500 000 American students in 2012. An 80’s themed piece on this report can be found in The Atlantic .
Engagement and motivation are essential for deep learning. Whatever one’s stance or perspective is on what school should be; it’s pretty clear to me our students are telling us in no uncertain terms that school is not what it could be. Do we really wish to be part of a system that gradually erodes the enthusiasm and joy of learning of the majority of the children it is designed to serve?
This past week I had the opportunity to listen to an address by Will Richardson in which he challenged us to consider the beliefs we hold about our own learning and reflect upon whether these beliefs were evident in the actions we take in our schools and classrooms. I think (hope) most of us know that the things we do to children do not reflect what we know we ought to be doing- and yet we persist.
Regardless of your role, if you work in schools now, knowing what our students have told us, how will you respond?