Teachers want professional growth not punitive measures

standardized tests
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Even current secondary school teacher and TToC (on-call teachers) union representative Tobey Steeves must contend: not all teachers are created equal. But a punitive model, he says, is the wrong path toward teacher assessment.

The war over working conditions and remuneration fought between the BC teachers’ federation and the provincial government  has gone on since the early 20th century (1919, in fact!). Let me repeat that: the early 20th century. Needless to state, the battle between the two sides still exists to this very day and the bad blood continues to stain our provincial school system.

“There are pieces on the board that were here before [we] got here and they have certain expectations of how you can move about on the board and you can tweak those expectations if you’re lucky or if you’re clever,” said Steeves. “But you have to learn the board, you have to learn the lay of the land, and you have to learn how the other pieces move before you go on assuming you can just do whatever you want.”

Steeves is an advocate of a professional growth model over any punitive one. The latter, he said, doesn’t foment a healthy teaching environment, by any means, likening it to being under a microscope, or surveilled even.

“The professional growth model I think is what, generally, teachers more prefer. In that case you have lots of like different rungs on a ladder that kind of build in support. Now, is it working as well as it might, could, or should be? that’s a great conversation to have, and part of the challenge with that process working is when teachers are continually being terrorized by additional accountability schemes and having their work cut through unconstitutional policies.”

Steeves is not against measuring teachers, but he asserts the current system is fraught with problems, referencing the current Foundation Skills Assessment administered to Grade 4 and 7 students across Canada, since 2000. The FSAs judge students’ in three areas: reading comprehension, writing and numeracy.

The results are published with the information available via freedom of information requests.

Teachers, however, have long criticized these examinations as being unfair and bias across socio-economic lines. Aboriginal students, for instance, tend to perform much poorer than non-Aboriginals.

The FSA results are notably used by the Fraser Institute and various media to, in effect, rank schools across the districts. But, this process is said to be humiliating, discouraging and perhaps disparaging of those communities with poorer test results according to the BCTF and other critics. Essentially, how does the school with the children ranked 357th feel versus the 15th or 10th?

Teachers have even encouraged parents to exempt their child from taking the FSAs allowing exigent circumstances as a plausible reason. For example, the Tyee reported, “In 2007, in 13 B.C. elementary schools, less than half the students took the Grade 7 reading part of the test, and in 26 more schools, a quarter of the students opted out of that portion.”

Flyers released by the BCTF and currently available for download online further claim that, while “the proponents of increased standardized testing, data collection, and ranking imply that teachers are afraid of assessment,” it is a myth.

“There’s no question I need to evaluate teachers,” said Steeves, “but do I support teachers in the professional growth model or the punitive model?”

“Supported, not terrorized,” was the form he used.

Yet, he admits, there are indeed weak links within the profession.

“I do understand there are teachers who are problems in front of the classroom. I’ve been in the classroom with some and I would be a liar if I said this wasn’t the case.”

“In my career as a student I had no examples of what I would hold to be outstanding educators,” Steeves said.

But, despite recognizing there exists broken cogs within our provincial education machine, he reiterates his position against any punitive measures and failure of the FSAs, or almost any standardized test, as a true measuring stick of a teacher’s effectiveness.

The underlying reason: parents and the indeterminateness of student success.

Steeves reveals another glaring truth that, just the same as teachers, not all parents are created equal.

This is, in a nutshell, the reason for the hesitance, or perhaps outright rebellion, against teacher assessment based around student performance, especially in regard to standardized testing.

He explains: A student with great parents may not succeed in school and achieve a good education outcome. The same is true in reverse. The essence is that the outcome of a student—of any individual—is indeterminate. Standardized tests only exacerbate the problem for certain student groups.

Furthermore, Steeves asserts, “We’ve got less librarians, we’ve got less school councillors, less services across the board. I mean 200-plus schools have been closed across B.C. since 2001-02.”

“I think there is a strong need for a non-rosy kind of picture here, there are some worms in the apple that we do have to address. But we are so far away from being able to address that in an equitable and professional way.”

Steeves put the situation in terms of a threat, terrorizing. Perhaps that’s the problem as human instinct when feeling threatened is to lash out in return.

What’s clear is there’s no solution in store. Provincial parties continue to push for teacher assessment, with the NDP on record stating it would remove standardized testing, but plan to replace it with some other, remodelled province-wide examinations.

What’s even clearer is that with nearly a century of negotiating, both sides know how to play this game and the children remain pawns on this ever-evolving board.

Brandon Kostinuk
Brandon graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in comparative history and a political science minor. After a two-year stint as a compliance researcher at a private financial firm, he moved on to an accelerated journalism program at Langara College. Brandon currently freelances, sharing time at a local startup magazine and content writing.