We were recently told that our board is moving to a formal exam for every course model. We’re told that this needs to happen because if we don’t use formal exam days for formal exams, we’ll lose the days. Perhaps we should lose the days. Formal exams are an echo from the past. Desperately trying to ‘keep’ them by forcing them on everyone isn’t the best approach to learning, it never was. Clinging to status quo thinking seldom produces outstanding results in anything.
This conundrum once again has me feeling the friction between academic and technology classrooms. To the majority of subjects in our school, an exam for every class simply means setting up more desks and running off more photocopies.
One of our auto-shop teachers tried running a ‘formal’ exam this semester. He had tinkered with a car and then had students diagnose it. Since he doesn’t have a 24 bay garage, he has to have students approach the car one at a time in order to diagnose it. Because he is expected to have all students in the room at the same time (exams are blocked into two hour scheduled time periods, one per day), he had students come up one at a time to diagnose and resolve the problems while the rest wrote written tests that did not reflect how students had learned in his class during the semester.
|Cookie cutter exam schedules for cookie cutter learners.|
The formal exam structure didn’t work at all in the shop. The first kid up shouted out, “do you want me to change out this fuse?” and suddenly everyone in the room knew an answer. It then kept happening. When you’ve been teaching students to collaborate on diagnostics all semester, why would you suddenly have a summative that demands they don’t? Even if that’s what a ‘formal’ exam is?
All that effort to create a genuine assessment within a standardized exam structure was wasted, but that doesn’t stop us from being expected to bring meaningful assessment to all our technology students in this cookie cutter final exam format. How meaningful can this two hour window be when our courses are tactile, stochastic and experiential? In a class where there is a linear progression from question to answer, and were the skills are assessed on paper this works a treat, but not in tech.
Coop avoids the exam problem by creating individual summatives (each student has an interview). Of course this means that each teacher is handling 25+ hours of assessment for each class they teach. I’m surprised that they can stuff all that meaningful assessment into a single exam week. While this resolves the problem of trying to fit individualized exams into cookie cutter academic schedules, it doesn’t address the complexity of creating an entire class set of experiential problems of equal complexity (you couldn’t have the same problem because the first student out would happily tell the rest what they are about to face). Creating individualized, immersive simulation for each student might be the ultimate in summatives, but a factory styled school system isn’t remotely designed to produce that kind of individualized learning opportunity.
|Is this what an exam for every course looks like? Kinda like
the floor of a very serious factory, or a university…
Would I like to create a ‘formal’ exam that offers my computer students real-world, immersive, experiential computer technology problem solving? You bet, but expecting me to do that in a two hour window for dozens of students at a time suggests that the actual goal here isn’t meaningful and genuine so much as generic and formulaic, like most ‘formal’ exams.
‘Formal’ exam is code for a university-styled, written, academic assessment. It typically involves lots of photocopying and students sitting in rows writing answers to the same questions. The teacher then spends a lot of time trying to assign value to this dimensionless form of assessment. Like many other aspects of high school, formal exams are high school teachers imitating the university professors they wished they could be.
|For hundreds of thousands of dollars with corporate sponsorship
and post-secondary support, Skills Ontario championships
create meaningful, experiential tech-assessment.
If you’re looking for an example of an immersive, complex, skills based assessment, we have a fantastic home-grown example. Skills Canada does a great job of creating experiential assessment of technology knowledge and tactile abilities, but with million dollar budgets and support from all levels of government, private business and post secondary education, they exist in a different world from my classroom. They’re also catering to the top 1% of 1% of technology students. I have to cater to the other 99.9% with nothing like that kind of budget.
I’ve been mulling over how I’m supposed to create meaningful assessment for my technology students in that two hour time slot and I’m stumped. No budget is forthcoming to purchase equipment and tools so that I can have every student doing the same thing at the same time – I don’t even have enough screwdrivers for all students to be building computers at the same time, let alone the computer parts needed to build them. Those would be computer parts that some students would not ground themselves properly when installing. Funding wouldn’t just need to be there for tools, it would also have to be there to replace breakage due to incompetence.
Technology teachers already struggle trying to explain technology costs to academics with only a vague understanding and little experience in apprenticeship and the trades. When students are heavy handed or absent minded it costs us money to replace what they break, yet we struggle to get funded on par with academic courses that do most of their work on paper.
Now we face the prospect of being forced to reduce our tactile, experiential, immersive learning into cookie cutter summatives that jive with the pre-existing academic scheduling. Just when you think we might be evolving beyond the 20th Century factory model of education it rears its ugly head and demands reductionist assessment for all. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were looking to diversify summatives instead of cramming them all into the same schedule that existed fifty years ago?