This summary of the session appears in Pattison, Tania (ed), IATEFL Selections 2013, UK, 2014
Assessing the unsassessed or the unassessible: issues of school evaluation
Maria-Araxi Sachpazian, Input on Education, Thessaloniki, Greece.
The debate regarding school assessment
If seen superficially, any discussion on School Assessment (SA) seems unnecessary as professionals know the strengths and weaknesses of the schools where they teach. Quite contrary to this emotional take on the issue systematic assessment of our practices, which can render quantifiable data, is the only means available to us in order to initiate change and improve the work of the school.
Unfortunately, there are many obstacles standing between SA and the formation of clear conclusions related with the efficacy of the school. First of all, assessing schools is not straightforward as schools are complicated organisations (White et al. 2008: 26-27), with many of their features remaining either unassessed, because they slip under the assessment radar, or unassessible because they are too qualitative to be quantified. Secondly, defining what a good teacher is or what makes a good lesson is hard to standardise (Coleman et al. 2005: 149). Even the tools used in SAs (observations, questionnaires, interviews) are highly subjective and can easily give us a misleading idea of what actually happens in the school after the SA is over. Finally, when SA is carried out by external inspection teams, educational issues cannot be fully understood in the limited time available. An internal assessment which might solve this problem, may stumble on a worse one: lack of objectivity.
Confusion made worse
Many think that through SA we can manage to identify policies of excellence, which can be applied by other schools in an effort to create ‘’recipes’’ for effective schools. While that sounds promising, only indications of what has worked in other schools can be given, not exact practices that can be duplicated. (Harris 2002:7)
Others have related SA solely with accountability and the upward or downward movement of the staff. This has discouraged the employees from actually investing on the SA and has created a contradiction: although the assessment is supposed to take place for the benefit of the school, the staff tends to be less than excited about it. Relating SAs closely with accountability means that the element of change, which is what teachers hope to get out of an in-depth assessment of the school practices, is removed. Therefore, the SA seems to be irrelevant to the real issues that touch upon the teaching reality of that school, which explains why the staff members do not invest emotionally on it.
Another area of confusion is that of relating the success of the students with the efficacy of the school. Contrary to the opinion of the non-experts, student achievement cannot account for the efficacy of the school, as the student intake is carefully scrutinized so that only the high scorers are accepted (Coleman et al. 2005: 149). Student achievement is an indicator of school efficacy but we cannot rely on it to evaluate the actual process of teaching. The area that might render useful data might be that of the actual effect the school has had on the lives and personalities of the learners but this is far too difficult to study. (Coleman et al. 2005:136-137,139)
Towards a self-regulated model of SA
So far we have seen SA as externally imposed and top-down. Undoubtedly, this mode of SA is significant but hopefully in the near future SA will be more closely associated with continuous professional development and be considered as agent of change, rather than a means of firing or promoting. In that case SA ought to become part of the reflective practice of the school with the staff determining what is assessed and the criteria to assess it. Ideally, the only real way of assessing whether such a SA has been successful would be to check the extent of sustainable change that it has inspired and the progress the entire school has made.
The obvious benefit of this self-regulated model of SA is that the staff would feel more connected to the SA, since it would emerge as a need from within. Therefore, it would be more closely related with the real issues that matter to the people of the school and it would have more chances of being sustained. Moreover, comparing the findings of the external and internal SA would enable the school administration to rate data that has so far remained either unassessed or was considered unassessible which would help administration reach more reliable conclusions regarding the kind of change that needs to be initiated.
Harris, A. 2002. School Improvement. What’s in it for schools? New York: Routledge
White, R. and Hockley, A. and Van der Horst Jensen, J. and Laughner, M. 2008. From Teacher to Manager. Managing Language Teaching Organisations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Coleman, M. and Earley, P. 2005. Leadership and Management in Education: Cultures, Change and Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press
If you want to view the slides: http://www.scribd.com/doc/213061796/Assessing-the-Unassessed-or-the-Unassessible-TESOL-GREECE-2014
Photo found at http://www.eckhobristol.com
The snowman and me
I remember finding ”The snowman” in the library of the first Foreign Language School where I had a job teaching mainly junior classes. Although I was fascinated by it, I could not (and still can’t) put my finger on what exactly impressed me more. Perhaps the reflection of silver white snow, the great music or the lack of script which makes this Christmas story perfect to use with any level and to focus on any skills the teacher wishes to enhance.
Not having worked with it for years, I decided to use The snowman once again this year with my C1 Class and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that all my teenage learners were engaged with the story.
Choices to be made
Since I did not want to spend too much class time watching the video and since we had to watch it quite a few times, I opted not to work with the full version, which lasts about 26 minutes. Instead, I chose the part that shows the snowman and the boy flying and is beautifully accompanied by the song ”Walking in the air.” This version lasts for about 4 minutes and is more flexible when used in the classroom.
The first time we watched the video, the learners were given no information about what they would be watching. There was no worksheet or task. Their sole task was to imagine what happened before this scene and how the boy must be feeling. These two questions were an introduction to the story and also a springboard for discussion on the short video clip.
The second viewing and the worksheet.
The second viewing was the one on which we devoted more class time. The first task was to listen only to the song and write the words missing. This task, apart from being relaxing and pleasant, helps learners to focus on the song which interprets the story and provides the only script available. When looking at the worksheet (to be uploaded later on) one can easily notice that I did not remove many words. This was done on purpose as I did not wish to stress the learners and turn this into a listening test. Learners were also given the option to pair up with another classmate during this activity. After checking answers, learners had the chance to discuss the title ”Walking in the air” and how appropriate it is. Once again the issue of flying and being free and weightless were brought up.
The next activity is a sequencing one. The learners had to put the places over which our two characters fly in order of appearance. To be honest, I expected that this activity would tire learners or start a range of disagreements but fortunately it worked out perfectly and gave learners a firm graps of the storyline. The questions that follow on the worksheet are less focused on comprehension ones and more more aimed at making learners visualise the feelings of the two characters, which will help them make their writing more realistic.
The final activity is a writing one. This year I opted for a text and after setting it up in class, I’ve asked learners to do it as homework.So hopefully I will be able to uplooad some work samples after the holidays. Despite the fact that short stories and poems are not genres candidates might encounted at a C1 or C2 exam, I feel that getting a chance to try them out gives learners a better understanding of the appropriate style for non-factual, creative writing.
The main gains from The snowman.
This lovely cartoon story is versitile enough to work in different classrooms and because of its versatility it engages learners of different learning styles. Therefore, my way of using it this year is by no means exhaustive. One main gain from using it is that learners can do an amusing Christmas activity with true lignuistic gain which also allows them to work on their skills.
This year the writing activity was more or less guided but for next year I am planning to add some guided visualisation which will allow learners to see themselves flying over their own city and write about their personal experience. Antoher writing idea is to have learners tell the story from the aspect of the people the snowman and the boy meet on their journey in the sky. This will give them the chance to create about four or five entirely different short stories which can be the different parts of a mosaic.
The more I ”play” with The snowman the more mesmerised I feel and the more teaching possibilities I find in it. Hopefully, there will be many more classes and many more Christmases so that my learners and I can try working with different aspects of The snowman
This is the slideshow from the session in PDF format.
Educational effectiveness can be defined as the effect a school has on its students’ development. Assessing the effectiveness of a school is not a straightforward issue because it touches upon many issues. Moreover, most of the data is hard to quantify.
Firstly, the aim behind the evaluation must be specified. If we believe that the outcomes of the evaluation will lead to the isolation of good practices, we accept that generalisations about schools can always be made. If we claim that evaluating schools will lead to the avoidance of wrong practices, then school assessment is directly related with change. Therefore, effective evaluation should mean assessing whether change has occurred.
Another issue is the importance of student assessment and whether its results can be presented as proof of school efficacy. Although, according to Educational Research schools that give their students ‘’added value’’ are those which make a difference, we have to examine whether this can be attributed to the school or whether students have been ‘’screened’’ to fit a certain profile. Finally, school assessment delves into classroom based issues (i.e. what effective teaching is, how high expectations can be linked with increased student performance), which very often impedes teaching by forcing teachers to teach in an accepted ‘’observer’’ mode. Sadly, teachers are often poorly supported for this.
This presentation aims to examine the theories behind school evaluation and to present an overview of the issues related with it. Secondly, it will point out the relationships between assessment, change and staff development.
 Macbeath and Mortimor, 2001 in Coleman Marianne & Earley Peter (eds), (2005), Leadership and Management in Education: Cultures, Change and Context. Oxford University Press, page 139