erasers - a post about assessment

Gertrude the Bureaucrat pulls me aside this summer, "I know you plan to use pencils this year, but you're not planning to let them use erasers are you?"

"I think it's a great tool. Students can erase mistakes as they go or they can erase them after the fact."

"Yes, but how do you have common assessments if you don't have common methods of assessing?"  By "common" she means "standardized."  Common is multilateral and democratic.  Standardized is unilateral and authoritarian.

"I'm not sure I see your point," I add.

"Well, a kid can just erase his or her work at any given point."

"Isn't that what learning is all about?  What about our slogans of life-long learning and loving learning?  If that's the case, how do you justify an end point?"

She goes into a long lecture about formative and summative assessment and I tune her out.  It's a small battle to fight and I nod my head.   See, if pencils and erasures represent anything good, it is the notion that one can always change.  Growth is always possible.  Learning is not a fixed commodity, but a journey.

"How will you grade their work if they can just go back and change things?" she asks.

"I don't grade it.  They do portfolios."

"Won't that make kids lazy?" she asks.

"Not at all.  They work harder because I take away the bribes and extortion. I can't claim to support the notion of developing democratic citizens and go with a totalitarian style of assessment."

"This goes against standard pedagogy," she objects.

"Tell me, why would you ask me to use differentiated instruction and assess in one format only? And why would you ask me to have students collaborate and then force them to compete for grades?"

The conversation ends with a long lecture on the Bell Curve.  I listen for awhile and then we "agree to disagree" which is a nice way of saying, "we'll just choose to casually ignore one another."

See, the issue isn't about pencils or erasers.  The issue is about the purpose of learning and assessment.  If I want to use assessments to help students, I can't be the bully.  I can't be a dictator.  An adversarial relationship leads to fear.  I don't want a fear-based classroom.  So I let them re-write work.  I let them use the erasers.  I need a positive classroom in order to gain their trust enough for me to speak truth into their lives.

She finally ends with, "All your cuddly bunny coddling is doing a disservice to them. It's not how the real world operates."  Perhaps.  But I have a hunch that in the real world they just might use erasers.

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