“Data-driven initiatives in schools, for the most part, are restricted to a positivist point of view that sees quantification as the only measure of student progress.” (Gordon, 2010, p. 87)
I read this and sat back and said “Wow”. In order to understand my reaction, let me give you some insight into my experience of late in my school. Over the last 4 years, my principal has worked diligently to have our staff move towards designing student-centred assessments. I take pride in the fact that our success rate is about 88% in all credits offered, and our suspension rate has dropped about 400%. But somewhere in grade 10, particularly in males, students become disengaged and find new avenues to pursue outside of our walls. As well our literacy rates on the Ontario standardized tests have dropped 8% in 2 years.
What hasn’t changed is the system. Teachers exercise control over what texts students read, what topics they can choose and how they will display their understanding of the prescribed material. Teachers complain that students aren’t accountable for missed work and late assignments, but the stakes aren’t real to these students. Teachers are still more concerned with the efficiency of their assessment over what’s best for the students, and summative assessments don’t reflect the big ideas of the whole course.
An inquiry-based model would put the onus for success back where it belongs — on the students. As Violet Harada (2010) says: “Learning is not about raising test scores. It is about building a foundation of responsible, reflective, rigorous, and resilient thinking.” (p. 13) As the leadership team in my school develops yet another staff survey to gather data on our success, I can’t help think that this is energy misspent. We need to get more comfortable with qualitative data and Harada suggests that this may come in the form of evidence folders. Once criteria of student success has been established, we can develop measurement instruments.
The opportunity in this paradigm shift from teacher-centred to student-centred comes with the ultimate prize: student engagement. The apathy that we see in attendance rates and dropout rates is due to the education system’s inability to relinquish control. If we provide a system that does not regulate when learning begins and ends; if we can clearly state learning outcomes that students must adhere to; if we can create the ideal conditions for every student to engage in their own learning pursuits; then students will become accountable to themselves. They will truly understand that they are capable of meeting any problem head-on through their own resourcefulness. This is the prize of inquiry.
Gordon, C. A. (n.d.). The culture of inquiry in school libraries. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1).
Harada, V. H. (2010). Librarians as learning leaders: Cultivating cultures of inquiry. In S. Coatney (Ed.), The many faces of school library leadership (pp. 13-28). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.