Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Moderation

There are two types of standardised testing going on in my classroom at the moment. The Year 5s are about to embark on NAPLAN - a three day extravaganza of high stakes testing in literacy and numeracy which leads to whichever of the 7 states/territories (and their teachers) which land near the bottom being beaten up by the media, their bosses and the Premier/Prime Minister.

The Year 6s have just completed QCATS, a literacy test which is more like regular classroom assessment. This year it was a description, an itinerary and a justification. This is low stakes testing, more used as a professional development tool for teachers.

This afternoon we spent two hours with Year 6 teachers from other schools reviewing marked QCAT tests and moderating them so we had a clear understanding of what different marks should look like. We began with those marks which had been rated as an 'A' from each school, moving our way onto the Cs - from this point, Ds and Bs are pretty obvious, as are Es. All marks have to be strictly matching 'Guides to Making Judgements' and we have to justify how we think a piece of work fits into a particular judgement.

For me, this is fairly routine. We moderate before all report cards, so - depending on the group of people you're with - it's a fairly painless procedure. I was with a great group, with a great moderator, so there were no real conflicts in our final decisions. What challenged me today was the amount of literary understanding I had to show to explain why a piece was deserving of a certain grade.

This struck me, particularly as the state newspaper has recently been making a big deal about how primary teachers are not 'experts' with 'higher degrees' in all areas of their curriculum (how many people do you know who have degrees in English, Maths, Social Sciences, Science, all forms of Arts, engineering (technology), and health and physical education . . .) As teachers we become experts through the work we do, through the time we spend researching a topic, through communicating with people who are experts in their field. We become experts in strange fields of knowledge like Antarctica, Fantasy Novels, the Australian Goldrush, Newspaper publication, Australian Government, the Olympic Games. Not to mention pedagogy, child psychology, special needs education, how to make a miniscule budget reach far and wide and how to teach your class when the class next door (without a divider between you and them) are going nutty.

Was today a valuable use of our time. Well the afternoon tea was great, which is usually a good indicator :) Seriously, though, there was a lot of high level, serious professional talk going on. I got to read an amazing piece of writing, written by an 11 year old. And I feel more confident in my own ability to make considered judgements.

But, on the other hand, in a state where the government has not even made us a pay offer, although our old one has expired, it made for a 10 hour day, without a real break today, on 5 hour pay (basically $12.5 an hour not counting work I have to do at home - I made more working in a food court). As with everything, there's good and bad in the mix.

Bring on next week and the end of testing.

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