Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Peer Evaluation vs "Passing Back"

Caught a student teacher having her students pass their assignments back for the student behind to mark (last person in row brings it forward to person in front desk). This is a fairly common practice among classroom teachers, but it is a very, very bad idea.

It is bad evaluation practice because students routinely 'fix' mistakes for their friends, misinterpret directions or answers, are too narrowly literal or too generously accepting of variations in acceptable answers. The assessment data produced thus collected is therefore unreliable-- and if the data one is collecting is unreliable, why bother?

it is unprofessional because grading is the teacher's responsibility, and should not be delegated to student slave labour -- time spent by students marking other student work for the teacher may well save the teacher's time and energy, but diverts class time from learning. The teacher is supposed to be there for the students' needs, not the other way around.

But mostly my objection is that it is an unethical practice because it violates the students' right to confidentiality. Teachers may regard "passing back" of spelling or math tests a trivial matter, and the waste of instructional time or the danger of unreliable data of little importance. But the student (and their parents) may take a different view.

My daughter, for example, has dysgraphia (a relative of dysexia) that makes it difficult for her to spell. For years, teachers using 'passing back' marking caused my daughter considerable embarrassment as the students marking her work invariably told others in the class laughable examples of my daughter's poor spelling. As a consequence, all her peers believed her to be a weak student (they of course phrased it in less complimentary ways) and their taunting caused her no end of difficulties. All because (a few of) her teachers shirked their responsibilities for marking. And she is just one example -- by definition, every classroom has students who perform badly for one reason or another (including lack of ability) and they all have the unconditional right not to be humiliated. If students choose to share their scores with each other that is one thing; but it is unethical and unprofessional for a teacher to disclose a student's grade to the class or to allow students to view other students grades--the practice is simply unacceptable.

So it is a topic that I hammer on pretty heavily in my evaluation classes. So when I found a student teacher doing "passing back" marking, I of course questioned her. To my utter astonishment, instead of saying she had to because her Teacher Associate insisted, or admitting she'd slept through that part of the evaluation course, she said that she thought we had told her to include peer assessment in her evaluation strategy! As if 'passing back' marking constituted peer assessment! After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I tried to explain the difference between having kids scoring a quiz for the teacher, and students providing constructive feedback to each other through portfolio conferencing, workshops, rubric design, etc., etc., etc. Not sure how successful I was. Generations of teachers have modeled bad evaluation practice; it is an uphill battle to move the profession towards more professional practice. If all this student teacher has ever seen is 'pass it back', how could she know to, or how to, organize her students for peer evaluation?