During our in-service on Friday, the presenter brought up differentiation and the general consensus that it is necessary/impossible in our classrooms. She suggested that instead of focusing on differentiating curriculum, we differentiate assessment instead. She gave the example of a student she had once taught, one with an 80 IQ, who had great difficulty reading and writing. However, he had an intuitive understanding of the literature, a more insightful grasp than any of her other students. But he couldn't pass her tests, couldn't write to grade level standards, so she failed him. She talked about how much she regrets that, how she could have counted his insightful contributions to class discussions as assessments, given him other alternate assessments that would have provided him an opportunity to pass her course.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I understand that people learn different ways, thus the need for differentiation. Problem is, given the time constraints and our class sizes, meaningful differentiation of instruction isn't always possible. Sometimes, we do it hit or miss--appealing to one set of learners one day, another set the next. Too often that's the best we can do.
But differentiating assessment speaks to something else entirely. It sounds good initially, but then we have to ask ourselves, doesn't that change the game altogether, and perhaps unfairly, for a lot of students? If, for example, the point of a particular course is to train students to read critically and write at a particular level, but we choose to assess some of them based on their ability to discuss verbally and pass them based on that ability, even though they haven't demonstrated the skills the course was supposed to teach--what the hell? And just how long do you think a school administration would support a teacher doing that? I can tell you--until the first parental complaint, at which point that teacher would be hung out to dry.
I agree with Bloom
that our kids are being treated as if they are "cans of beans" --part of this is happening due to the continuing effort by the government to run education in the same way profitable business is run. In that scenario, students become product, their achievement (or lack of it) a measure of our
productivity, and thus we set the same expectations for every kid, which is unreasonable and impractical. My question is what should be the alternative? I don't like the current model, I think it is harmful to many students who don't meet the government-established standards, but what should we be doing instead? Any ideas?