How are we assessing competencies among children in school settings?


Teaching is definitely one of the most challenging jobs one can have, and there is so much pressure placed on pedagogues to ‘get it right’. When formal basic primary education was designed, instruction was extremely personalized and differentiated. We began teaching, as a formalized role in a setting wherein learners at all ages and levels were present. This was our ‘one-room schoolhouse’. Today, we have entire buildings, sometimes complexes, dedicated to teaching and learning.

We separate students by grade and skill level. Within each grade, with a much increased number of learners, there are numerous classrooms for students. Each class can hold up to 30 students. One would think that since one classroom is filled with students at the same grade level, teachers’ jobs would be easier. Hence, we began to standardize the teaching process, and assigned teachers to content specialty areas and concentrated instructional focus. However, even though students can be in the same grade, same age and developmental levels, they are still very unique beings and they cannot be themselves standardized. They also learn at different paces and have different learning styles. And, combined with cultural influences, learning and assessing strengths and competency adds another dimension to assessment of skill and competency. Standardized?? Not.

Broken down further, the schoolhouse educators were initially community-based instructors. You lived in that same community in which you taught. Relevance was not too far removed, and cultural responsiveness was a no-brainer. Because teachers and entire staff lived amongst the students and their families, shopped at the same grocery stores, and whose children played at the same parks, relationships were built into the equation. Whether the community was multi-culturally comprised or all backgrounds were similar, teachers were in-tuned with the ‘network’ itself.

Today, in most public schools, all is the same regarding the students and their families as always. This is taking into account the diversity of communities. The major difference for teaching and learning is that the teachers do not reside in or near the communities in which they teach. Neither do principals or other administrative staff, including student support staff. Relationships are not naturally cultivated, but they could be fostered just the same. They aren’t.

So, you don’t live in the area that you teach. That is no excuse for not getting to know your students or their families. So, you’re white and they are black. That, too, is no excuse. So, you’re middle class and they may live in poverty, same thing. It is still your job to teach these youngsters and engage their families as people just as are you. You have an even more challenging job, but not impossible.

Today’s teaching staff don’t have to relocate to live near their students, although the commute would be money saving. You are required to get to know these people, especially the young children in your school. They may call any country home, any religion their faith, and any language their native tongue. They are still placed before you to effectively facilitate quality instruction that almost ensures positive learning outcomes.

Different cultures, communities, family structure, economic circumstances, housing status, are but life mysteries for you to solve in the process of providing relevance, focusing on strengths and not deficiencies. Besides, who says the elements you consider deficient are just that? Surely they are culturally based and thus biased judgements. Standardization of education, teaching and learning is irrelevant to non-standard children and families. Who decided the standards? They are inherently biased. The majority of teaching staff in our public school systems in urban areas[large cities] are white and the learners are non-white. The vast majority of staff do not reside in the same areas, nor are they economically matched. Bottom line-completely different experiences, different realities and different competencies-none standard.

Determining relevance is not an outside looking in construct. So, before we endeavor to strategize competency based education, we must ensure that the competency is flexibly determined, and we have established comprehension via relevance first, and ample opportunities for practical application. Then ensure that we have transferred skill into the standardized usage of that skill, idea, concept or construct. Therefore, we haven’t negated the learners’ culturally-determined skills. If we look more close-up into the lives of others with different life experiences, circumstances and backgrounds, we will see arange of  developmentally appropriate competencies.

Teaching has become more humanized, not standardized and now requires a more up-close and personal view of each child who enters the classroom. Stop using Dick and Jane and their experiences to assess competence, and reflect your students first. Then introduce the windows. Once introduced, we must still maintain relevance as primary foray into introduction of instructional content.

Teachers, a few of your solutions to relevance:

  • at lunch, sit outside in the playground and listen and watch the children play. You’ll learn a lot about how they learn and what they know
  • drive through the community to become familiar and get acquainted with the general feel of the area. Get to know the ‘hot spots’ where people gather
  • make it your business to attend neighborhood events and mingle. People will know you care and are different from the rest
  • attend an after-school activity or program. You may also get insights into your students outside the formal learning setting. Parents may also be present, and there could be opportunities to chat
  • become friendly with the school’s crossing guard or safety agent. There are bound to be valuable insights there with potential answers about attendance and tardiness siblings, etc…
  • when the school has an event that is optional for you, make it mandatory but completely voluntary that you attend
  • go to the local candy store where children buys snacks and get to know the store owner-more insights
  • attend local political events, rallies and such to understand community needs and concerns along with getting to know the active members connected to your school
  •  listen to the music students like. They may be ‘noise’ to you, but inform you of their life, dreams and the people they look up to and admire
  • read the local newspaper to find out a host of things about the area and locate events of interest to you and potentially important for students and parents to be aware
  • go to the source. Talk to your students themselves in an informal pow-wow’ to let them tell you who they are, what they do, want, need and how you can help them become more connected to learning in school
  • think big, dream big, encourage big, support consistently, be reliable and believe for them until or even if they don’t believe in themselves. Tell them they ‘can’ and mean it.

Get to know your students, involve their families, have field trips into the community[for yourself and then with students and families], take the whole child approach to teaching and learning, and please teach outside the box as often as allowed…that is until we design a more respectful, inclusive, flexible, and culturally responsive box in which to frame and guide educational frameworks. Introduce a new scope into the teaching sequence.

This nation, up to this point, has become more populated with black and brown children and they will and are attending our schools. There is nothing that can be done to change that. Not even a border wall. We must adapt to the new realities which exist for students and ourselves. Get with the program, because going to school means going to school for you, too. Learn, inquire, involve, broaden, visit, respect and appreciate the fact that there are multiple realities out there and they intersect with our classroom teaching in schools everyday. Teaching and reaching children where they are necessitates that we really know and understand where they really are-one child at a time. It is where teaching and learning are most effective and we become educators who deliver quality learning experiences for all.

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