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Great Schools Project seeks public input on assessment ideas

After a year and a half of fine-tuning its ideas for assessing schools fairly, the Great Schools Project is inviting the public to give feedback on the project's answer to "how good is my school?"

The brainchild of David Chudnovsky, former teacher, BC Teachers' Federation president, and New Democratic Party MLA, the Great Schools Project is a volunteer-driven enterprise dedicated to creating an alternative to the mandatory Foundation Skills Assessments test for assessing the performance of schools.

Although the enterprise started in the fall of 2009, The Great Schools Project Teach-In: How Should We Assess Our Schools? event happening on Dec. 1 is only their second public meeting. Chudnovsky says the reason is two-fold: it's a complicated, serious topic, and most project members are volunteers with day jobs, including former and current economists, educators, administrators, retirees, and politicians.

The Teach-In will present a streamlined version of their school assessment tool-kit : eight ideas for school assessment, including randomized testing, classroom and grade level assessment, and the student voice, as well as introducing a list of principles they believe are key to a fair assessment.

"There's things like respect for the privacy of children, transparency, using scientific method. We think that anybody who's putting together an assessment process for deciding how schools are doing needs to be consistent with these public policy principles," Chudnovsky told The Tyee.

Attendees will be invited to give their feedback on the ideas. Chudnovsky says the group will take their suggestions and critiques and use them to revise the eight ideas.

In addition to discussing the project, American public education critic and policy analyst Alfie Kohn will address the meeting via videocast. Kohn, a former teacher who taught vulnerable and marginalized children, is the author of nine books on public education policy and parenting.

"Over the last number of years he's included in his assessment of schools and the school system a very clear critique of the move to standardized testing, to the so-called report cards on schools," says Chudnovsky.

"What we've seen in B.C. over the last number of years, he's one of the most outstanding critics of that, especially from the point of view of kids who are less well off."

The meeting is open to anyone interested in public education, and members of all provincial political parties have been invited. Education Minister Don McRae has declined due to a timetable conflict, but Chudnovsky says no one has confirmed.

Attendees will also contribute to where members will take the project next.

"What do we want to do with this stuff, how do we take it from being a project and effect policy makers?" said Chudnovsky.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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