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Portugal schools gave grades without counting the work done during the 2nd period

July 22, 2021

Original Article: https://www.publico.pt/2021/04/04/sociedade/noticia/ha-escolas-nao-contaram-trabalho-2-periodo-notas-1957028

The original article requires translation. This article has a paywall.

It's “frustrating”, students say. “It devalues ​​the evolution” of students, comment parents. And it's "wrong", recognize directors. However, in many schools, especially in secondary education, distance work during the 2nd period hardly counted towards the grades given to students. Among the reasons for this practice are the central role that written tests continue to play in assessment and fears about their reliability in the remote learning model.

“In the context we are in, whether we do it or not do it, it's the same,”  Margarida Ribeiro, a student at Escola Secundária Carlos Amarante, in Braga ,  told PÚBLICO a few days ago . The teachers communicated to the class that the work done at a distance would have a residual weight in the grade of the 2nd period: 95% of the classification is based on elements of assessment from the 1st period. The reason for this was the fact that no tests were taken during the distance learning period – on the other hand, there are already tests scheduled for the first days after the return to face-to-face education, which takes place on April 19 for secondary students. .

These specific criteria were then defined for each subject, so that some teachers “may have opted for solutions of this type” giving more preponderance to the work done in the 1st period, but admitting the same person in charge.

The pedagogical councils of schools and teachers define the weight of each assessment element in each student's grade. This is how they usually do it, even outside the context of distance learning. The difference this year were the percentages attributed in many cases to what was developed in the 2nd period, counting between 5% and 40% of the grade that students received in the last few days.

The National Confederation of Parents' Associations also received complaints of situations in which the teachers expressed their “intention to maintain the evaluation of the 1st period”, says the leader of the structure, Jorge Ascenção. “Doing this is to discredit the evolution that the students have had in recent months”, he continues.

The Ministry of Education recalls that curriculum legislation stipulates the “continuous and formative nature of assessment”. In other words, students must be “evaluated according to what is actually taught”. “Whenever there were classes, there was activity subject to evaluation, with a diversity of instruments and criteria, so students have the right to be fully evaluated based on what happened”, continues a source in Tiago Brandão Rodrigues' office. “An assessment instrument, such as an essay, an oral presentation or a test with consultation, has no less value because it is not in person”, he adds.

For Jorge Ascenção, what justifies this practice is the fact that many teachers are “still very afraid of distance learning”. Hortense Santos, director of the Carlos Amarante Secondary School, confirms these fears. The distance assessment “will not be the same as what is done in person”: “Teachers do not trust because the students have other help.”

José Eduardo Lemos, director of the Eça de Queirós Secondary School, in Póvoa de Varzim, has a similar position. The tests carried out at a distance “may not have the reliability of the assessment elements applied in person”, he argues. Students can, for example, “have an tutor at their side”. However, Lemos continues, “it would be wrong if schools left learning and assessments out of the rankings”. This director, who is president of the Council of Schools, a consultative body for the Government, stresses that the autonomy of schools allows “each one to do things in their own way”.

This was, in fact, the  decision of the Ministry of Education . Two weeks ago, when preschool and 1st cycle children returned to face-to-face education, minister Tiago Brandão Rodrigues ruled out the possibility of the tutelage issuing any guidance on how the grades should be given.

Schools are “mature enough to understand how they want to assess their students,” said the government official. “In this regard, we are very comfortable, school directors, pedagogical councils, teachers and educators in this country know the rules and know all the protocols that each of the groups has defined”.

This practice of devaluing the work done by students in the 2nd period happens in particular in secondary schools, something that is also explained by the weight that internal grades have in defining the paths that students can take, namely access to higher education - where the final grades of secondary education  count between 50% and 65%  of the average enrollment in a course.

With the “frozen” grades, the “titra-teimas” will be the last academic term – which starts this Monday. “What I have been telling the teachers is that in the 3rd period we will really see where the students are”, says Hortense Santos.

"Learning for the future"
When PÚBLICO spoke with the director of the Clara de Resende Secondary School, in Porto, Rosário Queirós was reading the minutes of the class councils where the grades for the 2nd period were awarded, which allowed him to have a picture of the students' grades. “I was waiting for them to continue”, he begins by confessing, not least because the pedagogical council had “requested prudence in the assessments” due to the distance learning contract.

But the results turned out to be surprising: “There are descents, there are ascents. These are normal notes. The teachers showed the confidence that it was possible to learn.”

At Clara de Resende, it wasn't just the tests that counted towards the grade. The teachers “applied several instruments that allowed them to have some rigor” in the classifications attributed, says the director: there were oral evaluations using videoconference, group work and research projects.

“It's not just  the way of teaching  that has to be adapted, it's also the assessments”, defends José Marques, 6th grade Mathematics teacher, Pedro Magalhães group, in Alverca, and one of the more than 30,000 teachers in the group “E-Learning – Teacher Support”, where education professionals share experiences about distance learning.

“What makes sense to ask is: how do we see the future of these students ten years from now? And they will have to know how to communicate, expose an idea, which are dimensions that we cannot assess in a test”, he continues. Its assessment method is therefore based on small questionnaires using online forms  , oral tests and weekly assignments, but also on valuing daily work with students, as you would in a physical classroom.

Examples like this make the president of the National Association of School Leaders, Manuel Pereira, believe that, despite some bad examples, “generally there was some care on the part of schools and teachers to value other aspects of assessment” in addition to tests.

Not all schools had to assign grades this week. There are about fifty groups that  operate by semesters  and that were in end-of-semester assessments when classes were suspended in January.

This week's school break served, even so, for teachers to review the progress of recent months. Instead of grades, students receive an individual report. “They know where they got better and where they got worse,” explains Ana Cláudia Cohen, director of the Alcanena school grouping, one of those who follow this model of organizing the school calendar.

With the transition to the semiannual regime, the school had already "tried that the tests were seen as just another element of assessment", explains the director, without hiding that there is, on the part of the teachers, "some resistance" to diversifying the elements of assessment. Distance learning ended up accelerating the diversification of measurement instruments, which, hopes Ana Cláudia Cohen, “can be a learning experience for the future”.

Confap president Jorge Ascenção agrees with this idea. However, the end of the primacy of the written test depends, to a great extent, “on the families”, he acknowledges. At issue is not only a “cultural” appreciation of these assessment instruments, “but also the side of competition” among students, especially notorious in secondary, anticipating entry into higher education.

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