Who has the Final Say about Student Marks?

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Recently, we had a lively discussion at our school regarding who has the final say regarding student benchmarks at the end of the term – is it the teacher or the program administrator? 

When we look at the PBLA 2019 guidelines, it makes a number of statements like the following:“In all PBLA assessment practices, teachers’ professional judgments are central. From selecting or developing appropriate tasks, choosing or developing assessment tools, giving feedback on writing and speaking performance, to deciding when a learner is ready to progress to the next level, teachers make decisions based on professional interpretation and judgment” (PBLA Reporting, 2019, p. 31, emphasis added).

It sounds like the teacher makes the final decision for marks, but it also says the following regarding the administrator’s role: “Set or change program policies and practices to facilitate PBLA implementation” (PBLA Accountability, 2019, p. 42). What does “change … practices to facilitate PBLA implementation” mean? If the practice in the past has been to not overrule the teacher decision can that be changed if it is perceived to facilitate the implementation? It’s not clear. Unfortunately, many schools interpret this statement to mean they can overrule the teacher’s decision. There are a number of concerns with this interpretation.

PBLA test results can be unreliable. There are all kinds of mitigating factors. For example, some students cheat on the tests. This may not be visible at the time to the teacher, but it will become evident when the student is unable to answer subsequent questions related to the material. Cheating doesn’t appear in the PBLA test results and may give a false pass. If the program administrator is only considering whether the student passed or failed the required number of tests, he or she could easily overrule the teacher by mistake.

Teachers must be TESL certified as per IRCC; however, this is not a requirement for program administrators.  If the program administrator is not TESL certified and does not have an education background, should he or she be able to overrule a teacher who has all of the necessary qualifications?

The ambiguously written guidelines are a hallmark of PBLA. On the one hand, they indicate that the teacher has the final say regarding student benchmarks, but in another section, the program administrator can over-ride the teacher’s decision, causing teachers and management to clash over the interpretation. Because PBLA has few clear boundaries (with the exception of 8-10 artifacts per skill, per benchmark), it has fostered internal conflicts for many agencies and schools. Perhaps this is the reason many workplaces are turning to unions for assistance.

Who do you think should have the final say over PBLA benchmarks?

PBLA Accountability: Sharing Responsibility for Success. (2019). Retrieved from PBLA Practice Guidelines 2019: https://pblapg.language.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/PBLA-Practice-Guidelines-2019_978-1-897100-78-3-RA.pdf

PBLA Reporting: Learner Progress Reports and Conferences. (2019). Retrieved from PBLA Practice Guidelines 2019: https://pblapg.language.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/PBLA-Practice-Guidelines-2019_978-1-897100-78-3-RA.pdf

I was born in Scarborough General Hospital, so working in Scarborough is perfect for me because my students think I am 100% Canadian if there is such a thing. I have worked as a LINC teacher since 2008. First, as a supply teacher then later I found a job at Polycultural Immigrant Community Services. I like working with newcomers, and I love the English language so its been a pleasant journey. I hope it continues for many years to come.


7 thoughts on “Who has the Final Say about Student Marks?”

  1. Stacey, recently I heard PBLA described as “The Artefact Games”.!!

    It doesn’t matter WHO does the “Inventory” inspection, WHO declares the learner “ready to progress”. or not – based on “Inventory lists” – we all know “PBLA” is flimflam.
    If it is NOT – show me the evidence.

    Was there ever a more dishonest, dysfunctional, dystopian government mandated protocol in newcomer SLA and integration?
    But this is the one I know – and it is bad. Don’t look for fairness, logic, or common sense…Just keep on trucking, keep doing the best you can. Until one day – maybe it will implode. .. or we will just quit. There is life after PBLA. I hear.

    Are you going to fight admin? So far I haven’t had to – but I know if admin said THEY want to be the ones to look at the binders and decide who shall live, who shall die (metaphorically) – hey let it be on their Heads rather than mine…on their conscience rather than mine…

    Admin should be thrilled if you are prepared to use your expertise and experience to look at a learner’s progress (or lack thereof). If THEY feel they are more competent and can do this hey, let them knock themselves out….And let the learners argue with admin, get “promoted” or not – .vote with their feet…not your circus, not your monkeys…

    I am still happiest when I am in the class teaching (say) paragraph writing and I see light bulbs going on all around the room. The real progress is what you see in the learner, not in the binder. Try to find those sweet moments and let the rest go…

    But to be fair I can only guess at a situation that makes you so frustrated you feel you need to try to define what’s right. So – Good question . AND If admin promotes then admin should do the progress report (for the data collection – which is what PBLA is all about anyways)

  2. Hi Claudie,

    Your comments are well written and welcome. As you have guessed it did become an issue for us as none of the managers we have had in the past have overwritten the teacher’s final marks. It was a shock to discover that PBLA both supported and denied this position and an awakening to realize the volume of doublespeak that is contained within its pages. It would appear that no matter what issues you have with PBLA there will be and answer and a denial of the answer somewhere within.


  3. Stacey,
    Thank you for putting the question of who should have the final say on marks out there. I’ve been asking this queston for years and have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. There have been differences of opinion in my workplace regarding who should move to a new CLB level and who should not. These disputes have created an unhealthy relationship between instructors and administatrion. This situation also causes low morale and a feeling of not being trusted to do the job we were hired to do.

  4. Hi Silva, why hire teachers with their expertise they will not be use it when it comes to marking the 32 “artifacts” and will be reevaluated (by the manager/Administrative assistant) who have no experience being in a classroom, or with PBLA. It is the ultimate betrayal by internal management. Why IRCC can’t straighten it out is still quite a mystery by simple creating ‘rule’ is difficult the understand.

  5. I am appalled to know that this goes on at some schools. Thank goodness my manager and our leadership team trust our professional judgment and do not second-guess our marking, promotion decisions, or anything in that realm. When I have a student whose artifacts support promotion but who doesn’t feel ready to move and who I believe would benefit from more time before being mainstreamed (from literacy to CLB 1 class), my admin supports me in making that call. Conversely, when a student is still accumulating those 32 artifacts but is demonstrating ability to handle the mainstream CLB 1 class, I simply state this to the administrative assistant, who then puts my literacy student on the wait list to move to that class. “It’s up to you,” I am told again and again. Without this autonomy and trust in my expertise, my job would be bleak and my morale low indeed. Knowing promotion decisions are not going to be microscopically scrutinized or second-guessed also makes complying with PBLA a bit less stressful. The students and I stuff the binders with examples of their work without having to fret too much at the time over the fact that we teachers are never 100% sure our assessments are valid, perfectly aligned with the CLBs, or perfectly appropriate for every student in the room. That is a mess we have already discussed in other threads. But that mess is made less weighty by the fact that my admin separates compliance with the government mandates surrounding PBLA and common sense decisions that affect lives.

    1. As you’ve pointed out so well Kelly, teaching English is an art, not a science. There is no plug and play or binary code involved. I am glad you have a good manager, it’s no doubt a great help in dealing with the rest of the PBLA issues.

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