Driving assessment – thoughts from the highway

The four of us are zooming along the highway between 100 Mile and William’s Lake, the van loaded down with camping gear, suitcases, bags of extra shoes and coats, a box of wine we picked up at Sumac Ridge two weeks ago, and a lot of still-wet swimming gear. The air co is on low, and the audio book, Notes from a Midnight Driver, is headed for its conclusion. We have had a great time, with family and friends, but we are all tired of strange beds, restaurant food, and are eager to be home.

A white passenger truck pulls out from behind us to pass, and time and space moves into a different place for me. The line is double solid. A semi is in the other lane, close. We don’t speak, we just watch, because there is not time to do anything differently. In an instant, it is over.

“What a &%&$#@,” my husband mutters. I am breathing, but still playing out the alternate reality in which the truck clips the semi, bounces into us, the tractor trailer jack-knifing….

Traveling BC’s highways this summer, I have seen a lot of different driving skill levels and behaviours. Some of the behaviour – particularly tailgating and passing on a double yellow, can be life-threatening.

The issue of traffic control brought to mind assessment in schools. (Everything brings education to my mind!)

Let me try to articulate my thinking.

No police was present to observe the criminal behaviour of the driver of that truck. Perhaps at some point down the road, the driver gets pulled over for speeding. How useful is that ‘assessment’. Will it change the driver’s passing behaviour? How does the driver view the assessment? If the fine is large enough, and money is tight enough, the driver may spend more time nearer the speed limit. It might decrease the statistical probability of a crash, so is not without some value.

It is relatively straight forward to create the curriculum and testing that gets people out onto the road. It is easy to use a radar gun to catch someone speeding. It is a no brainer to have a camera at a red light. It works wonders to set up a road block during Christmas party season to remind people about drinking driving laws and catch people who are flouting the law. Road-side checks can monitor seatbelt use or problems with a commercial driver’s log book.

People also get charged with driving with undue care and attention, or worse, after an accident has occurred. Of course, it is too late then.

It is, however, a slightly more complex matter if you decide to ding people for tailgating, being distracted, or unsafe passing. It gets even more complex if you are trying to assess if a person is an unsure or nervous driver, if the person is overly aggressive or confident. Things start to get subjective, difficult to measure, or just difficult to observe.

But, lets imagine for  moment if we wanted to give a report card for overall driving performance to all drivers once a year (or four times a year), with the view that we could help them improve their performance. Of course, there are a variety of driving environments, different levels of skill, different needs of drivers.

What kind of time and resources would that entail? What evidence would need to be assembled? What assessments would be used? How many observations could you go with? Could you give one driver’s test to everyone, once a year, and think you knew something about them as a driver? Would you give out a grade letter, a percent, or would you prefer an anecdotal report?

Again, what kind of time and resources would it entail? Obviously, we are not willing to fund it as a society, because driving lessons for new drivers are not free.

This is not unlike the issues we are facing in education, and of course what we are teaching and assessing is vastly more complicated. It isn’t by accident that we frequently take snapshots of learning as our main assessment method. It is efficient, and sometimes appropriate. But can these types of assessments capture the whole picture, or demonstrate to a student how to improve complex skills such as writing or analyzing data?

What does it take to create assessments that improve learning and give an accurate picture of skill, knowledge, and higher-order thinking?

It takes students being engaged fully in the driver’s seat and assessing their own learning. And, we’ve got to be sitting a lot more in the passenger seat observing students, handing out advice, discussing direction, pushing thinking.

It takes relationship, which takes time. It takes multiple teaching, learning, and assessing cycles.

It takes collaboration between teachers. It takes one-on-one time between a teacher and a student, and the parents or guardians. It requires more sophisticated assessments, and a portfolio of work.

Is this where we are headed as a profession? And will there be enough money to support the shift?

It is worth the time and the financial support, because then our assessments are not just a photograph, or a radar gun reading, or a zero after the student crashes.

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