Thank you to John Green for opening up
the debate on TOK assessment. It's something that many (or perhaps
most) of us have been dissatisfied with for years, and it's timely that
the debate should now become public in the context of a review of TOK.
It should also not surprise us, as TOK teachers, that we will bring
to the debate perceptions based on our own cultural, academic and personal
backgrounds. So, no matter what decision is taken, it will not suit
everybody, nor will there be a single, right answer. What we should,
however, expect to happen, is that the new TOK assessment tool will
move us closer to the aims and the nature of the course.
It seems to me that the heart of the problem in assessing TOK is that
we are not able to give credit to students who demonstrate a high degree
of critical reflection on the question of knowledge--as seen in consistent
oral contributions, journal entries, reports and so on--but who flounder
when it comes to presenting these ideas in a formal essay.
I don't think that it is relevant to try to pinpoint any group which
has particular problems with the task. Non-native speakers of the working
language are perhaps more likely to encounter difficulties, but then
they are often the very students who also write outstanding essays.
There are many other factors at work such as cultural background, school
policy, teaching methods, and individual abilities. It seems to me that
a safer generalization is that the very able students will be the ones
to score highly in TOK, no matter what assessment tools we use. Concerns
expressed about the problems of marking, sampling, guidance, and statistical
models are common to many other IB subjects, and should not loom too
large in discussing the suitability of essays as an assessment tool.
These problems could be addressed by revising the criteria, giving guidelines
in regard to assistance, nominating particular candidates as samples,
changing the statistical model and so on, remembering that the attempt
to quantify students through whatever method is only going to give a
rough approximation of the real state of affairs.
Yet, is abandoning assessment the solution to the assessment problem?
Although I am in many ways a strong supporter of non-quantified assessment
(my own children did not receive a grade or a mark until Year 11), in
this case, I don't think so. Comparing CAS and TOK is like comparing apples
and pears. The central idea of CAS is service, and to award grades for
service would distort its very purpose (somewhat like the instrument and
the electron in the Uncertainty Principle). To assess TOK, on the other
hand, does not lead us to this inherent contradiction. It might be difficult
to assess, but the assessment itself is not going to change the nature
of the subject. Assessment and quantifying is an integral part of the
IB diploma and TOK is very much a part of the academic program. Following
the logic in John Green's article, one could argue for almost every subject
to be made non-assessable. Just to give one example, biology is also more
difficult for non-native speakers, and the internally assessed components
of the sciences are equally open to inconsistencies and unfairness. Some
questions in the scripts themselves are also open to subjective interpretations.
There are also practical reasons for maintaining assessment. For one,
it is of some assistance to IB Coordinators in trying to persuade school
administrators that TOK should be adequately represented in the timetable,
and in allocating staff. For another, it acts as a motivation for students
who are accustomed to being motivated in this way. Of course, it can
be argued that the marks are not sufficient to act as a motivator; but
to follow that to its logical conclusion, one would have to acknowledge
that not assessing TOK is likely to reduce student motivation even further.
In the context of retaining assessment, how then can we more carefully
match the assessment with the aims and the nature of the subject, and
yet retain the moderating process? At the heart of TOK is discussion
and the students' exploration of their own and other people's ideas
and experiences. Some students demonstrate, for example, several valuable
TOK skills--fine reflective thinking, ability to construct logical arguments,
concern for asking 'How do we know?', sensitivity to other cultures,
and originality--in class and group discussions, in journal writing,
in short exercises and so on, but are unable to express their ideas
as well in a formal essay. My suggestion is this:
Retain one essay and the compulsory essay topics. The
essay is a stimulus for rigorous thought, and is an appropriate vehicle
for students to demonstrate their understanding and their reasoning
ability. The compulsory topics have given an impetus to the task, and
it is possible to moderate it, albeit imperfectly (as is also
the case in other subjects)
Introduce an internally assessed task similar to the Group
4 project. This model would work rather well in TOK, especially if were
stipulated that the topic should be one of global significance. It would
be interdisciplinary, and it could include more than one school. The
procedure would be familiar to students from their science projects,
and having a standard procedure would inspire confidence and credibility.
The Essay should not have more weight than the Project.
We are trying to give TOK a push more firmly towards internationalism,
to encourage students to be more original and creative, and to improve
assessment. I think that this suggestion might invigorate TOK in just