Wondering About WHMIS: When Compliance Training Makes You Reflect On Assessment & Evaluation

Yesterday, our Board had a PA Day. Half of the day was devoted to Compliance Training, which we all did individually. This included watching and answering quiz questions around a variety of topics, from asbestos to bullying. We also had to complete our updated WHMIS training. It was the WHMIS component of this compliance training that inspired this post.

For the past couple of years, the WHMIS training included not just answering a quiz, but achieving an 80% or higher on it, within three attempts. That’s scoring a minimum of 12/15. This is probably my 19th time doing WHMIS, and yet, the very thought of achieving this score makes my stomach clench and causes a #pukealert every single time. It’s not as though the information is new, and I even know the hazard symbols and the key information on Material Safety Data Sheets. All of the questions are multiple choice or true and false, and most are even asked throughout the training module. Despite that, the fear of not passing causes me extreme stress every single time.

I’m not the only educator that looks or acts worried. I’ve even heard others discuss the added anxiety if they get to attempt #3, and haven’t passed yet. (Thankfully I passed on attempt #1, but not without questioning just about all of my answers first.) I share this story because as I was working through this testing situation, I couldn’t help but think about some comments that Gerry Smith, our principal, made during our morning PD session. He spoke about assessment and evaluation, and the weight that we give to observations and conversations, and not just tests and culminating tasks (work products).

The WHMIS test is all about knowledge and understanding, and just about every question could be Googled, if you chose to do so. As educators, we hear all the time that we need to get kids to think, apply their learning, communicate their thinking in different ways, and move beyond questions that can just be searched online or in a book. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t value to quickly being able to recall some facts, or knowing certain information so that you can manipulate it with ease. Maybe this is the thinking behind WHMIS. Quick recall. I’m just thinking about what I learned from reading the text and watching the videos. Imagine if I could talk to someone about my learning. Would this help me truly capture how much I understood, and without the stress of a standardized assessment? 

Maybe WHMIS each year gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we’re evaluating kids. What makes a test better? Is a big assignment always necessary? If kids are feeling the same kind of stress that we feel as adults, how might their performance be impacted by this stress? I wonder if testing situations give us a true picture of what a child knows, just like I wonder if a test like WHMIS gives us an accurate picture of what an adult knows. My reflections from the WHMIS test may have me thinking even more than the test itself. What about you?


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