Thursday, August 19, 2010

Interesting Links on Assessment, Grading, and Mastery

On the Shoulders of Giants: Grading for Mastery in a Progressive Classroom
Sometimes teachers design such compelling learning experiences that students are able to forget they are doing a "school" activity. They derive genuine pleasure from the curiosity and intellectual engagement of the experience. This is what we want and, in my experience both as a teacher and student, leads to the highest levels of understanding. But it's not ALL we want. It's a necessary step in the learning process called exploration.

ARK-StudyGuideR_0.pdf (application/pdf Object)
A Repair Kit for Grading, by Ken O’Connor describes 15 ways to make grades and marks more consistent, accurate, meaningful, and supportive of learning (page 4). These are called 15 fixes. This study guide is intended for use in conjunction with study of the book. It suggests discussions and activities for each fix that serve one or more of the following purposes:
• Clarifying ideas
• Providing extra information on a topic, or where to locate it
• Thinking through and planning changes to try; we call these replacement strategies
• Posing common grading/marking dilemmas to solve

How to Grade for Learning, K-12 - Google Books
Ken O'Connor's book How to Grade for Learning

8StepsMeaningfulGrading.pdf (application/pdf Object)
Grades earned in traditional grading systems are usually based on a combination of formative and summative assessments. With standards-based grading, grades are based solely on summative assessments designed to measure content mastery.

Educational Leadership:Assessment to Promote Learning:Grading to Communicate
Throughout my career as an educator, I have experienced frustration with how my traditional classroom grading practices have influenced my students' learning. When I discuss this issue with colleagues, parents, and—most important—students, I find that I am not alone in my frustration. Paradoxically, grades detract from students' motivation to learn. It is time to reconsider our classroom grading practices.

Educational Leadership:Assessment to Promote Learning:Seven Practices for Effective Learning
Classroom assessment and grading practices have the potential not only to measure and report learning but also to promote it. Indeed, recent research has documented the benefits of regular use of diagnostic and formative assessments as feedback for learning (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, & Wiliam, 2004). Like successful athletic coaches, the best teachers recognize the importance of ongoing assessments and continual adjustments on the part of both teacher and student as the means to achieve maximum performance. Unlike the external standardized tests that feature so prominently on the school landscape these days, well-designed classroom assessment and grading practices can provide the kind of specific, personalized, and timely information needed to guide both learning and teaching.

Tenets of Assessment/Grading Reform | Jason T Bedell
"…changing classroom assessment is the beginning of a revolution – a revolution in classroom practices of all kinds…Getting classroom assessment right is not a simplistic, either-or situation. It is a complex mix of challenging personal beliefs, rethinking instruction and learning new ways to assess for different purposes." (Earl, 2003, pp. 15-16)

GullenHandouts.pdf (application/pdf Object)
Grading policies such as refusing to accept late work, giving grades of zero, and refusing to allow students to redo their work may be intended as punishment for poor performance, but such policies will not really teach students to be accountable, and they provide very little useful information about students' mastery of the material. Assessment and feedback, particularly during the course of learning, are the most effective ways for students to learn accountability in their work and in their personal lives.

Developing grading and reporting ... - Google Books
Developing grading and reporting systems for student learning
By Thomas R. Guskey, Jane M. Bailey

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Formative vs. Mastery

In doing some research on grading for mastery, I ran across this quotation from a recent Phi Delta Kappan article titled "Eight Steps to Meaningful Grading" by Heather Deddeh, Erin Main, and Sharon Ratzlaff Fulkerson:
Grades earned in traditional grading systems are usually based on a combination of formative and summative assessments. With standards-based grading, grades are based solely on summative assessments designed to measure content mastery.

So now I've come to a roadblock. I love what I've learned from Grant Wiggins, Alfie Kohn, and Dylan Wiliam about formative assessment, giving students multiple opportunities and venues to practice their learning. However, I also see the value in grading for mastery, that a student's grade should reflect what they've learned, not penalize them for the time it took the student to learn that information. So how do I reconcile what Deddeh, Main, and Fulkerson identify as two opposite ways of grading?

How do I practically set up my gradebook and assignments to reflect what students have learned in my class?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Rethinking Assessment

"Students learn to find out what a teacher expects and write to those expectations – and the accompanying grades – instead of trying to internalize their own high standards for writing," writes Ralph Fletcher in What A Writer Needs. Given what both Ralph Fletcher and Alfie Kohn have written about the dangers of traditional assessment methods for emerging writers, how can teachers reconcile the seemingly opposite pulls for data driven assessments with the need for new writers to understand and grow their writing at their own pace?

There has been a move recently in many districts, especially elementary schools, to change from the traditional letter grade report card to a more skills-based reporting system. Such skills-based reports give both students and parents specific feedback on a student's progress in a number of skill areas rather than simply a vague comparison between letter grades. How could such a grade reporting system specifically help emerging writers?

Rick Wormeli is both a secondary teacher and an educational writer on this topic. In his article "Accountability: Teaching Through Assessment and Feedback, Not Grading," Wormeli states:
"A grade is supposed to provide an accurate, undiluted indicator of a student's mastery of learning standards. That‘s it. It is not meant to be a part of a reward, motivation, or behavioral contract system. If the grade is distorted by weaving in a student‘s personal behavior, character, and work habits, it cannot be used to successfully provide feedback, document progress, or inform our instructional decisions regarding that student—the three primary reasons we grade. A student who is truly performing at the highest instructional levels with the highest marks, even though it took him longer to achieve those levels—for whatever reason—is not served by labeling him with false, lower marks and treating him as if he operates at the lower instructional levels just because it took him a little longer to get to the same standard of excellence...." (Wormeli 19)

By incorporating a more skills-based form of grading and feedback, students receive more personalized information on their strengths and areas where they might improve upon in their writing. Wormeli's work goes on to include so many of the suggestions that the NWP Summer Writing Institutes also advocate – writing prompts and learning situations must be meaningful, for real audiences, incorporate mentor and model texts, and rely on student choice. In doing so, students are better able to demonstrate their progress toward skills.

By establishing a grading system and criteria which evaluate student progress toward a set number of specific goals, both students and teachers are better able to understand how to best reach a higher level of achievement. Wormeli suggests that as a result of this changed focus from letter grades to skills, teachers must leave space for students to demonstrate their progress. This means that teachers need to think about how they approach the grading of late work (does a lowered grade for lateness accurately reflect a student‘s mastery of a particular skill?) and giving students multiple opportunities to practice skills. "Teaching accountability requires adherence to sound pedagogy, not just conventional grading practices always done because that‘s the way they've always been done. Assessment and feedback, particularly during the course of learning, are the most effective ways for students to learn accountability in their work and personal lives" (Wormeli 26). Assessment must be meaningful in order for students to grow. No place is this more evident than in the teaching of writing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thinking About Assessing Writing

Lucy Calkins has struck a nerve. In her book The Art of Teaching Reading she writes, "If we can keep only one thing in mind-and I fail at this half the time-it is that we are teaching the writer and not the writing. Our decisions must be guided by 'what might help this writer' rather than 'what might help this writing'" (228). Although she is specifically addressing conferencing, this idea is applicable in a much broader sense to the whole endeavor of teaching emerging writers. In an era of state standards and high stakes testing, many teachers are either required or feel compelled to teach to the test. In essence, we are teaching writing for one particular prompt rather than teaching emerging writers. We teach our students over and over to write for this or that prompt rather than teach them to internalize what it means to be a good writer. As teacher and writer Ralph Fletcher points out in his book What a Writer Needs, "The cost runs high when we coerce students (through grades, praise, favoritism), however subtly, to shoehorn their emerging language into the narrow parameters we set for what constitutes 'good writing' in our classrooms" (25). So the question becomes how can teachers merge what seem to be the conflicting pulls of teaching writers and assessing writers? How can we help students come to understand themselves as writers, internalizing their own high standards for writing?

There seems to be is a disconnect between how we assess writing based on standards, whether it be for state testing situations or the high-stakes writing prompts like those found on the AP and SAT exams, versus the way that real writers approach the writing process. Because it is easy, teachers attach numbers and percentages to outlines and drafts, to three page essays with a thesis. But is this valid? Who and what do these numbers assess? Students read the grade at the top of the page and then bury the work at the bottom of the backpack, or worse, the bottom of the trash can. Even on the flip side, when we attempt to use more holistic rubrics like the PA Scoring Guide with its labels like Advanced, Proficient, and Basic, students, parents, tax-payers are more concerned with the numbers of students scoring at a particular level.

How can writing teachers assess the work of student writers in ways that are meaningful, ways that reflect the individual student‘s engagement with the process of writing? How might grading writing for the mastery of skills help emerging writers grow more confident and proficient?