Category Archives: Assessment Literacy

The Doctor is in: Time for an Academic Physical with Dr. Nikki Roorda

Roorda_Nicole (1)Every day, in millions of doctors’ offices across the world, people go in for their annual physical exam.  This process brings out a multitude of emotions from patients including, but not limited to, “I hate going to the doctor.  I know s/he is going to tell me to lose a few pounds and to stop eating out so much” to “I am excited to see how my changes in lifestyle choices have impacted my high blood pressure,” and everything in between. 

The purpose  of health screenings is defined by the American Medical Association (AMA)  as, “Health care services or products provided to an individual without apparent signs or symptoms of an illness, injury or disease for the purpose of identifying or excluding an undiagnosed illness, disease, or condition” (2000).  The  AMA contends that through the use of screening, our doctors can determine if a medical emergency exists.  No matter what thoughts go through our minds when we go in for our annual physicals, at the end of the day we trust in the process of the health screen to keep us safe from underlying medical issues. Continue reading

High-Quality Assessments and Standards-based Grading and Reporting

natalie-bolton130x140By Natalie Bolton

Standards-based grading and reporting policies are becoming a norm in P/K ­‐ 12 schools, districts, and states. However, as policies are created calling for shifts in grading and reporting practices, it is imperative that time be spent on making sure that classroom assessments, both formative and summative, are of high quality. So, what tools or checks are in place to assist teachers in making sure their classroom assessments are of high quality, prior to reporting if a student has met a standard?

I’ve found that using the assessment development cycle as described by Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, and Arter (2012) is a great tool to critique an existing assessment or to provide guidance as an assessment is being designed. Using the assessment development cycle helps ensure I can accurately communicate about student mastery of standards. All assessments, regardless of assessment method, should go through the cycle to ensure assessments are of quality. Three stages make up the cycle and are described in Figure 1. Continue reading

Building Consensus Around Standards-Based Grading

Roorda_Nicole (1)By Nikki Roorda

“Beginning next year, our district is going to be grading using a standards-based method.”  This sentence still evokes a vivid picture in my mind of my teammates and I sitting at a meeting with a district-level Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) who was making her way around our large suburban district delivering the message.  I can picture one of my teammates nearly falling off of her chair when she heard some of the tenets of the new grading system–not grading homework, not using zeros in calculating grades, and allowing multiple attempts to demonstrate learning.  These suggested changes were in total contradiction with the way that she had taught, assessed, and graded for the first 25 years of her career.

There are few things more sacred to a teacher than how they teach, assess, and grade students.  The study and implementation of standards-based practices, including teaching, assessing, and grading, evokes spirited conversations as practitioners, administrators, and parents work their way through examining the purpose of a grade.  The deep-rooted conversations about why we assess and grade the way we do often brings about passion and emotion to teachers.  As these conversations unfold, there is a need to develop consensus among the teaching staff (building, district) about the purpose of a grade and how this purpose is operationalized in the practices that are used in our school.

The conversations centered around the belief systems associated with the implementation of standards-based practices need to be thoughtful and bring up some of the more controversial aspects of the practice when compared to a more traditional grading approach, such as staying away from averaging scores, not giving students zeros, and using formative assessments, such as homework used for daily practice. Through meaningful conversation and outlining a thoughtful vision for implementation that outlines current state and desired state, skills needed by teachers, and a vision for implementation, success can be achieved.

The two sessions that I will be presenting at ATI’s 9th Annual Sound Grading Practices conference deal with building consensus around standards-based grading (Preparing for Standards-Based Teaching and Learning) as well as an overview to Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades (Implementing Sound Grading Practices: An Overview).  Both sessions are designed to help participants think about implementing a standards-based grading system in their district/system.

Grades as Communication

By Ken MattinglyKen Mattingly

Grades have served many purposes for many people over the years. The general intent, I’ve always believed, has been to represent how students are doing in school. However, there’s often disagreement on the specifics of the grade and exactly “how” it represents student performance. Some feel a grade should reflect the amount of work done by a student. Others view a grade as a representation of when a student learned the material. I would argue that each of these camps are missing out on a key aspect of a grade.

While a grade can tell teachers, administrators, and parents about a student’s performance, if it doesn’t inform the student, then a key player in the learning environment is being left out. If grades are to serve as communication, then they have to address the person that makes the most learning decisions in the classroom — the student. Grades must tell students where they are in the learning process and what they have to improve on. Continue reading

Planning for Learning

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By Jan Chappuis

The preservice education my teaching colleagues and I experienced focused primarily on the act of instructing—different ways to deliver information—with no attention to responding to student work. Consequently, I, like many others, began teaching with a repertoire of four steps: plan, instruct, assign, and grade. First I planned what I would do and what my students would do. Then, I prepared the materials and resources. Next, I did what I planned, and they did what I planned. Last, I graded what they did. However, learning and teaching turned out to be far messier than I had been prepared for. Somewhere between “I taught it” and “they learned it,” the straight shot downstream to achievement sprung surprisingly into an array of diverging tributaries. Over the course of that first year, I discovered there are a thousand ways for learners to “not get” a lesson.

The belief underpinning my teacher preparation seemed to be that learning trots right along after good instruction, a sort of stimulus-response system, in which instruction alone will create learning. However, when students have continued learning needs after instruction, it is not necessarily an indication that something went wrong. Learning is an unpredictable process; instructional correctives are part of the normal flow of attaining mastery in any field. Continue reading

Home Remodeling in Education…

By Nikki RoordaImage

Spring is in the air, and with that a sense of renewal.  In my house, renewal has come in the form of a home remodeling project.  My “DIYer” husband has begun a remodeling project to make our master bathroom larger by taking some of the space from our twin daughters’ bathroom.  As we have been working through the remodeling process, I have been thinking a lot about the connections between our remodeling project to my work in supporting districts with their assessment practices and movement towards standards-based teaching and learning practices.  Believe it or not, there are a lot of connections… Continue reading

Education As a “Cut” Sport

by Jan Chappuis

Basketball is a “cut” sport—players try out and not everybody makes the team. We don’t usually think of our classrooms as places where learning is a cut sport; nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I need to exclude a few students.” Yet some of our traditional assessment practices structure the rules of success so that education becomes a “sport” many students choose to drop.

How does assessment do this? Three typical classroom causes are not allowing students sufficient time to practice, grading for compliance rather than learning, and using assessment practices that distort achievement.

doomed

Not allowing sufficient time for practice: Let’s assume that the reason we as teachers have jobs is because students don’t already know what we are teaching. It follows that we can expect a need for instruction accompanied by practice, which will not be perfect at the start. We can expect that we’ll need to monitor the practice to intervene with correctives so students don’t spend time in learning it wrong. If practice time is cut short by a pacing guide or other directive about what to “cover,” only those students who need a minimum of practice to improve will succeed. The others will tend to conclude they aren’t very good at the task or subject. But that is the premise we began with: they aren’t good at it. Our job is to give them sufficient opportunity to improve through instruction, practice, and feedback. If we cut learning short by assessing for the grade too soon, we have in effect decided to exclude a few students.

Grading for compliance rather than learning: The practice of awarding points for completion tends to cause students to believe the aim of their effort in school is to get work done. When learning is not the focus of points received, it matters less who does the work and whether growth has occurred. This is often done to get students to do the practice, but it miscommunicates the true intention—to practice in order to improve. When done is the goal, rather than improvement, growth is often marginal. When we don’t look at the work, we can’t use it as evidence to guide further instruction, so we are shutting our eyes to students’ learning needs, thereby shutting a few more students out of the game.

Distorting achievement: Including scores on practice work in the final grade is a common grading procedure that distorts achievement. When students need practice to learn, their beginning efforts are not generally as strong as their later performance. Averaging earlier attempts with later evidence showing increased mastery doesn’t accurately represent students’ true level of learning, and some give up trying altogether when they realize that they can’t overcome the hit to their grade caused by early imperfect trials. This also reinforces the damaging inference that being good means not having to try and that if you have to try, you aren’t good at the subject. If one of our goals is to get students to try, then trying shouldn’t result in the punishment of a low grade assigned too soon.

A less common but equally damaging procedure used when students don’t do well as a group on a test is to “curve” the grades by reapplying the grade point cutoffs at lower levels, so for example, what was a “C” becomes an “A.” This distortion of achievement masks the cause of low performance: were the results inaccurate because of flaws in certain items? Were items too difficult for the level of instruction preceding the test? Were there items on the test representing learning that wasn’t part of instruction? Each of these problems has a different solution, and each of them leads to misjudgments about students’ levels of achievement–the most harmful perhaps being those judgments students make about themselves as learners. Or did the results accurately represent learning not yet mastered? When we engage in practices that misrepresent achievement, we cut more than a few students out of learning.

All of these customs can be justified, but if learning suffers we have created a more serious problem than the one we intended to solve. They lead us to ignore students’ learning needs, and they discourage students from seeing themselves as learners.

mistakes

So what is the antidote? Some key places to start:

  1. Emphasize that learning is the goal of education and focus instruction and activities on clear learning targets.
  2. Ensure that your classroom assessment practices treat learning as a progression and mistakes as a way to learn.
  3. Offer penalty-free feedback during the learning that helps students improve.
  4. Use assessment as a means to know your students and to guide your own actions.

And finally, strive to implement assessment practices that help students see themselves as learners. If learning is truly the intended goal of the education game, we can all play.

Although “no late work” is my official policy…

Recently, a teacher wrote to us with a fantastic question, so we asked three great thinkers in the field of assessment how they might answer it. Here’s the question:

I am intrigued by the concept of not discounting grades for late work. While I understand, on a basic level, the intent being to not discourage learning, shouldn’t there still be some expectations of personal responsibility? One of the reasons students don’t get grades for late work is that late work infringes on my time by requiring me to take extra time to assess the work. Trying to assess that work in a timely manner makes me rushed in my feedback. Therefore the quality of the feedback is diminished if the work is submitted late, and I expect that they should be able to submit most work on time. Now, although “no late work” is my official policy, all someone has to do is to contact me, give me *any* excuse (just about), and I allow them to turn it in, because I recognize that my students are people and things get in the way. So, can I still give reduced points/zeroes for late work?

This question is one that many teachers have had as they move forward with assessing their assessment practices. We asked a few of the amazing people we work with here at ATI and they were kind enough to share their thoughts on the subject with us.

Author and presenter Cassandra Erkens writes:

It is always important to teach responsibility in schools, but the way it’s often managed, refusing or discounting points for late work, has missed the mark of actually teaching responsibility on too many fronts. First, this strategy actually teaches the opposite of responsibility. In the adult world, when someone misses a critical time line, he or she demonstrates responsibility by fixing the problem created by the tardiness; it would be considered irresponsible to walk away from it.  Discounting points or refusing to accept late work encourages learners to act irresponsibly and walk away from the opportunity to learn. Responsible learners do the work; they do not opt out.  Second, the message sent by such a practice is that timeliness is more important than learning. In essence, teachers devalue their own assessments when they suggest that what they wanted the learner to learn no longer matters since the timeline was missed.  In this way, compliance trumps learning.  The primary responsibility of students in schools is learning – it is, after all, why the learners are there.  Finally, teaching responsibility requires modeling responsibility.  Teachers model responsibility by requiring evidence of learning so they can offer feedback and provide support to ensure student success.  They teach perseverance, commitment, and precision when they require evidence of learning first and foremost.

Managing late work without penalizing scores might seem overwhelming, but teachers across North America are discovering and employing strategies to increase the responsibility of their learners without using grades to punish or reward learning instead of a tool meant to reflect learning. In many classrooms, homework is not graded, but it is required.  Students must use the results from their homework to make instructional decisions on what they require next in their progression of learning.  They track their results and work to gather the evidence that will prove their readiness for upcoming assessments.  In these classrooms, teachers report that there is actually an increase in student motivation and productivity.  More students are turning in more work with consistency.  The gentle switch from doing work to receive/avoid something to doing work to learn something reframes the overall process for both the teacher and the student.  The quality practices of formative assessment can give teachers the necessary strategies and tools to increase student responsibility in their classrooms.

Myron Dueck added these words of wisdom:

We make the assumption that by reducing grades for late work we are somehow enhancing or supporting ‘personal responsibility’.  This can be a misguided notion. My first response would be to ask a simple question: what do you want your grades to reflect?  Perhaps this question might be adjusted to: what are you asked to grade?  In the case of the second question, every jurisdiction I have encountered asks teachers to grade by a set of learning standards.  Therefore, teachers should want to grade the extent to which their students meet the prescribed learning outcomes. Whether you use zeros or late deductions, these ‘consequences’ will ultimately obscure whatever grading has already occurred.  Therefore, I have a pretty simple set of guidelines that I use to determine the effectiveness of grade-based student consequences:

  1. Does the consequence serve to achieve my ultimate goal?
  2. Does the student care about the consequence?
  3. Does the student have complete control over the variables associated with the task?

I used to use both lates and zeros in my grade book, but these three conditions caused me to abandon this practice.  Lates and zeros did not achieve my ultimate goal of grading according to learning outcomes.  In many cases, students proved they did not care as they willingly accepted the punitive actions, or in some cases actually prefered a zero to actually getting the work done.  Lastly, I found that many students were not in control of the variables that led to successful homework or assignment completiton.  Poverty, learning gaps, drug and alcohol issues, and mandatory work requirements were just a few of the barriers many students face. These factors may render it impossible for these students to complete homework. Adding a punitive “grade” to that challenge would only further diminish their ability to learn.

Ken Mattingly has this advice to give:

Academic grades should be a reflection of academic achievement.  When we discount an academic grade due to behavioral problems, it results in a skewed picture of student performance.  I see the real issue here being student accountability for completing the work, and I share your frustration with this issue.  I think there are two questions we need to ask before continuing.  First, are all students aware that they can get additional time?  Second, could there be other consequences for late work besides the score or grade?

Hopefully the answer to the first is yes, and all students are on even footing.  If not, they should be made aware of this opportunity and of how to ask for the time.  After all, as adults don’t our employers expect us to do the same if we need additional time?  This would be a great opportunity to begin to embed this life lesson.

As for the second question, there are always behavior consequences that can be applied to students who turn in late work.  It can be the loss of privileges, such as lunch or break time with friends.  It could be attending afterschool extended services.  It could even be receiving a corrective action plan that provides structure and timelines for completion of the work.  Each of these would be a way to address the underlying behavioral problem without impacting the academic assessment.

And Tom Schimmer has an entire blog post of his own on the subject which can be found here:

http://tomschimmer.com/2011/02/21/enough-with-the-late-penalties/

And We’re Up!

It wasn’t long ago that a few of us here at the Pearson ATI office, were saying that great questions and ideas pass our desk all the time and wouldn’t it be great if we could share these ideas with more people. It didn’t take too much arm twisting to get some of our authors and presenters to want to participate in sharing some quality content with a wider audience in a quick and easy way.

Our blog aims to support to teachers and administrators who are trying to make a difference for their students and in their schools through assessment literacy and most importantly, assessment practices. So if you are on a path to revising your assessment practices and you have a question don’t hesitate to contact us. Leave us a comment, send us an email. Don’t sit quiet, stand up, reach out, make a difference!