Category Archives: Uncategorized

Think It, Build It, Fly It, Fix It

By Myron Dueck

I would imagine that nearly everything that has ever been designed to fly has crashed…it seems unavoidable.  Predictably, crashes are more prevalent in the design phase of a contraption compared to when the device has been modified, adjusted and inevitably (or hopefully) proven.

It has been suggested that the Wright brothers made as may as 1000 glider attempts in a two-month span in 1902 and averaged at least a few crashes each week. After gaining glider success and experience they added an engine and on December 17, 1903, at Kity Hawk, North Carolina, the first controlled powered flight was made.  We celebrate their invention, but seldom do we talk about the crashes. After their historic flight they continued to design better planes that flew longer and higher. When these planes crashed, sometimes spectacularly, they retuned to the design table and made improvements. Had early aircraft pioneers been unwilling to crash, we would never be flying today. The process for designing things to fly is similar to a notion that we have taken on in our high school. It goes something like this: Continue reading

This Is What I Know About . . . Sound Grading Practices

by Ken Mattingly

Over the last few weeks a Twitter chat about standards based grading has really caused me to reflect on my grading practices. I once thought I was a pretty good teacher. I instructed my students, assigned homework, administered tests, and derived a grade for each student. This routine played out over unit after unit and became the cadence of my students’ educational experiences. It was the same way I experienced school during my formative years, and was really the only way I knew to run a classroom.
Yet somewhere in the back of my mind was this nagging idea that I was just playing some grading game with my students. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just said this isn’t right. I’d end each unit with this dissatisfied feeling. I didn’t really know what went wrong or right in the unit. I didn’t know what my students knew and didn’t know. And to make matters worse, my kids didn’t know either.
Into this moment of cognitive dissonance came some familiar names, Rick Stiggins, Jan Chappuis, Ken O’Connor, and Shirley Clarke to list a few. They helped me formulate a set of core components to make my grades have meaning. It took me many years to arrive at my list and get them incorporated into my classroom practice, but it was so worth it. I can now finish a unit and pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of my teaching and my students learning. Best of all, my students can now identify what they did well and what they need to continue to work on. Continue reading

Tips and Tools for Implementing Proficiency-based Teaching and Learning

By Medford School District

As a district we began examining our grading and assessment practices back in 2009.  We met as a K-12 team and started a study of Ken O’Conner’s book How to Grade for Learning, for the purpose of creating a philosophy statement about assessment and grading.  It’s amusing, as we thought when we first began that we would be able to meet 1-2 times as a group, but it turned out to be a yearlong adventure.  We were pretty grounded by the end of that year and we stated our beliefs in the philosophy statement and created a 5 year roll out plan for implementing proficiency-based grading practices.

Then came House Bill 2220- the Oregon Law that said that we needed to report out at the student’s current grade level based on the student’s progress toward becoming proficient in a continuum of knowledge and skills (i.e., the state standards).  As a district we embraced the challenge and our 5 year plan became our new 2 year plan.  We have learned so much along the way and continue to learn every day.  You know the old saying, “If I knew then what I know now…” well it definitely fits our journey.

We began this school year implementing 100 % proficiency-based teaching and learning in our 7-12th grades.  We created a new proficiency-based report card, progress reports, and a new grade book program.  We have our own programmers in our district so we have really been able to customize the grade book to fit the practices we have implemented.  Academic content is reported out separately from process (homework, participation, etc.)  or behaviors that were typically mushed together in grades of the past.

So has it been smooth sailing?  Absolutely not.  Staffs are still struggling with the changes as are parents, students, and our school board.  We are constantly communicating, checking in with our teachers’ PLC’s (Professional Learning Community), and working with our IT department to work out the bugs of the new program.  It has been an enormous change for our district and community, but we are still committed as we truly believe that for the first time we are becoming much more focused on what it is students need to learn and what they need to demonstrate about their learning.

Report Card Grading? Not Anymore! Enough is Enough!

By Rick Stiggins

Letter and number grades have outlived their usefulness as a means of communicating about student achievement in American education. It‘s time to move on. In this information age with all of the communication technology we have at our disposal we can do far better.

Consider all of the problems we have had to deal with over the decades regarding the grading process: For example, among other things, we have long been debating:

• What to factor into them (achievement, ability, attitude, classroom behavior…?),
• How much evidence is needed,
• How they should be calculated,
• Why we grade anyway: whether they are to be for communication, sorting and selecting, or for motivation. And often these purposes come into direct conflict with one another.
• How to grade students in the same classroom who are shooting for different learning targets—some gifted and other academically challenged. Continue reading

Leading Change in Grading Practices

by Cassandra Erkens

Given the plethora of research and ‘how to’ books on the market today, there’s little doubt remaining that we must begin to change grading practices and outcomes in our schools.  But change is hard.  Too many schools have failed – and publicly – on this front.  Some of the traditional pathways should be avoided.

Don’t wait for someone else to take responsibility.  Students in every system deserve educators who are willing to do the right work on their behalf.

Don’t change policy before beliefs and practices.  In essence, it only makes sense to build shared knowledge and develop skills and competencies around quality grading practices long before changing policies.

Don’t change practices without aligning systems.  When even one system is out of alignment – e.g. identifying ‘valedictorians’ from the traditional system instead of bands of students (cum laude, suma cum laude, and magna cum laude) in a standards based system) – the entire change effort is jeopardized.

Don’t require everyone to do exactly the same thing.  Instead, generate clear criteria rather than rigid rules and forms to guide thoughtful and accurate decision-making on behalf of teachers.  Clear criteria and expectations allow for tight/loose leadership.

Leading change is challenging work, especially when working in a system that is steeped in traditional practices, fraught with conventional belief systems, and mired in politics. In every change initiative, the relationship between culture and structure is interdependent.  Each impacts the other in significant ways and most school improvement initiatives fail to address one or the other at the same time.  Leading change in grading practices requires educators to approach the task thoughtfully.  It involves addressing both culture and structure.  It involves inviting all stakeholders to the table and engaging in rigorous conversations about what’s best for our learners in their learning journey.

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.


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.


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.

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!