Tag Archives: Sound Grading Practices

Grades as Communication

Ken MattinglyBy Ken 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. Continue reading

This I Believe

By Ken O’ConnorOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I have been involved in some interesting and at times, contentious, discussions about grades over the last few weeks, I thought that this would be a good place to reaffirm my beliefs about grading. I agree that the ideal would be narrative feedback only K-16, and I am a great fan of colleges like Alverno in Milwaukee. However, for the foreseeable future, grades will be required in almost all colleges and high schools, many middle schools, and some elementary schools. I believe we should continue to try to move not having grades as high up the grade levels as possible, but we also have to fight to make traditional grades better — more accurate, meaningful, consistent, and supportive of learning. So this is what I advocate: Continue reading

Redefining Accountability

By Tom Schimmer105046605 - New Photo #2

The issue of accountability often serves as a source of tension between those on either side of the grading reform ledger. For those still not sure about a move toward standards-based grading, the pushback often centers on the notion that “students need to be held accountable!” To be clear, the collective movement toward standards-based grading is not some misguided attempt to make school easier for students or to relieve students of their responsibility to fully invest themselves in their own learning. In truth, most would agree that students need to be held accountable, but the difference is that standards-based grading establishes a new kind of accountability.

For some, the term accountability is code for punishment, which sounds harsh, so the word consequence is often used as a substitute to present the illusion of a more logical response. As thinking goes, punishments need to be applied by adults whereas consequences are the natural result of student missteps. Either way, this version of accountability is a distraction that focuses on the student’s behavior (not learning) and compromises the validity (accuracy) of what is ultimately reported about student proficiency. While some may philosophically justify this approach, philosophical justifications aren’t enough to neutralize the role this version of accountability plays in diminishing the meaning and clarity of the grades student earn.

What is needed is a new definition of accountability where all learning is mandatory. With late penalties, struggling students have almost no incentive to complete essential learning activities after three or four days. Give a student a zero and, if he or she is still passing as a result, it is unlikely that the work will ever get turned in; that’s not accountability. The irony is that while many claim standards-based grading makes it easier for students, the traditional accountability practices actually do more to make school easier by rendering essential learning as optional. Real accountability doesn’t allow students to opt out of what is essential nor does it allow students to play a numbers game to decide which assignments need to be completed and which ones do not.

Punishing irresponsibility doesn’t teach anyone how to be responsible; it only teaches someone that they should have been responsible, but it doesn’t teach them how. If the life lesson of responsibility is that important, we would be proactive in teaching responsibility in the same way we teach math, ELA, or any other subject. As a point of comparison, we don’t use the threat of lower scores to teach respect. Almost every school expects students to be respectful, holds students accountable when they are disrespectful, but never needs the gradebook to do so; responsibility can be handled the same way. What a student knows and when they hand their teacher something are two different constructs–both important, just different. If you want students to learn how to be responsible, teach them. Playing the life lesson trump card because we’re annoyed that a student was non-compliant is no way to ensure the accuracy of what is reported or to establish a culture of optimism about learning moving forward.

I am looking forward to sharing more on this topic at the Pearson-ATI Sound Grading Practices Conference (Dec. 4-5, 2014) in my session entitled “Redefining Accountability.” In addition to my keynote address, “Grading from the Inside Out,” I will also be presenting “Reassessment the Right Way and Effective Leadership for Standards-Based Grading.”

If you’re unable to attend the conference, please take some time to follow the hashtag #ATIcon on Twitter while the conference is in session.

What Happens Before the Reassessment?

Jeff_EricksonBy Jeffrey Erickson

The topic of reassessment has spurred many “lively” conversations and debates in schools. Some argue that it isn’t fair that some get a second chance for learning and believe that it doesn’t reflect the real world to have second chances (forgetting the fact that many would not be able to drive to work if there weren’t redos.) Others contend that reassessments provide students an important opportunity to improve their learning and show proficiency. However, what I’ve learned over time, as a building principal, is that we need to shift the conversation away from reassessment and towards what happens before the first summative assessment is even given.

My school, Minnetonka High School, is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. As teachers of IB courses complete course assessments, they are required to review all of the assessments, compare them against the rubric, and predict students’ final IB scores (from a 0-7 point scale). In turn, IB moderates the teacher’s predicted score. The process of predicting individual students’ scores is intriguing because of the amount of evidence of learning required to predict them.

A teacher who starts with the end in mind should be able to go around the classroom as he or she passes out the summative assessment to the class and accurately predict each student’s performance. The outcome on the test should not be a surprise to either the teacher or student. Sounds simple? In reality, no—to do this, the teacher must have a preponderance of evidence about each student’s performance gathered over the unit of study. There has to have been a series of formative assessments that provide the teacher with accurate feedback about the student’s learning. Each of the formative assessments helps drive and shape the instruction of the teacher so that mid-course corrections can be made. Rather than being reactive after the summative, the goal is to be proactive during the learning process and intervene long before the first test is given. If the evidence of learning shows that students are not ready, why would a student take the assessment the first time?

In the end, the testing results should never be a surprise. The criteria for success should be clear to all parties. Students should receive timely, specific, and targeted feedback throughout the learning process. With this information, proactive interventions can happen just in time for remediation—not the day after the summative assessment.

Twenty-three Ways Golf is Better than Classroom Assessment and Grading

By Ken O’Connor

I am a keen golfer and I sometimes think about how much better golf is at assessment and grading than what we have often done in the classroom. Let me list the ways as I see them. 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.

Most Recent? Most Frequent? Most Accurate?

by Tom Schimmer

One of the fundamental tenets of standards-based grading is that greater (if not exclusive) emphasis is placed on the most recent evidence of learning. As students move through their natural learning trajectory it is important that students be credited with their actual levels of achievement. That is, when students reach a certain level of proficiency it is important that what is reported accurately reflects that level. To average, for example, the new evidence with the old evidence is to distort the accuracy of the grade; the grade then is reflective of where the student used to be as the student was, at some point, likely at the level the average represents.

What we have collectively realized is that the speed at which a student achieves has inadvertently become a significant factor in determining a student’s grade, especially when determined within a traditional grading paradigm. When averaging is the main (or sole) method for grade determination, success is contingent upon early success or the average of what was and what is will continue to distort the accuracy of the students’ grades. Never forget that every 40 needs an 80, just to get a 60. That’s pure mathematics; the lower the initial level, the more a student has to outperform his/herself in order to achieve even a minimal level of proficiency. Continue reading