Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Practices

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


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My Edutopia post When Grading Harms Student Learning generated a lot of buzz. Grading is an emotional subject, with strong-held opinions and ideas. I was really excited to see discussion on all sides of the issue. The best feedback for me was that, while many readers agreed with parts of the premise, I hadn’t been specific on support strategies. Thank you for that feedback — it was specific, actionable, and created the need and excitement for a follow-up post. While there are many tools out there that help address concerns around redoes, zeroes, not grading homework, and more, here are some of my favorites:

Address Behavioral Issues Affecting Academic Achievement
Points off for late work may not motivate students. I know that when I took points off for late work, some students just accepted their losses. It didn’t address the behavioral issue of late work. Similarly, it didn’t address the problem of incomplete work. I needed to figure out a way to motivate students without using points as a method. I had a form, similar to Myron Dueck’s late or incomplete assignment form (click the link and scroll down to Figure 1.3), which tried to address what was getting in the way of turning in work on time. Here, students identify those issues, from heavy course load to procrastination, and then set a new goal for completion. They also identify the support structure they might need. These forms are great behavioral issues assessments that are responsive and not punitive. It’s an approach that truly helps students to be ready for a future when it’s much more detrimental to turn in work late.

Request to Retest
This is a great way to put the student in the driver’s seat of what they’ll redo and how they’ll redo it. It puts the onus on them to be self-advocates for their learning and helps them set goals for improvement. In a request to retest form (PDF), students reflect on their score and the concepts or skills that they failed. They also identify next steps on how to improve their test. While this is specific to a more traditional test, it could also be used for other major assessments that have many components or concepts.

Redo Parts of an Assessment
Some assessments that we give students have very clear categories. For example, a history exam might assess multiple concepts or ideas, or an essay might assess thesis and organization. Here the data is easily disaggregated. If this is the case, you might have a student redo only the parts that he or she needs, leaving the rest as is. That also means that you have to re-grade or reassess much less. It saves you time as an educator and helps you really target your assessments. Again, this may not be a useful strategy for assessments that synthesize concepts or skills, but rather for assessments that can be easily disaggregated.

Reflect on Assessments
One strategy that I’ve seen many educators use is ongoing reflection throughout the assessment process, whether we’re talking about a small quiz or a major exam. For example, after students complete an assessment, they reflect and discuss questions such as:

Were you prepared for this test? How did you prepare?
How long did you study the material outside of class?
Did you feel more confident about some parts or sections than others?

These questions allow students to recognize their strengths and weakness in what they need to learn, and how they can better prepare to learn the material. What I also enjoy about this strategy is how it connects to behavioral issues that get in the way of academic achievement, addressing them directly in a non-punitive way. It also helps students and teachers plan for redoes that may not be full redoes, saving teachers and students time and stress.

Pick Your Battles
You know your curriculum. You know that some assessments and assignments are crucial in showing evidence of learning. Other assessments, mostly formative, are simply check-ins and don’t affect the grade much or at all. These smaller assessments may not be worthy of redoes or late/incomplete assignment forms. On the other hand, bigger, more comprehensive assessments may present better opportunities for offering redoes and addressing behavioral issues. As a master educator, you can pick your battles and focus on what matters most in terms of assessment. Use your best judgment!

Again, It’s About Hope
I hope that you find these tools useful in your classrooms. We need to be realistic and recognize that, no matter what we try, we may not get all students to do the work that we want in class. But we do have an opportunity to rethink how we assess students and create systems that allow for hope of achievement rather than relying on antiquated systems that haven’t met the needs of all students.

It’s All About Impact

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


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I’ve had the honor of working with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to implement the FIT Teaching process with teachers around the country. We have focused on setting purpose for learning, creating a culture that thrives, intentionally planning and scaffolding lessons, and establishing a formative assessment system to provide feedback to students and “feed forward” instruction. The FIT Teaching process seeks to create a cohesive tool for teachers to reflect on areas of practice, celebrate success, and set goals. These elements of the FIT Teaching process focus on the classroom and what teachers do. A pitfall of all the focus is forgetting the ultimate goal of the work—the impact on student learning. Impact is imperative. How do we know that what we have intentionally planned and executed in the classroom mattered? How do we make new decisions based on that impact? These are critical questions to the work of all educators, and in the new ASCD publication “Intentional and Targeted Teaching: A Framework for Teacher Growth and Leadership” authors Fisher, Frey, and Stefani Hite add the critical element of impact.

It’s All About Short-Term and Long-Term Growth
Although daily checks for understanding are critical to informing instruction and knowing what student do and do not know, the idea of impact focuses on different short-term and long-term growth assessments. Examples of short terms assessments include benchmark assessments and criterion- or norm-referenced tests. These might measure weekly impact or focus on a unit of instruction. It is also important that these assessments are not simply viewed by one teacher alone. Teacher teams, PLCs, and departments need collaborative time to analyze the results of short-term growth assessments to look for patterns and trends and make informed decisions on next steps for instruction.

In addition to short-term growth assessments, we should also look at long-term growth assessments. These long-term growth assessments focus on transfer goals—goals that can transcend units, disciplines, and standards. How do we know we are working toward an ideal graduate that is future ready? We need to provide students opportunities to demonstrate rigorous and meaningful transfer goals through performance assessments to see impact on student learning.

It’s All about Growth and Leadership
What is so powerful about impact is the opportunity for us to grow as educators, both at the classroom and system levels. At the classroom level, it allows assessments to be useful rather than punitive. It allows teachers to not only create powerful assessments that measure impact on student learning but also reflect on daily teaching and learning and lead change in their classrooms. Analyzing student impact also allows for reflection and growth at the system level, where leaders can constantly ensure decisions focus on student learning. By focusing on impacting student learning, we can grow and lead our schools in cycles of continuous improvement.

Get these FIT Teaching resources from ASCD to strengthen the teaching practices in your school, and move your students’ learning from where it is now to where it should be.

6 Tips for Engaging Capstone Projects

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


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It’s that time of the year, the race to the finish, only weeks until school ends for the summer (at least for many of us). With the pressures of testing behind us, we often have a bit more freedom to create curriculum and activities for students. We can try out new ideas, give students more choice in what they want to learn, and celebrate the learning that we’ve accomplished this year. One way that many educators like to do these things is through capstone projects, year-end culminations that often invite students to engage in choosing what they want to learn, as well as how they learn it. Capstone projects are a great tool for personalizing learning, and they’re effective for creating even more student engagement. Here are some tips to create excellent capstone projects.

Ensure “Main Course, Not Dessert”
This is always a good reminder. While capstone projects often draw on the entire year’s learning, it’s important to pose this question to students as well as reflecting upon it ourselves as educators: What new learning will occur in this capstone project? This is key to ensuring that a capstone project isn’t simply a fun activity (although that’s still a good intention), and it helps in creating a project that’s more challenging and truly focused on new learning and experiences. This new learning could be in a different context or topic from what the class has done so far, it might require a variety of skills that they haven’t previously combined, or it could be a synthesis of sorts. Reflect on how you can ensure that there will be new learning in your capstone projects.

Take It To Another Level
Projects should focus on depth, not breadth. If you have the ability to allow students choice in what they learn, consider having them revisit a previously learned concept, topic, or skill. To ensure not only engagement but also “Main Course,” create rubrics with students that focus on their going deeper into the content. Instead of “meeting standard,” focus the assessment and learning on “exceeding standard.” When students engage with a challenge, we should take them beyond the opportunity to review learning by pushing the learning even farther in a capstone project.

More Voice and Choice
This is nothing new, but we can always think of new ways to offer choice to our students. At the end of the year, after we’ve pressed through most of our required curriculum and standards, we may have some wiggle room on what students can learn. We might offer choice in one way, but not in another. Perhaps we want to spiral review a writing skill for all students, but offer them a choice in what history topic they want to learn about. Or we might need students to learn a math concept that we haven’t yet covered in the curriculum, but they can choose how they want to learn it and connect that concept to the real world. Have students make personal, meaningful choices. See my previous blog about voice and choice for ideas about how to create more engagement.

Make a Difference
One of my favorite ways of taking capstone projects to another level is through service and making a difference. When students see that their work matters, they will be engaged. There are, of course, lots of opportunities to make an impact outside of the walls of the classroom, whether in the community or globally. There are also great ways for students to make a difference in their own lives once they understand the personal impact that’s possible. Start by asking then how they want to make a difference in their capstone projects.

Tell the Full Story Through Assessment
Often, capstone projects involve what could be called a portfolio of student learning, which includes many steps in their yearlong journey. These assessments, graded or not, are valuable artifacts that serve as a photo album of a learning continuum, rather than simple snapshots representing individual moments of learning. Capstone projects are about growth, and both teachers and students can use assessments from the capstone project as well as earlier in the year to celebrate the growth in learning. Students, parents, and teachers deserve to see this growth in order to be proud of their learning from the entire year as well as during the capstone project.

Experiment With “No Grades”
Often we use grades as a way to get students to learn rather than addressing a root problem — our students are not engaged. While you might want to grade students on their work, you might also try the experiment of moving students away from grades as a motivator, and instead focus on the learning. Rather grading every part of the capstone project, consider grading only the capstone component. This is also in ideal place to start the conversation with students about how they want to be and should be graded. Consider using capstone projects to start a culture shift away from grades and toward learning.

I love implementing and watching students implement capstone projects. I’m inspired by the ways that teachers structure these projects and by the amazing learning that students share. Capstone projects are truly an opportunity to create meaningful learning along with powerful engagement and impact. How do you create engaging capstone projects?

Assess More, Grade Less

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


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One of the best things we can do in our classes to not only increase student achievement but also improve school and classroom culture is to stop grading everything. We live in a world where much is driven by grades. College admission counselors want to see grades. Many district policies, in an effort to encourage formative assessment and reporting, demand a certain number of grades in a time period. Many of our students are grade driven and constantly ask, “What’s my grade?” There are several forces that drive teachers to grade. We must, however, push back on these forces and instead focus on assessment.

Do We Really Want to See Grades?
I would argue that when a parent, for example, wants to know his child’s grade, he really wants to know how his child in doing the class. A grade alone gives no clear feedback on what students know or where they are in their learning journey. Many schools realize this and no longer report grades; instead, they report on clear learning objectives. Work and assignments may be associated with these reports, but rather than grades coming first, learning comes first. Students and parents want the same thing—to know how they are doing. We should meet that need by providing assessments with clear feedback rather than simply reporting grades.

Grading Can Harm Learning
Yes, grading can harm student learning. Often, grades are used as an enforcer to make students perform; in reality, this approach doesn’t work. Grades are commonly used as the wrong consequence to address a problem. One prime example is how some teachers deal with late work. To try to prevent students from turning in late work, teachers threaten to take off points or negate a score. This is highly problematic because it muddies the true academic grade with a behavior issue, and it often doesn’t fix the root problem. We should stop using grades as punitive tools. In his book Grading Smarter, Not Harder, Myron Dueck provides some great grading strategies, such as marking incompletes instead of zeros on late work to encourage students to work to correct a behavioral problem.

Focus on Formative Assessment
When we focus on formative assessment, we are actually taking a huge workload away. We aren’t spending all our time grading everything and can instead start working smarter. We can give more timely feedback in the moment. We can look for patterns in student errors and adjust our instruction accordingly. We can assign smaller, low-stakes check-in activities that help students know where they are in their progress toward the learning goals. Eventually, we may need to assign a summative mark to a student, but even then it shouldn’t be a priority. I was talking with a colleague about formative and summative assessment, and he jokingly said, “We give summative assessments when we are done with teaching.” We both laughed, but I knew he had a point. Summative assessments are assigned arbitrarily for the purposes of reporting, scoring, and sorting students. I say we instead focus on formative assessment to show that learning is never truly complete. Maybe I’m crazy, but it’s a dream I have.

Many teachers, schools, and districts have or are moving to grading models where assessment is meaningful and focused on feedback. It will take time to transform a culture of grading into a culture of assessment. We have to work with all stakeholders to reframe the conversation around student achievement and focus on meaningful assessments rather than hollow grades.

When Grading Harms Student Learning

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


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There are so many forces at work that make educators grade, and grade frequently. For sports eligibility, coaches constantly look at grades to see if a student is at an academic level that will allow him or her to play. Colleges review transcripts to examine what type of courses students took and their corresponding grades. Teachers must follow policy that demands them to enter a certain amount of grades every week, month, or marking period. There’s no stopping it. However, we need to reflect upon policies and practices like this — and possibly consider regulating them. Is grading the focus, or is learning the focus? Yes, grades should and can reflect student learning, but often they can get in the way and actually harm student learning.

The Dreaded Zero
I used to give out zeros in the hopes that it would force students to do work and learn. This was a terrible idea! I’m so happy that I received the professional development and resources to challenge my thinking on how I was graded as a student. Myron Dueck notes that students need to care about consequences, and many students simply don’t care about zeros. In fact, some of them will say, “Fine, I’ll take the zero,” which totally defeats the intended purpose and in fact destroys any leverage that I have to help students learn. Zeros do not reflect student learning. They reflect compliance. Instead of zeros, we should enter incompletes, and use these moments to correct behavioral errors and mistakes. Often, one zero can mathematically destroy a student’s grade and pollute an overall metric that should reflect student learning. Here, grading is getting in the way of truly helping a student, as well as showing what that student really knows.

Points Off for Late Work
I’m guilty of this one as well. Similar to using zeros, when students didn’t turn in work on time, I threated them with a deduction in points. Not only didn’t this correct the behavior, but it also meant that behavioral issues were clouding the overall grade report. Instead of reflecting that students had learned, the grade served as an inaccurate reflection of the learning goal. Well, I certainly learned from this experience, and instead began using late work as a time to actually address the behavioral issue of turning in late work. It was a teachable moment. I had students reflect on what got in the way, apply their problem-solving skills to these issues, and set new goals. Students should learn the responsibility of turning in work on time, but not at the cost of a grade that doesn’t actually represent learning.

Grading “Practice”
Many of our assignments are “practice,” assigned for students to build fluency and practice a content or skill. Students are often “coming to know” rather than truly knowing. Consequently, these assignments are formative assessments, reflecting a step in the learning process and not a final outcome or goal. Formative assessment should inform instruction. It should not be graded. If we assign a grade to failed practice, the overall grade won’t reflect what they learned. It won’t be a reflection of success, and it may even deter students from trying again and learning. Practice assignments and homework can be assessed, but they shouldn’t be graded.

Grading Instead of Teaching
As mentioned earlier, many teachers are required to enter grades on a frequent basis. While this policy may be well intended, in practice it can become a nightmare and run afoul to the intent. Districts and schools often call for frequent grades so that students, parents, and other stakeholders know what a child knows, and what he or she needs to learn next. This is a great intent. In fact, we should formatively assess our students and give everyone access to the “photo album” of learning rather than a single “snapshot.” However, if we educators do nothing but grade, we rob ourselves of the time that we need to teach. We’ve all been in a situation where grading piles up, and so we put the class on a task to make time for grading. This is wrong, and it should be the other way around. Teaching and learning should take precedence over grading and entering grades into grade books. If educators are spending an inordinate amount of time grading rather than teaching and assessing students, then something needs to change.

Hope
Our work as educators is providing hope to our students. If I use zeros, points off for late work, and the like as tools for compliance, I don’t create hope. Instead, I create fear of failure and anxiety in learning. If we truly want our classrooms to be places for hope, then our grading practices must align with that mission. Luckily, standards-based grading, mastery-based grading, and competency-based learning are making strides in many schools, districts, and states. These methods more accurately align with the premise that “it’s never too late to learn.” If you want to learn more about equitable grading practices, read work by Ken O’Connor, Myron Dueck, Dylan Wiliam, and Rick Wormeli.

With that, I will leave you with an essential question to ponder: How can we grade and assess in a way that provides hope to all students?

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