Grades Should Reward Students At Their Best

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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Grading is hotly contested issue. Should we grade students? When should we grade students? How do we work through the culture of grading? What about students who only care about grades? There are no easy answers, even though there are many opinions, players, and deeply held beliefs. Personally, I would like to see education move completely away from grading, but I know this will take time and require deep reflection on our educational experiences and the educational experiences we want for our students.

So how can we move forward on this journey to a place where grading is a thing of the past? I think it really comes down to this tenet of learning: reward students at their best, and don’t punish them in the learning process.

Whether you call this standards-based grading, mastery-based grading, or even competency-based grading, it really doesn’t matter. It all comes down to a honoring the belief that our students can and will learn. The pacing may be different, the path may be different, and the role of the teacher may be different for each student. Through clear and transparent frameworks for grading (mastery-based, standards-based, etc.), our students know what excellence looks, sounds, and feels like. Our role as educators is to move our students to a place of educational achievement. Shouldn’t a grade reflect that? A grade is an indication of what a student learned, not how he/she tried and failed. We need to ensure that our grading systems reflect this. If we grade students when they try and fail, rather than when they succeed, our grading practices do not match our mission as educators to help our students succeed. The same is true for averaging grades. These send mixed messages to students. On the one hand, we say we believe in student achievement, but in practice the grade does not reward that.

When we started moving more toward this model at a school I was teaching, we had to have critical conversations about this, where all stakeholders were involved. Our continued message to all was this: “We will only reward students are their best, and not punish them at their worst.” Many found that hard to argue with. Who doesn’t want to be rewarded at their best? Who doesn’t want a chance to try again? Who doesn’t want to be rewarded for learning rather than punished for mistakes and failure in the learning process? We continued to document and monitor our students in all assessments, but grades were rewarded when students showed mastery. Here failure and mistakes were honored as steps in the learning process, not used as punishments to force students to do work through antiquated grading practices.

The journey of learning is full of failures. In my ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail, I write about how grading systems prevent failure from being a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. Our students deserve the chance to solve problems, take risks, and, yes, sometimes fail—but always in safe ways. If we grade everything, we are not honoring this. In fact, we are doing the opposite. We are punishing students. We are not meeting the needs of the whole child. Grading can determine whether or not a student feels safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. We can also reduce students’ anxiety and make them healthier if we don’t grade everything. A grade should reflect what a student learned, so it should never be set in stone. Grades must be flexible to allow students to have the opportunity to learn again. Grading policies that reward students at their best create students who are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged!

The 5 Keys to Successful Comprehensive Assessment in Action

 

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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Assessment is the key to good instruction. It shows us what students know and allows us to adjust our instruction. Assessment is tied to learning goals and standards, but students must own the assessment process as well, as they must be able to articulate what and how they are being assessed — and its value. But what does this look like in a unit of instruction?

In this post, I’m going to walk you through how I have used the 5 Keys for Comprehensive Assessment (see Linda Darling-Hammond in the video below) in my unit on Informational/Explanatory Writing so that you can see how comprehensive assessment is not only possible, but also great teaching and learning.

1. Meaningful Unit Goals and Question
I began with the end in mind when I planned this unit. In terms of assessment, we as educators must know what we want students to achieve by the time they leave the unit of instruction. If we don’t know where we are going, we may or may not get there. I want to make sure that all of my students succeed, so I must know those goals for all students.

Many of us are driven by standards. Whether those are Common Core State Standards or other important district- or school-level objectives and outcomes, we must make sure that our units of instruction are aligned to them. For this unit, I wanted to focus on what many consider power standards on Information/Explanatory Writing. Specifically I used these Common Core standards:

“Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.”
“Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.”
“Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility of each source, and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.”

To frame the unit and provide relevance, I provide an essential question around the power of media. It’s something my students experience every day, whether listening to the radio or other music industry outlets, watching TV shows or news, or streaming online media. The question I gave them was: “How do advertisers trick us?” I wanted them meet the writing objectives I had set out through a relevant issue that they would find meaningful.

2. Summative Assessment Through Writing
Since the intent of the unit was to assess writing standards, I knew that they needed to provide a well-written product. In this case, I could still provide them with some choice. Additionally, the standards I chose had to do with evidence, and so they needed to do research, cite evidence, and make sure that it aligned to their ideas in their written product. Some students chose to write a traditional essay, while others chose to write a letter to someone they knew, and perhaps bring some awareness to a larger audience. Even though there was choice in the written products, there was a common, standards-aligned rubric that could be used to assess all the products to ensure that all students were meeting the same outcomes.

3. Performance Assessment Through Presentation and Portfolio
It is important that we allow students other modes of showing what they know, and we can also use these performance assessments to assess different learning outcomes. In fact, students were able to show some of their content knowledge as well as speaking and listening standards around collaboration and effective presentation. They got to choose how they would present their answer to the essential question, whether by a podcast or a Prezi formal presentation. It allowed them to go deeper and express their creativity with the content. Performance assessments like these allow us to check not only for engagement, but also for deeper learning through 21st-century skills.

4. Formative Assessment and Feedback Along the Way
There were many benchmarks that allowed my students and me check for understanding of both content and skills. Great teachers formatively assess students all the time and may not even know it. In this case, some formative assessments were formal (a draft or outline), while others were more informal (interview questions, discussions and exit tickets). All of these allowed me to know where each of my students was in the learning process, as well as make instructional decisions. Some students needed more one-to-one feedback, while others were ready to move forward. I was able to make differentiation decisions and work smarter through small-group instruction and whole-group instruction.

Students were also given specific, timely, and actionable feedback through the formative assessment process, with peer critique, teacher critique, and even outside expert critique on their performance assessments. Formative assessment allowed students to experiment and, yes, sometimes fail. However, they were given the tools, both through feedback and instruction, to improve and move forward to success.

5. Student Ownership of Assessment Process
What has not been mentioned is the voice that students had in the overall construction of the unit and the assessment. When I first asked what they would be interested in learning more about, they mentioned commercials, adds, media, etc. Together we brainstormed some ideas, which I then transformed into an essential question. Already mentioned was that students did have some choice in the summative and performance assessments. By providing choice, more students were able to own how they showed what they knew. In addition, I gave them the rubrics early in the assessment process to set goals, provide meaningful feedback, and self-assess and reflect. The goals were transparent so that they could be agents in their assessment, rather than passive observers.

Any great unit of instruction can include these five components of effective assessment. These methods mean that assessment is no longer done to students, but with them, putting the focus on the student and learning. Although students are awarded grades, they are rewarded through being at their best and coached through their challenges.

How are you using assessment to empower students to own their learning?

4 Tips to Get More Out of Rubrics

 

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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When I work with educators on their professional development needs, rubrics frequently come up as something that teachers want to understand better and be able to find quickly and easily from a variety of sources for immediate use in the classroom. Often, however, rubrics found on the Internet are not of good quality—they may not be grounded in learning targets or the language may be too vague and confusing for students. The good news is that there are many great resources and tips out there to build your own rubrics. Here are some ideas to start.

Use Common Rubrics. For some students, school is one of the few stable routines in their young lives. Let’s support this safe and supportive culture by using common rubrics across subject areas or grade levels. This will help to ensure that each teacher is looking at student work objectively and lets students know that the expectations are the same regardless of the classroom. These common rubrics might be based in content or even 21st century skills. Students will appreciate these common expectations and common language around learning.

Decide Between Checklists or Rubrics. I used to fall into the trap of having too many numbers in my rubrics. I listed different numbers of sources, sentences, and so on, under each level, from approaching to exceeding a standard. Numbers don’t indicate quality. Focus on quality indicators when creating rubrics. However, if students need to have a specific number of something as a nonnegotiable, then create a checklist for them. Ask yourself, is this better on a checklist or a rubric?

Use Them! Rubrics are useless unless you use them. Why do students often throw them away or lose them? Because they don’t see the value in them as a learning tool! It is critical to have students use a rubric for an entire curriculum unit, project, or even over the course of a year. Use rubrics to set goals, provide peer- and self-assessment, and reflect on learning. Through intentional and meaningful use, rubrics can become a tool that students see as invaluable.

Focus on Learning Targets. Unless you are truly assessing creativity, it may not be appropriate to list creativity on the rubric. Similarly, neatness may not be appropriate if it isn’t directly related to the content or core discipline you intend to assess. Make sure you focus on learning targets, which could be standards or specific criteria, when you create the rubric. Articulate what the learning will look like in terms of approaching, meeting, and exceeding standards.

My biggest recommendation is to collaborate with others to create rubrics that are specific to your school, district, and learning targets. Whether they are state, Common Core, or 21st century standards, some of the best rubrics can be developed in-house. Use these tips as well as books from ASCD to support your work in building the best rubrics.

Project Based Learning and the Next Generation Science Standards

 

This post originally appeared on NSTA, a blog that supports science educators in implementing science best practices in a variety of ares. View Original >

 

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The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for a conceptual shift in teaching and learning. Yes, content is changing in the upcoming NGSS. In addition to traditional subject matter, science and engineering are now integrated into the standards, where students will learn about the principles of engineering and engage in the engineering design processes. In addition, many concepts are cutting across content. For example, the concept “systems and system models” is used in the exploration of nuclear energies as well as ecosystems. Also, scientific and engineering practices are aligned multiple times with the disciplinary content. The NGSS calls for a deeper understanding and application of content. The focus is on core ideas and practices of science, not just the facts associated with them.

While many teachers are already teaching for application of knowledge as well as engineering and core concepts, these key features will cause a deliberate shift in instruction requiring all teachers to reflect on their practice. Project Based Learning (PBL) is a learning model that not only aligns to these key features, but also strongly supports NGSS-based teaching and learning.

First of all, let’s clarify the difference between projects and PBL. Instead of a curricular add-on at the end, the project is the context for the learning. Students are given an authentic task and a student-friendly driving question to investigate over the course of the project. Within this project, the teacher scaffolds the learning for students and arms students with skills through traditional labs, lectures, and other instructional activities. Instead of teaching all content and skills before the project, the teacher teaches through the project, which is engaging and relevant to students. Using a “need to know” list generated by students, and revisited through the project, the teacher gives lessons and instructional activities to meet the needs of students. Students learn 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. The project has an audience outside the four walls of the classroom, and students create a variety of products for this authentic audience. These are just some of the essential elements of a PBL project.

Just as the draft NGSS calls for deeper understanding and application of knowledge, PBL demands the same. When teachers design PBL projects, they pick power standards to focus on, standards that usually take significant time to teach and focus on depth, not breadth. The NGSS are being designed to be those type of standards and thus easily used when designing a PBL project. In fact, a teacher designing a PBL project might target one of the crosscutting concepts, as that concept permeates the entire year of content. PBL calls for in-depth inquiry into the content. Students investigate a rigorous driving question, and do so by unpacking it into many subject questions. In addition, they must apply this knowledge as they construct products that answer the driving questions and complete the project. The product reflects a deep understanding of content, as students have reflected and revised throughout the learning process. It’s not just one encounter with the content per se, but multiple encounters.

As we notice the new engineering focus of NGSS, we might consider design challenges, a key component of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. However, design challenges are not necessarily PBL by default. One can take a design challenge, add some PBL essential elements to it, and make it into a PBL project. A common design challenge is to build an effective bridge, either physically with toothpicks, or digitally using a tool like SketchUp. However, there are some components that need to be added to it to make it truly a PBL project. Right now, the bridge is a great activity. In fact, it can be a great activity within the PBL to scaffold material. To make it PBL, students could make recommendations for retrofitting a local bridge and present this information to city officials and engineers. Yes, the product might be a bridge design, and yes, students may engage in a toothpick contest along the way. The difference is the work goes outside the four walls of the classroom, and actually is an authentic situation, where students are engaged in real-world work. As the design process and other components of engineering are leveraged in the NGSS, PBL projects can be designed to teach and assess these standards.

The NGSS will need to be met with pedagogical models that can leverage the required depth of understanding, and PBL can meet that challenge. PBL provides the strength of inquiry, rigor, and relevance that can capitalize on the key components of the NGSS.

Competencies Builds Better Assessment Practices

 

This post originally appeared on CompetencyWorks, a group designed to support the development of a community of people knowledgeable about competency education. View Original >

 


Competencies have the potential to truly shift assessment practices in the classroom. If you took a sampling of the current assessment practices, including grade-books, you would see a variety of system in place. From elaborate weights and point systems, to standards-based and rigorous, assessment practices rub the gambit. With a competency-based assessment system, we have the opportunity to create exemplary, equitable assessment practices for our students.

Objective Targets – Competencies are hinged on targets in the content area. When designed well, they are aligned to state, national, or common core standards, and explain clearly the evidence needed to master. The competency promotes evidence of learning, regardless of how the learning is shown. Because of this, students are allowed to show learning in a variety of ways, because the competency isn’t hinged on the product of learning, but rather what needs to be in that product. Teachers who use competency-based grading system must truly understand what evidence of that learning is. In other words, the target must be clear. When teachers are creating assessments, they aligned to objective targets, not subjective products. With this, we can be confident that the assessment is accurate and objective, regardless of product.

Embedded 21st Century Skills – Districts and schools across the nation, and internationally are quickly embracing 21st century skills as a critical learning parter to content standards. From critical thinking and problem solving, to communication and collaboration, these skills are transferable across content areas and learning environments. Competencies must articulated these skills, and, more importantly, thereby leverage them as crucial to the assessment process. When teachers create and plan assessments aligned to competencies they are targeting 21st century skills. They are assessing them, and including evidence of those skills as well as the content knowledge.

Freedom to Fail – Much of our current assessment practices are still anchored in antiquated grading of practice. Much of the work that occurs in the classroom is formative, intended to check progress of students, encourage differentiation, and give targeted feedback to students. Why is it often graded? I know where this comes from. As teachers, we need leverage to encourage student work, but this is the wrong way to go about. What happens if a student does mediocre, but then performs well on the summative assessment? When the formative is counted in the grading, then the summative, which is supposed to show mastery of competencies, is negatively impact. This is bad assessment practice. It does not reward students at their best. When we embrace Competency Based Assessment, we reward students at their best, and allow them the freedom to make mistakes and improve along the way.

As schools and districts continue to adopt competency based assessment systems, they will be forced to wrestle with old, and often inequitable assessment practices. This work has the potential to be a catalyst for assessment reform that serves all students, rewards them for rigorous work, and honors them at their best.

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