Assessment has always been an interesting professional discussion for me. Much of my knowledge around “best practice” for assessment has been accrued through professional dialogue with colleagues and friends. Coming from a high school background as well, my practice has tended to be influenced by factors truly not related to the mastery of the outcomes in question. Through professional conversation, PD, reading, and dialogue, I find my practice has changed considerably.
Recently I had the opportunity to help present to the Campbell Collegiate staff about assessment and best practice (presentation with L. Lerminiaux, Jan 2013). Much of the PD focused around Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, and Damian Cooper’s Redefining Fair and Talk About Assessment. During the conversation, we provided the participants with some prompt questions. They were to indicate their belief on the following prompts:
*that everything a student does that I assess should be included in their final grade evaluation.
*accepting late assignments encourages students to become irresponsible.
*giving zeros as grades for incomplete work is an effective way to motivate students and teach them accountability.
*citizenship marks (attitude, attendance, tardiness, behaviour, participation, volunteer hours, changing out, permission slips, fee payment, effort, etc.) should be included in my final grade calculation as they are listed in the Ministry’s curricular outcomes for my course.
Of course, much conversation ensued after these prompts. Different core areas, different philosophies around the role of the teacher and what assessment truly is, these conversations laid the groundwork for the discussions that were to follow. We continued by looking at some case studies from Damian Cooper’s Talk About Assessment – with the intent that people would begin to question some of the typical assessment practice that we see daily. This is especially relevant at the high school level where our report cards are not divided into outcomes based assessment and a social and personal growth rubric. There were many interesting conversations as we passed by the tables and it was great to see the engagement and interest from the staff about a topic that is truly relevant to all educators.
We continued with more discussion prompts in the form of a rotating discussion circle, and then dove into Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading. Although there are fifteen ‘fixes’ that O’Connor identifies, we chose to focus on five.
1. Fix 1: Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades; include only achievement.
5. Fix 13: Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades; use only summative evidence.
The teachers did a jigsaw strategy to become experts at their ‘fix’ and then shared their knowledge & table discussion with their new group. There was some great discussion about what best practice with assessment looks like. Out of those conversations came these big ideas:
And of course… much more.
For me, professionally, one of the most important lessons regarding assessment that I’ve gained from the Fifteen Fixes discusses the notion of taking off “late marks”: “Penalties distort the achievement record the grade is intended to communicate, can actually harm student motivation, and for many students do not result in changes in behavior… Supportive approaches do not distort achievement or motivation and more closely mirror practices in the world beyond school” (O’Connor 24-26). Evidence from my classroom indicates to me that students who hand in late assignments are not motivated by the removal of late marks and tend to repeat the behavior over and over. Again – the question of what I am truly assessing in the classroom – student achievement of the outcome or behavior? O’Connor tells us that late marks do not reflect the real world but rather, forcing students to take accountability and make arrangements for missing or late work does a better job of preparing our students for the world after high school.
In all, the day started some great professional dialogue and will be interesting to see the next steps. Our division will eventually see outcomes based reporting at the high school level and there is an action team focused around what this might look like at Campbell Collegiate. I am sure that assessment will continue to be a major focus of our practice, especially as our province continues to discuss standard assessment across the grades.
If you have a moment, check out this xtranormal video on authentic assessment.