It’s finally time to get into the book starting at the beginning with Chapter 1: Setting the Stage. I had a lot of notes on this one so it will probably be at least two posts. I will try to turn my notes into something more fluent and easy to read but it may not always happen so it something doesn’t make sense please ask. Also I read this first chapter before I found the study guide online so I may repeat some things I said there, just so you know.
Starting right away on page 2 this quote caught my attention “How confident am I that the grades students get in my classroom/school/district are accurate, meaningful, and consistent, and that they support learning?”
Have I ever thought about this before? Did the grades I gave at SMS really reflect the students’ learning? I’m definitely one of those who argues that standardized testing, specifically the MAP test (Missouri Assessment Program) don’t always reflect a child’s knowledge due to any number of reasons. My son is in third grade and taking the MAP for the first time this year, after seeing the responses he’s given on MAP like assessment for class I wonder what his score will be. I know he understands the topics taught because he can easily discuss and explain them however sometimes he reads the questions differently than they are meant. I’ve seen this happen with students as well, however since I have had that experience I know that his scores may not be indicative of his actual level.
I remember looking at the noun assessment provided in the teacher’s edition of the writing and grammar series I used and noticing that it wasn’t written the way the practice work had been. At that point I rewrote the exam, I’m ashamed to say this was the third or fourth year I’d used the test and hadn’t noticed this before. I had mistakenly assumed (and we all know what happens when you assume right?) that because the test was written by the same people that wrote the practices they would be similar in style. Yep wrong! Never again will I make that assumption, I will be checking the assessments and changing them as need be.
My partner teacher and I made it a practice to review our tests, specifically which questions were missed most often. As we graded exams we often sat together and would discuss things we noticed such as questions that seemed to be missed frequently, we would then look at the answers to see if we had possibly given more than one correct answer by accident or if the question was in any way confusing. We eliminated those questions from the exam for the next time it was given. We also did not count that question in the final score on the exam, if students had answered it correctly that counted as bonus points for them, hmmm wonder if that would be bonus points that are a no no or bonus points that are considered showing extra knowledge?
It seems to me that this question just might be the reason so many teachers/districts have gone to backwards design, starting their lesson/unit planning by asking “what do I want my students to learn? What is the learning target/objective? How will I assess that learning?” and once they have determined that asking “Now how will I teach so they learn what I’m assessing?” I know that I saw an increase in test scores when I began planning this way.
On pages 2 and 3 there is a blog post from the Washington Post that tells the tale of two students in the same school. A student who had not achieved a high enough GPA was asked to leave, another student from the same school wrote in to say he had a similar schedule but with different teachers and some of his teachers offered a great deal of extra credit points. He said he believes had he had the same teachers as student A he would have also been asked to leave because his grades would not have been as high.
This shows to me the importance of having a school wide policy on extra credit. If two teachers offer equally challenging curriculum but one of them also offers a substantial amount of extra credit the grades for the students in that class will be higher. The office will be inundated for requests to be in that teacher’s class. This is not effective, this doesn’t really show us that our students are learning what we want them to learn.
Ok on to page 5 where this made me stop to think: grades need to support learning – When teachers assign point values to simply turning in work (uh oh guilty, I have done this, there have been times where I was just so behind, so busy that I checked off each student had turned in the assignment and gave them 10 points for it. I tried not to do this often but it did happen.) or put a mark on everything students do and use every number when calculating the grade the message sent to students is clear: success lies in the quantity of points earned.
I agree with the first part, if I simply assign points for turning in an assignment then yes students get the wrong message though I don’t know that it’s a matter of success lying in the quantity of points earned rather I think they learn that turning it in is all that is necessary, making an effort is not. I have a problem with the idea that we shouldn’t put marks on everything students do, maybe my problem lies in the thought that for this book marks seems to mean scores or grades, points earned. To me marks can simply be a plus or minus, a star that shows it was done not the same thing as points. And if we don’t count points on everything how do we calculate grades? Scores must be given on at least some items, how do we choose which ones? It can not only be tests, I just can’t get behind that thought. At what age do we start with point scores? How do we explain why they aren’t getting points on some work?
Oh boy not even off of page 5 and they have me filled with even more questions: With some limited exceptions, only evidence from summative assessments should be used when determining grades.
If you’ve read my previous blog posts I bet you can guess what my big concern is here…TEST ANXIETY. I’m trying not to harp on this topic as I’m hoping maybe it will be addressed later on but here are my original thoughts from reading this: What about those kids with testing anxiety or the child who went without breakfast that morning, who came to school sick, was beaten or berated that morning, experienced the loss of a pet or family member? Do we allow a second or more chances on summative? (breaking into my old thoughts to say it appears this is exactly what is expected) Teachers know their students. What do they do when the summative does not show the knowledge the student has demonstrated in homework or in class work?
I think that’s more than enough for today as this post is getting rather long. What are you opinions? What do you think? Am I way off base in my thoughts? Are you on the side of the author? Maybe you’ve read the whole book already or your district is implementing these fixes and you can help me understand and feel better. More on chapter 1 next time.