Monday, September 23, 2013

Layering a Foundation for Change (in grading & assessment)

Disclaimer: This blog is part of a series that summarizes and discusses the book "Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning" by Thomas R. Guskey & Jane M. Bailey. Please consider reading the whole book...this is just my summary and thoughts from the text....

Chapter 3: Laying a Foundation for Change

This chapter takes a step closer to the solutions that the book presents for the difficult challenge of creating grading and reporting systems that promote and accurately assess student learning. This chapter of the book bring up some excellent points that begin to lay a framework for a new way of looking at the grading process.

Profound Statement #1:
Grading and Reporting Are Not Essential to Instruction
This is a shocking yet true statement. Great teaching does not require grades.

Profound Statement #2:
The primary job of grading and reporting is NOT to facilitate student learning.

Profound Statement #3: 
A requirement of great teaching is to "regularly check on students' learning progress".

Great teaching includes teachers giving students "regular and specific feedback on their learning progress."  This feedback needs to have clear direction for how the student  can improve. Keep in mind checking is different than grading. When you check with students you are finding out how your students are doing, see what they have learned, and what they still might be struggling with. The book describes this process as "diagnostic and prescriptive." Grading and reporting is different because it involves "judgement of adequacy of students' performance at a particular point in time." It is therefore "descriptive and evaluative."

It is tricky for teachers to wear both of these hats...."one as advocate and one as judge for students." Teachers have to work to find a balance between "the formative, instructional purposes of assessments of student learning, and the summative, evaluative purposes required in grading." You don't have to include all of the evidence that you gather from students as part of their grades either.

This section brings up the concept of Mastery Learning for the first time. Mastery learning really caught my attention as its seems like that is ultimately the attempt of music least it is for me. I want students to be proficient at minimum with the content that I am providing in my class....and I will work for and with my students to get them there. If a student doesn't pass a music theory unit I would rather provide them with further materials to improve their skills then just give them an F and move on. I want them to learn! Students can be given corrective work and once they complete that they can try to pass the assignment again. I also really liked that in this system students must complete the corrective assignments in order to be allowed the opportunity to re-do the assessment they didn't pass.

Grading and Reporting Require Subjective Judgments
Assigning grades and reporting on student learning is a mostly subjective process. Teachers have a lot of choice in how they set up their grading systems and how they assign grades. Its a delicate balance. The more "detailed and analytical the grading procedures" the more subjective it becomes. But the more detailed the systems, the better learning tools we provide our students.

The important things for teachers to consider include making sure that their grading standards, all compentents of the grades, and the criteria used to determine grades are all made clear. When these things are clearly articulated it only enhances the validity of the student's grade since human judgement can not be completely removed from the grading process.

Profound Statement #4: 
Grades Have Some Value as Rewards, but no value as punishments. 

One of the most helpful things that I read in this entire book was the last section of this chapter that focused on learning criteria...
Profound Statement #5: 
Grading and reporting should be done in reference to learned criteria. 

This section starts by clearning pointing out that teachers should not be grading on the curve. The book points out a significant amount of research and rationale as to why teachers should stay away from this kind of grading. I highly suggest reading this section. With that being said, I don't grade on a curve and therefore, I focused on other material presented in this section.

What I did take away was an idea presented by John Bishop of Cornell University. He outlined the idea of a common standard and that the goal of the teacher should be to have every student achieve this standard. It then also becomes a common goal of all the students to achieve this standard.

Profound Statement #6: The competition is against the standard and not each other. 

This completely resonated (and still resonates with me). That is exactly how I want to be teaching... to defined standards with the goal for all students to succeed.

The book does also discuss some important topics such as the selection of valedictorians. I think for individuals who are academic counselors and adminstrators this is a great section to read and discuss, and potentially revise your current systems.

The final section of the this chapter has been the most influential thing in helping me determine my new grading and reporting viewpoint (and system) for my classroom and it started with clarifying learning criteria. 

Profound Statement #7: There are three different types of learning criteria used in grading and reporting. 
1. Product criteria
2. Process criteria
3. Progress criteria

Product criteria is what advocates of standard and performance based approaches to teaching and learning use predominately. The focus is on what the students know and are able to do at a specific point in time. Examples are final examination scores, final products (reports or projects), overall assessments, and othe culminating lesson activities.

Process critieria often advocated by teachers who believe that product criteria does not create an adequate picture of student learning. Teachers who value effort and/or work habits as factors in reporting student learning use process criteria. These teachers regularly count classroom quizzes, homework, classroom participation, and/or attendance as important factors in reporting and grading of students.

Progress critiera is used by teachers who believe its important to consider what students have gained from learning experiences. This could also be viewed as "improvement scoring" or "educational growth".

"We believe, however, that if learning is assessed using a well-defined set of credible learning standards that include graduated levels of performance, then progress and growth criteria can be considerd synonymous."

The book does continue to go on to say that progress critieria typically looks at how a student progresses over a particular period of time rather than just focusing on where a student is at one particular given point in time. The result of this can be highly individualized scoring criteria and assignments for each student. Most of the current research in this area is focused on differentially paced instructional programs and those students in special education programs.

This idea of progress critieria really did resonate with me as a music teacher because our students are all at very different places in their musical development and so trying to find ways to customize the students' music education plan or assignments could be highly beneficial to the students' musical growth.

The book recommends that its important to outline "clear indicators of the product, process, and progress criteria and then to report them seperately". While this is simply put it can be very difficult to do....outlining how this can be done in different classrooms is a big focus of what is to come.

My next blog is going to introduce my new course syllabus for my band classes and share some of the trials and tribulations I have had as I embark on this new grading and reporting journey.