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Assessment and Grading

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Ripe for Creative Overhaul

What is your task as a teacher in terms of Assessment and Grading? Is your purpose to select talent? Is your purpose to develop talent? The answer must be one or the other as there is no midway.  It is one or the other.

If you are into selecting talent, then you must design a system that highlights and maximises the differences between students’ abilities.  This requires an assessment and grading structure that provides you with the greatest possible variation in students’ scores. This system cannot be designed to get everyone to 100% or mastery, because we will not be able to select the best.

If you decide that your purpose is to develop talent, then you will go about your work very differently.  This requires setting very clear goals and then doing everything in your power to assist the student to achieve those goals.  If your teaching is optimally effective, and you have given instant feedback during the unit of study, then all should attain high scores.

Lives of Promise: What becomes of High School Academic Valedictorians?

In her book, Karen Arnold summarises the longitudinal study of  81 High School Academic Valedictorians for 14 years after completing schooling.  46 were women and 35 men.

There is no suggestion here that we don’t honour achievement as a result of hard work, but what are we doing to recognise service, creativity, compassion, citizenship, character and a sense of social justice?  

There have been some creative alternatives.  At one High School, students could audition for the position and a committee of the staff  (academics, cultural and sport) make the selection based on their overall performance and value to society.

Norm-based criteria for recognition is no longer valuable in our rapidly changing society.  We need Innovators to come up with something different.

Our assessment systems need change.  Most assessment and grading strategies are based on “we’ve always done it this way!”  We have failed to think long and hard about the assessment strategies and chosen to take the path well-travelled and follow like sheep to the slaughter.

We need creative and innovative educators to use their imaginations.  Sadly, the research has been unable to provide us with what is truly “best practice.”  

We do know that plus and minus and half grade increments have been challenged and found to be severely lacking in any scientific basis. 

The bell-shaped grade distribution has also been proved to tell us nothing about what the students have learnt and are able to do.  It provides an inadequate description of student performance.

The single Grade system has also been challenged because it results in a hodgepodge assessment and grading system.

Mathematical algorithms have also been discounted.  Computerised grading systems may make the educators’ job easier, but grading requires careful planning, thoughtful judgement, a clear focus on purpose, excellent communication skills and an overriding concern for the well-being of the students. (Thomas Guskey)

So what is left?  

  1. Grading is a volatile system.
  2. Nothing that we currently use is working well.

The question  

What are you going to do about it?  As we enter this new age of preparing our students to survive, enjoy and remain psychologically well in their careers as adults, we have to answer this question.

“Am I going to step forward, help others learn what I know, and lead the effort to change things in my school and make meaningful improvements?”

It is going to be a battle – so prepare for some losses, but the war is worth everything you may experience if your heart is for the children.  

Great leaders see the problems and challenges, but take it on anyway. They dig deep and make fundamental changes.  It may not be the perfect solution, but we will never find the ideal unless innovative educators make the necessary experimental changes.


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