Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Observations and Standards Based Grading

Peter Johnston was quoted in Multiple Path's to Literacy describing the language we use about our own assessments as teachers, and the large-scale assessments the state requires:
We refer to our own observations as "subjective", "informal", and "anecdotal", where as we refer to tests as "objective" and "formal".  Our own language devalues the close knowledge we have and values distance. It would be more helpful if we referred to our own assessments as "direct documentation" and test-based assessments as "indirect" or "invasive."  These uses of language are far from trivial.  They show that we do not value our own assessment knowledge.  Our unfortunate cultural concern for control, distance, objectification, and quantification does not favor teachers, whose knowledge is often intuitive, usually nonnumerical, more inclined to the narrative, and gained through personal involvement.  Detailed knowledge comes from proximity and involvement, not distance.
I read this quote the day after I had a conversation with a parent of mine who disagreed with my grading scheme this year, because I am using much more observation of my students as the grade, instead of simply recording the students scores on assignments and tests. They were surprised and confused that I was taking a subject that is traditionally so objective, and making it subjective. At the time, my confidence was shaken and I almost decided to change and return to a more common method of simply recording assignments and tests scores, because after all, they are objective and numerical.

However, in the past two weeks, I have been able to make many observations of my students.  I feel quite confident that those observations are working better, and are being communicated better through my current standards based grading scheme, than they ever were before.  Now if a parent, student, or tutor asks if there's anything I can work on, I can point directly to skills that they have not yet mastered and confidently direct their studies.

While this quote was directed towards teachers of reading, writing, and literacy, which would be more 'nonnumerical' subjects for grading -- I think it applies equally well to algebra and physics.  I CAN tell, either by watching or listening to a student, what they understand and what they are still not getting, without just having students complete a quiz or test. However, a quiz or test is still one of the most efficient ways of me addressing a lot of different ideas and topics, and so I'm sure I will never be getting rid of them.

Link: explanation of my grading scheme:

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