Friday, July 8, 2011

Thinking About Assessment

I have been thinking about the ways in which we assess students and the more traditional evaluation process seen in schools. After spending time away from school, I returned to the office this week. A portion of my early summer work is dedicated towards reconciling grades. In serving as supervisor or chair for five academic departments, parent and student requests are forwarded to me. I have not kept record to conduct a comparative study between years, but it appears as if more families are challenging grades and in some cases these conversations are a bit contentious.

These are never easy conversations. It is certainly harder to piece together a story when you are the only one in the school building. I must admit that during moments related to investigating a grade related inquiry, I stop and ask myself why is so much made over grades? I am not naive to the fact of why grades are perceived as important and how grades are used to determine entry into programs or even used as data to inform curricular decisions. I just fail to see the relevance in having a menu of grades to choose from or that a letter/number is supposed to sum up everything a child has accomplished or failed to achieve throughout the year.

I could be dealing with a parent or student who thinks the grade should be changed from a B- to a B+. Can the difference between a minus and a plus in the scheme of moving students towards achieving expectations, benchmarks, course proficiencies and standards be clearly disseminated in the contrast between a 82% and 85%? It is just making less sense with each passing moment that so much time, energy and attention is devoted towards “grades”. I’m not sure what the result tells us about a student or that a single point can mean so much.

To an extent I think the middle ground of grading needs to be removed. If each course or series of courses (think about establishing benchmarks across a grade level) were rooted in a core set of proficiencies, assessment is about moving students towards mastering these proficiencies. Additionally, we need to build in assessments that account for growth. I could be going back and forth over a grade because the mark carries this final weight. The reality is that for me, which high school student is a finished product. We should be accounting for growth and view students along a continuum of success. This also allows the chance for student to self-assess and reflect upon their development as thinkers and creators.

I am moved to recall a recent post by Chris Lehman the principal at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Mr. Lehman was sitting in a senior capstone projects. He shared how touched he was when students talked about the process and how they have grown during the course of their unique endeavor and also over their four years at SLA. A colleague of mine, @maryannreilly, shared with me and several other educators an article about e-Portfolios. In discussing e-Portfolios the article states the following:

e-Portfolios are a way of nurturing a continuing process of personal development and reflective learning and e-Portfolios are particularly important in lifelong learning, since, in the presentational sense, they provide evidence of learners’ progress over time, and, in the developmental sense, they engage learners in ongoing self-evaluation.

Both of these sources point towards a system where finality is the result of a process that is unique to the talents, needs and interests of an individual. It is also collaborative, reflective and measures growth over an extended period of time.

Stealing the thought from the article on e-Portfolios, we ask all involved with schools to be life-long learners. We attempt to imbue in student the capacity to be life-long learners and ask that educators mentor students through sharing how we continue to learn and grow. There needs to be a system of evaluation that mirrors the notion of life-long learning and encourage in all of us a continuing and insatiable desire to develop, grow, improve and inspire others to do the same.