In short, the premise was that by putting 100% on summative assessments, students will achieve more. I was skeptical at first and this sounded to me like "high stakes grading" but the argument was that if you give students enough practice and have deliberate, spiraling teaching, by the time students reached their final unit test, they were most prepared to demonstrated their understanding. Key data points that supported this were:
- Our adopted California curriculum standards clearly states that "Summative Assessments are the most valid and reliable indicator of in-depth understanding." (California Curriculum Framework)
- Statistics supported that through enough practice such as assignments, quizzes to check for foundational knowledge, projects and practice tests, students had the highest level of understanding in summative tests.
- To grade everything puts undue stress on students and does not allow them to benefit from mistakes early in the learning process. A teacher must know that some work is "practice" on the road to understanding.
Our principal was very supportive of our efforts, although there were a number of parents in the community that did not like it. Typically, they were parents of middle and low achieving students as you can imagine. I did survey the students anonymously at the end of the year to get their opinion on the policy and most of them had softened to the notion. Many of them were tired of classmates not doing their share of the work in group based projects or investigations, and this inequity reared its ugly head to me as well. Students that "demonstrated mastery" through an project-based assessment or authentic assessment did poorly on a summative task on their own. Were they lucky? Or did someone else like a classmate, parent or tutor do the work for them?
Action research on grading and assessment practices of grade 7 mathematicsSome of my key findings in action research after the school year were:
- Although MAP test data did improve significantly in median score, mean scores were little changed.
- Students did complete learning tasks that were not graded, as they were rungs on the ladder towards master, but there was almost an obsessive nature that some students had in test preparation.
- For end of the year portfolios, I had students reflect on their "best learning experiences" on their blogs and told them not to focus so much on the grade, but rather the experience. Many students did reflect on their learning of topics, projects, but many of them chose a particular test that they did well on.
I want students to learn and appreciate math on it's own terms, and not create a culture of "math test takers." This seems to be the bottom line in American education these days and although test preparation is a necessary evil for high school and college, to create a classroom of test taking machines seems like a scene out of Pink Floyd's "The Wall". I can just hear the music playing-"We don't need no education!"
The challenge for me now is how to balance the academic rigor in a way that allows students to make mistakes and learn from them, connect math to real-world learning experiences, flesh out 21st century learning in problem solving and differentiate instruction for each an every student in my classroom so that every student learns. Oh, not to mention using assessment that is accurate and effectively indicates to students and parents areas for remediation. Through this whole experience, I am reminded that teachers do not merely teach, we are psychologists, scientists of our craft and politicians as we communicate with parents and the larger community.
I reminded of something Bill Powell told me in a workshop: "Good teaching is hard. If you want to do something easy, become a doctor."
- Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) RIT Scale Norms 2011-Table 5.3 page 46
- Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools Kindergarten to Grade 12. page 240
- Policy Statement on Grade Configuration-Issue 5, July 2008 "The National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform"