Courtesy of collegejungle.com

Last night, I had the pleasure of partaking in an excellent Twitter conversation, thanks to @rickwormeli, @thomascmurray, and @LearningsLiving, all about assessment practices.  First of all, it had to be the quickest hour of my life.  The pace of the conversation and the number of people communicating could not possibly parallel any academic or scholarly conversation I have ever had the pleasure of participating in before.  Never had I had access to so many ideas all at once.  What’s better, I could confirm and question any number of ideas, all of my choosing.  The best part of all, however, was that it allowed me to reflect on my own assessment practices, and see that there are still many misconceptions about assessment out there.  Here are five common misconceptions about grading and assessment:

(1) I need to grade homework (and include it in their grade) so they’ll care.  
No you don’t.  You need to call their parents if they’re not doing their homework, to show them that you care.  You need to make them repeat the assignment or make it up to show them that there are natural consequences for not completing their homework.  And finally, you need to briefly check their assignments, to get a gauge of general proficiency.  Bottom line, grading homework helps no one.  It makes you spend more time checking answers, when you don’t even know who completed the assignment in the first place or how much help the student received.  Moreover, how can you expect them to be perfectly proficient in an assignment when you just taught it to them earlier in the day?  If you are really concerned about homework being useful, start flipping your assignments.  Have them watch a video or read an article at home, and then you can provide the much needed guided practice in class.  Homework for the sake of homework is not learning, and homework for the sake of a score in the grade book is simply a waste of your time and a waste of your students’ time.

(2) We need grades in the grade book to keep parents happy.  
Parents don’t need grades to keep them happy; parents need communication to make them happy, and that’s more than fair.  They want to know that their children are learning, and they want to see that they are practicing these important skills.  Moreover, they want to see improvement over time.  A great way to combat this need for “grades” is to keep portfolios, and send home newsletters frequently.  Moreover, you could jot a quick e-mail or keep a blog on your class website to keep them updated on what to look for.  I keep paper portfolios for my students in math.  It houses exit slips and homework assignments so that parents can see a pattern of growth for students throughout a unit of instruction.  Putting all these grades in the grade book and averaging them would not paint the same picture. Think about it this way: In the beginning of a unit of instruction, we are assuming that the kids know very little.  Why else would we teach the topic we are teaching?  So if we’re assuming they know very little, and we’re trying to teach them, then why would we grade these assignments from the beginning of the unit if we already know they’re going to come back less than proficient?  Doesn’t that seem a bit unfair?  Additionally, won’t that deflate their summative grade, taking away the pride of a job well done towards the end?

(3) I can’t make a test until I know what I’ve taught them.
We’ve all done it–waited until the end of the unit to create a test, but we very simply need to move away from this.  It is essential to begin with the end in sight.  Create your outcomes (or find them in the standards or curriculum map), and create a test that you think will show proficiency in this outcome or these outcomes.  Better yet, complete some problems on your own that might show this proficiency.  Not only will this help your unit take shape and help you identify with what your kids are up against, but you will be surprised at how easy lesson planning and learning target creation will be.

(4) Having them retake a test isn’t teaching them anything.  
Having them correct their tests’ errors and giving them points back isn’t teaching them anything.  Reteaching and giving them another shot at the test is, well, teaching.  Humans are imperfect.  We all have bad days, and we all miss things.  Allowing kids to retake a test will ensure that they have mastered the concept.  In my opinion, however, we should only allow students who truly show a lack of proficiency to do this, not students who missed one problem or one question. After all, we’re not striving for perfection, here.  The down side?  It is very time-consuming, and it is also extremely difficult to find that time while you’re moving on to other things.  While I don’t have any answers for the time constraints, I will say I know reteaching and retesting are the right things to do.

(5) Effort and behavior should be counted in the grade, too.  If we don’t count it, how will we teach them behavior?  
If anyone ever says this, ask them this question, “Well, what is a grade?  Why do we participate in the practice of grading?”  The answer should be something like, “to provide a representation of how a child is doing in a given subject.”  And that’s 100% true. Grades and ratings are meant to give parents and students an idea of proficiency in the essential outcomes for that grading period.  Behavior is not an essential outcome, and neither is effort.  It should not be included in this final grade, especially if the subject is reading!  On this Twitter chat last night, one person asked, “I need to teach them responsibility, but it’s not in the standards.  How can I make them care about this without grading them for it?”  Easy, in my mind.  If it is really that much of a problem, create a standard for behavior, teach it, and then assess it.  Send home your own separate Behavior Report Card, if you really feel it that necessary to teach and grade it.

Assessment needs to be purposeful.  It cannot be a means for punishment or a way to gain some leverage in the classroom.  It needs to be meaningful and provide valuable information.  A child who always does his or her homework but earns Cs consistently on summative assessments should not be getting an A, and a child who never does his homework but frequently makes perfect marks on tests should not be getting a C.  In order to accurately assess kids, encourage a positive disposition towards school, and make these letters and numbers meaningful, we need to be careful about when we are assessing, how we are assessing, and what we are using to demonstrate proficiency.

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