The two main pieces of pushback on that previous post were:
- By having students re-assess outside of class, I’m making it “optional” which undermines both the intent and the effectiveness of the plan.
- By putting a grade in the gradebook, my assessments aren’t truly formative.
I commented at length on that previous post explaining how and why I’m having students re-assess outside of class. Go read that comment if you’re interested (I can’t seem to link directly to the comment, but it’s the one that starts with “Thanks everyone, this is really helping my thinking”), but, to sum it up, my school is different, and I think how it is different helps address some of the concerns that were stated. At the moment, I’m pretty comfortable with this one (subject to change, of course, in the fall when I put it into practice).
And I agree that if you put a grade in the gradebook it has the potential to undermine that assessment being formative. Certainly my class is not going to be as flexible as I would like it to be – I don’t foresee differentiating in class as much as a truly formative-based, adjust-what-you’re-doing-on-the-fly classroom would (at least not this first year back). But I see my assessments as allowing me to target which skills individual students are struggling with, and allow us to address those on a student-by-student basis in a timely fashion, so I still see these as “almost formative” (yes, I know it’s an oxymoron).
Because the grade in the gradebook is also dynamic (in the sense that a re-assessment that shows a higher level of understanding replaces the previous score), I think I can do a decent job of explaining to my students why that’s not a permanent assessment of their learning. Given the realities of time (I’ll see my Algebra students about 50% less than many other folks do), curriculum, my other full-time job responsibilities, and student-information-system gradebooks that have to be up-to-date on a weekly basis for eligibility purposes, I think this is a compromise I can live with and still have it be effective for my students (once again, subject to revision when put into practice).
So I want to lay out my slightly revised assessment plan and fill in a few more details. This will only fully make sense if you’ve read the previous post and comments as I don’t want to repeat everything.
- Grades are still going to be weighted 10% preparation, 70% formative, and 20% summative. For now, I’m sticking with still including the preparation grade as I think going cold-turkey on students in this area would be counterproductive. (This category includes homework, but also some writing/reflection pieces and some-in class preparation stuff as well.) I’m also leaning toward still calling the 70% formative part “formative,” even though it technically isn’t. But that’s the best label I can think of that I can use to make this transparent to students and parents and help me explain what I’m trying to do. We’ll see.
- I’m no longer going to define my assessments as six questions over three skills – it’s going to be more flexible than that. I still anticipate two to three questions per skill, but my assessments will often be over just one skill at a time, not three (depending on a variety of factors). The number of questions will be determined by how many I think I need to help me identify where students might be struggling and accurately assess mastery.
- In the previous post, I’m not sure I clearly laid out some of the other pieces of what would happen before the first true assessment. Certainly my openers and other in-class activities will give me – and my students – many opportunities to assess (both formally and informally) how they are progressing on a specific skill. I’ll also be offering a pre-assessment of sorts online, where students can self-assess a couple of days before the formal assessment that goes in the gradebook. Here’s a quick sample of what that will look like. (I had been planning on doing this as a PDF, but thanks to David Cox sharing his Examview question banks with me, it’s now going to look like this. This sample is taken from his work as I haven’t had time to start writing my own yet.) Go ahead and click “check your work” to note the type of feedback that students can receive from this. (Note that this is not formally graded or recorded, but also see David’s post of how you could do that if you chose to.)
Students will do this as a homework assignment and then make a note of it on their checklist that will look something like this, and then we’ll have a better idea of what we need to work on before the first formal assessment over the skill. When they take the first formal assessment (in class, pretty much as I described in the previous post, including the worked out solutions posted to the class web page that afternoon), it will get graded and entered in the gradebook (viewable online by students and parents, and identified by skill) along with information that identifies what (if anything) they need to work on. They will then make appointments (using something like this – thanks to Kate Nowak’s example) to come in and re-assess, and will have multiple opportunities to get help before that re-assessment (from me, from other math teachers, from peer tutors in our study center, from friends, from their siblings or parents, or even on their own with online and textbook support).
- I’m currently leaning toward using a five-point scale to grade each assessment. Here is my scale and the descriptors (thanks to Matt Townsley):
5 = Demonstrates thorough understanding
4.5 = High level of understanding, but with small errors
3.5 = Demonstrates understanding, but with significant gaps
3 = Shows some understanding, but insufficient to be successful
2.5 = Attempts the problem
This gives me the gradations and descriptors that I’d like to use and that I think students (and parents) can understand, but still works reasonably well within a student information system gradebook that is going to average all the scores to determine an overall grade. (Again, please keep in mind that each re-assessment replaces the previous score if they demonstrate a higher level of understanding, they're not averaged.) It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a good start toward shifting the focus away from points and toward understanding.