Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
December 28th, 2008

Thoughts as we revise assessment in our building

My current plan for implementing Grading for Learning follows.  It is a blending of many things I heard at the December conference in ways that I can see working in my own classroom.

My solutions:

1.  All assignments not submitted on time automatically revert to an alternate assignment.  This is either something less palatable for the student but simpler for me to assess, or a textbook worksheet packet that the student completes, then comes in after school and corrects himself.  Little or no time on my part. The idea here is to show students that it’s just easier to follow a planned path through their learning. Assignment “due dates” are given well in advance.

2.  We will take photos of all labs in progress and keep a sample set of reasonable data.  The student doing tha lab as a very late make-up can then do the normal write-up, look at the pictures, and use the given data to do an analysis.  As I see it, the standard for lab technique would not have been met, so there would need to be some kind of grade penalty for not meeting that standard.  (Science investigations usually have several components, or standards, that are assessed in one lab investigation.  Since I grade on total points because Skyward is not set up for standards, that just means that the points for that standard will be low or missing. The final grade would then reflect the percentage of standards not met.) The assessment-for-learning purists would argue that this is a performance or behavior thing and should not be assessed at all, but I will disagree.  Perhaps they would be pleased with a dental hygenist who’s never actually worked on a live person, but who’s watched lots of movies about cleaning teeth.

3.  No summative assessment (test or quiz) will be given until a student has completed sufficient “formative,” or practice work to demonstrate that he is ready to be assessed.  On test day, a student who is not ready for the assessment will work on becoming ready while the others take the test.  He can then take the test on his own time, later.  Whenever is fine.  It will be an alternative test, possibly essay.

4.  A student scoring below 80% (70%?) on any test must retake the test, at least the parts on which he did poorly. Any other student could also retake, but the second grade stands. The retake would be a different document, and would ideally consist of only the parts of the test on which the student did poorly. As of the last test I gave, it was not possible to give a partial test to most students as they did equally poorly across the board.  I suck as a teacher, apparently.  I see this changing when students are not permitted to take a test “cold” but must actually do some learning first. I’ll even give them the tools they need to learn – imagine that – explanations, opportunities to explore a concept, have their hands and minds on models, discuss topics with their peers, etc.  Perhaps I just don’t write appropriate tests.  An area of improvement here……

Formative work would be the assignments relating to the test topic – reading journals, labs, projects, class notes ( this will be tricky to implement appropriately), index card graphic organizers, concept maps, projects, research, or whatever has been used in class to build knowledge about the topic. Formative assessments allow students to describe their learning targets, assess where they are in the progression of learning to reach their target, plan what they still need to do to reach the target, and describe the resources they will use and how they will use the resources to reach their target.

The snag is the same as I’ve had for the past year, and would be the same issue we need to discuss as a building.  What is the fate of an Incomplete?  Can we let a student make up the work for an Incomplete any time up until graduation?  How long before the I turns to an F?  Does the I on an individual assignment turn to a (shudder) zero, or must we allow a student to have 50% of the assignment’s value for doing absolutely nothing?  I’m currently looking at the mathematical implications of a 0 in my grading system.  I didn’t see any grading systems quite like it at the conference.


Update on June 8, 2010: None of this worked. Grades were at least a bit inflated, and students didn’t seem to benefit by attempting to complete an entire semester’s work and take 5 tests during the last 3 weeks before grades closed.

December 19th, 2008

Assessment AND Learning

So here I am at a workshop last week with my principal, AP, and 3 colleagues. They are all scrambling to fill out their clock hour forms and grumbling while I am sipping a nice cup of coffee and reading my email. “You know you need to do this clock hour form,” an administrator said to me.
“Thanks. I really don’t need them, ” I replied.
The administrator looked shocked. “How can you not need them?”
“I renewed my national board certificate so in Washington, I’m good until June 2019.”
“You mean all you had to do was sign something instead of doing clock hours?”

The administrator voiced disapproval that when I arrived in Washington from another state, I was immediately granted a professional certificate in Science. Only Science, mind you, even though my out-of state certificate has an old Comprehensive Science which was the equivalent of one major science field and an academic minor in 3 others (Earth and Space, Chemistry, Biology, Physics are the 4 fields) each individual cert endorsement, a separate individual endorsement for all math 7-12, and that I have countless hours in both education and the sciences, at the graduate level, 20 years in the high school classroom, a few years teaching at 2 state universities, and am completing a doctorate in science education in a program that required original research in both a science field and science education, and a dissertation with more rigor than I’ve seen completed by doc students at UW. I did go take the Praxis II in Chemistry ( I didn’t miss any questions) and Biology and Physics ( I got the overachiever certificate thingy.)

The conference was a great learning experience for us as we are beginning to implement standards-based grading. Of course I want to “grade” my students in the most fair way, a way that shows everyone’s alignment with standards, in the most accurate and reliable way possible. In reality, I’ve embraced many of the philosophies presented at the conference in a more informal way. I’ve not “graded” homework for many years, as such. Given a few token points for completing it, because this gives students confidence and a sense of accomplishment, but not ever demonstrated a technique on one day and expected students to hand me a perfectly completed problem set the next day. I’ve said to a kid, “No, you are not ready to take a test today. Let’s do yours tomorrow after we talk.” I’ve taken late assignments with no penalty because of some circumstance, like, “I just didn’t get this one – may I have a little longer to work on this?” I don’t give a rip about tardies or attendance so long as the kid can do what’s expected and doesn’t disrupt class by making a grand entrance (yes they have to come in on their own to make up labs.) I’ve marked different assignments “no count”when completing the assignment didn’t seem to impact the student’s real learning and mastery of a standard. I could go on …….

We can’t fix what’s going on in education right now just by changing our assessment methods. It takes a deeper approach, beginning with the engagement of students and holding them accountable for their learning. The learning certainly takes place at a different pace for different students, each student benefiting from different approaches to the standard to be mastered. Although I saw in almost every presentation at the conference that it was important for students to know their learning targets, where they are in the progression of that learning, and how to get to mastery level for each target standard, I don’t think my principal saw that. I think she truly believes that if we just allow late work into infinity and don’t include a mark of zero, ever, that grades will look good and students will be “successful.” I wholeheartedly disagree. Fair assessment is essential and as with my entire teaching practice, I am always looking for a better way – but if there is no learning, what is there to assess?

Apparently, although we as NBCTs attempt to educate our administrators about the certification process and how valuable it is in shaping our practices in ways that lead to above average gains in student learning, we still have work to do. We’ve talked and are not sure that we like the direction our administrators are taking – administrators who were not strong educators and who have no real clue what good teaching IS – and are going underground with our efforts; grassroots, if you will. My plan is to get together a group of NBCTs in my district for some discussion, and I have a few plans in mind. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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