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Discussion: Developing and discussing classroom assessment strategies

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posted by: Mack McCary on March 21, 2000 at 3:47AM
subject: Student understanding and grading practices
More on lessons learned thru MIPS: Math Improvement
thru Problem Solving K-8.
Another lesson we've been learning is the crucial
role of classroom assessment and grading practices in
changing math instruction to promote inquiry. Prior
to and simultaneous with the grant, we had engaged
representative teams of teachers in our district in
identifying "essential skills," what teachers believed
to be the most important (essential) skills in the
curriculum for success at the next grade level. At
the beginning in math, these skills were focused much
more on mastering procedures (objectives) than on
conceptual understanding. Once these essential skills
were identified, the focus shifted to how to assess
student progress and mastery, especially how to judge
whether the student had reached grade level standards.
This led to a healthy tho difficult dialogue, as
teachers, especially in grades 3-5, discovered that
simply averaging grades did not necessarily produce an
accurate judgment of mastering skills. Once the myth
of simple averaging was taken away, teachers struggled
with how to assess mastery and how to assign a grade.
At first they designed a report card that tried to
assess mastery of every skill every nine weeks, which
proved to be overwhelming. We engaged them in a TQM
process that considered the different customer needs
for a report card, and those changes distinguised
between a simpler summary for parents, and a more
detailed teacher classroom assessment system which
kept up with student progress. They began to see the
importance of a portfolio and observational records to
support their judgment on report cards.
Though still in progress, the Trailblazer materials
and the report card have shifted the focus of
reflection meetings to "What do students understand,
and how do you know?" It has restored teachers'
confidence in using observation and questions to make
judgments of student performance, rather than relying
solely on objective measures. The group meetings and
reflection on student work are essential in developing
this confidence, promoting the idea that you cannot
escape the need to make subjective judgments based on
observation, but that these judgments need to become
more consistent across teachers, and need to be a
"theory" subject to revision as the teacher makes more
observations, as well as tests and tasks, and the
student produces more work. Emphasizing that grades
should rely primarily on work collected nearest to the
grading decision, rather than simply averaging grades
across the entire grading period, has helped. But the
biggest help has been organizing regular teacher
reflection on student work, exploring together what is
the evidence of student understanding.
This is still a work in progress, and we have
barely begun to explore the role of formative feedback
in math (we're further along in writing). We are
discovering that students are really motivated by
feedback on their reading which helps them clearly see
their current level of performance and what they need
to do to improve. We've been using the Accelerated
Reader concept of reading level (Zone of Proximal
Development). It is absolutely amazing how excited
kids get to see posted evidence of their progress, and
how elated they are when they achieve
improvement..even to flying down the hall clutching
evidence of their improvement, to seek out the
principal or another staff member to celebrate how
they have improved not compared to everyone else, but
to where they began.
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