Quite often in a secondary setting I have found it is easy to get into the habit of using summative assessment more than formative assessment and focusing more on the end result rather than the learning along the way. I have always tried to design formative and summative assessment tasks that are beneficial to learning but at times I have focused as much on getting marks/grades to ensure I could generate a report when required as I have the actual learning. Because of this my assessment has often lacked in the formative area. In the last 8 months or so I have thought about assessment and grading more and more and how it impacts on learning.
The following are quotes from educators around testing & grading and learning and what they see as the contradictory nature of these terms.
“We try to individualize instruction because all students are not the same but we standardize assessment with the expectation that students learn at the same rate.” Beth Knittle
“We’ve confused measurement with assessment and forgotten that the root word for assessment is assidere with translates into ‘to sit beside’. We’ve come to see assessment as a spreadsheet when it’s really a conversation.” Joe Bower
“If you are looking to increase a child’s anxiety, desire to escape and fear of failure, or decrease their intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy then it makes perfect sense to grade students.” Joe Bower
As a teacher I want students who enjoy learning for learnings sake and not for the end result of an A, B, C, D or E grade (or word equivalant!). I want students who don’t care if they fail but just get back up and try again. I want students who learn in an environment that is diverse and broad not narrow. As a set of beliefs I am not sure I would get to many arguements here and yet the policies we enact may just encourage the opposite.
We want students who enjoy learning but the end result for most students (increasingly more so at younger year levels) is an A, B, C, D or E grade, this is not teaching students to love learning so much as teach them compliance. Do this and you will get that and once you have that the learning often stops.
We would like kids to embrace failure but through the school system we encourage students to fear failure. We all know what a ‘D’ or ‘E’ means. Students don’t want to show their parents because the reaction (first reaction at least) is often not where do we go from here and how do we improve (because quite frankly there is generally not enough information in a report card for that to happen) but a displeased look which conveys everything to the child – you are not good enough. Hence the student’s attitude becomes “I don’t want to fail!”
We want a diverse learning environment but NAPLAN and all the other standardised/academic tests we use encourage a narrow view of education not a broad one. Why are we all doing persuasive writing in term one? Because NAPLAN said so.
Obviously assessment and reporting are an essential part of schooling but I am now not as sure as I was 12 months ago about how that should look to students, teachers and parents.
- Can we focus on developing quality formative assessment (a lot of teachers do this well) as a way to improve learning? A lot of research says formative assessment has more impact on learning. Formative assessment allows for informative, useful, constant task focused feedback and practice. Summative tasks are still useful but without a higher percentage of formative tasks lack the ability to improve student learning.
One of the key components of engaging students in the assessment of their own learning is providing them with descriptive feedback as they learn. In fact, research shows descriptive feedback to be the most significant instructional strategy to move students forward in their learning. Descriptive feedback provides students with an understanding of what they are doing well, links to classroom learning, and gives specific input on how to reach the next step in the learning progression. In other words, descriptive feedback is not a grade, a sticker, or “good job!” A significant body of research indicates that such limited feedback does not lead to improved student learning. Association for Middle Level Education
- Can we convey more effectively to parents where there kids are at and what there learning is?
- Grades are so ingrained. When a parent and child sees and A, B, C, D or E grade the writing that follows, however informative, almost fades away into the background.
- One school I’ve heard sends their comments home first. Two weeks later the grade goes home. hmmm……interesting!
Maybe what is written here is confronting, I know it is for me. For 17 years I have focused on a small number of formative tasks, made the summative task the main aim and tried to generate grades as a way of passing on how well a student has performed. Should I change? Can I change within a system that is based on grading as an end point? What is your position on this topic? I encourage you to leave your point of view in the comments section.