Over the last six months I have been working with the Providence Public School District to develop a new grading policy to be presented to the school board in September. As I begin the actual writing phase of this policy, I came up with a great way to understand formative assessment versus summative assessments or longer form performance-based tasks.*
The overall goal of the policy I am writing is to transform grades from an unreliable amalgamation of behavior and various kinds of performance indicators to a metric which accurately presents a students progress on academic course goals. It’s a herculean task in a district that has been devoid of a broader grading policy for some time and has only recently embarked on a more systematic set of professional development workshops to help teachers develop a powerful assessment framework within a standards-based curriculum.
One area I expect to get significant push-back is my planned restriction of the amount activities like quizzes, homework, and classwork can contribute to overall grades. The rationale should be familiar to formative assessment gurus but can be hard to explain to teachers who have been using grades for purposes other than pure monitory of academic progress. Here’s my crack at it:Measuring student performance in the classroom is like running a long-distance race. It takes months of practice to prepare for that final run. Runners and coaches keep track of times during practice, and use several activities which improve the ability to run over a long distance that does not include simply running around the city. On race day, lap times provide essential information to runners and coaches about pacing and required adjustments, but what matters most is the time it takes to finish the entire race. All of that rehearsal is not how we judge a runner’s success. It informs us about effort, whether the runner was willing to do what it takes to be successful. It informs us about progress over time; did the runner see significant improvement right away, after a few weeks, toward the end, or at a slow and steady pace? But in the end, what matters most is how long does it take to complete the race. Our students should be judged on their ability to learn all of the material in an academic unit before the class must proceed to the next unit, not on their learning process to achieve that goal.
*At least I think I came up with this one. To be fair, I’ve been reading so much on this topic I may have “borrowed” this from a book or article I read months ago only to have it resurface, seemingly a product of my own invention.
You can't read that on Jason Becker's blog, because after my wife left a rather pungent comment, he pulled the entire post after apparently deciding it wasn't such a great idea to announce to the world that an intern with zero experience working in a K-12 school, let alone teaching in one, has a prominent role in developing a new grading policy for the PPSD.
When I got my Master's in Teaching from the Brown Education Department, not so long ago, it instilled a deep respect for the knowledge and experience of the master teachers we worked with daily, most working in the Providence Public Schools. Those folks were the heart and soul of the teacher education program, and I was proud when Jennifer joined their ranks.
It is hard to believe that so quickly we've gotten to a point where teacher expertise is so denigrated by... everyone, the Providence Schools, RIDE, Brown.
I've made my share of idealistic mistakes, but I've never felt the need to hide from teachers while making them.