Assessments: How to use them?

Ever since I attended a conference led by Rick Wormeli, I’ve been re-thinking several of my practices, especially my grading practices. One practice I can’t figure out, however, is what to do with assessments: especially formative assessments.

As I was thinking about this, I came across this post by Michael Persham. In it, he explains how SBG (Standards Based Grading) over-emphasizes grades by constantly reminding students of their grades.

What is interesting is how Rick Wormeli, in the conference advocating SBG, talked about how “grades should not be attached to formative assessment”. Instead, Rick Wormeli only put summative assessments into the grade-book, although this is done frequently.

This is actually the opposite of how I initially viewed SBG. I pictured SBG as a way to free students from the weight of any one assessment. My goal was to assess, and assess so frequently that students realized that any one assessment won’t make or break their grade. In fact, often it doesn’t even count because there are enough assessments afterwards. And if there’s not enough built-in assessments, students can request more on their own. I try to create a relaxed atmosphere around all of my assessments so that students are comfortable demonstrating what they know. I give out the top score to non-perfect papers (provided they show their work and demonstrate full understanding). I’ll sometimes hand out assessments and point out that “this won’t even count because we have 2 other assessments later  this semester on the same topic”. I grade it and put it the grade-book, knowing that it won’t affect their grade at the end of the year.

Summary of My Dilemma

I guess I’m trying to decide between these two approaches to the issue of grades: do I (1) grade so frequently that students “think nothing of any individual assessment” and really see grades as a snapshot of a student’s knowledge at a given time, or (2) make most assessments non-graded, giving non-graded feedback, and reserving grades for those select (albeit frequent) summative (re-takable) assessments?

I think part of the problem on my end is I don’t fully understand or appreciate the problem of the summative assessment. I recognize that students can focus too much on “what they got” vs “how they can approve”, but if you drastically simplify the grading system[1], does it do as much damage to a student’s learning?

“But Jonathan, why don’t you just do a lot of non-graded formative AND a lot of summative assessment?” Well, this year I’m behind in all three of my classes (Physics, Precalculus, and Chemistry), and all those assessments take a lot of time. Perhaps I could work it out that I collect and mark up students’ homework (non-graded) more frequently, but that takes time that I didn’t have this past year.

I definitely have some more thinking to do when it comes to this, and these blog posts are becoming more and more jumbled as I just ramble.

Let’s make something coherent in this post, shall we?

Let me finish by summarizing/bullet-pointing what I see wrong with my current flavor of SBG as my grading system:

  • A given grade on a standard doesn’t necessarily cover all aspects of that standard (this is complex and deserves a post of it’s own).
  • I don’t have a good bearing of what “proficient” vs “mastery” means/looks like.  I need to study this over the summer… and as long as I’m still teaching.
  • I need to be more intentional about helping students retake assessments. Scaffold for them by providing a study plan and strategies for studying.
  • I need to determine what the role of the formative assessment is in my classroom and how they impact grades (if at all).
  • Students don’t have nearly enough practice opportunities for the assessments I’m throwing at them.
  • Oh yeah, I want to do pre-assessments next year.

Okay, that’s the short-list. One downside to reflecting before the year is over is, now I see what’s wrong with my current grading system and I feel a little sick continuing to grade my students the same way I have been for the past year, because I can’t change the grading scheme on them with 1.5 weeks of school left. Oh well, at least I feel much better now than I did this time last year[2].


[1] I’m considering going to a 3-level scale next year: 0=”Not Yet”, 1=”Proficient/Passing”, 2=”Mastered”. Thoughts?

[2] This time last year I saw the beauty of SBG, but was using a traditional grading system in my class and couldn’t change it for the whole 2nd semester.



Filed under Teaching

4 responses to “Assessments: How to use them?

  1. I too am struggling with how to balance SBG and grades. I like your ideas–especially the 3 level system. I plan on doing more research this summer as well. (Who says teachers don’t work in the summer??)

    • Yeah, the 3-level system is an idea I got form Rick Wormeli. He pointed out that the 4-point system looks too much like GPA, and so students compare it to what they already know when it’s really something totally different. Rick’s solution was to go to a 5-point scale, but I think I like the 3-point scale. (This is, of course, before I’ve tried either of them!)

  2. I’ve been using SBG for Algebra 2 for a few years, and I’m having a similar dilemma. I’d really like to give more formative assessments that aren’t attached to any grade, and reduce the frequency of summative assessments. Even though we assess twice a week, students still put a lot of self-value into each assessment, and the feedback I’ve been giving doesn’t seem to help all that much.

    • Yeah, I wonder if grading students on the pre-assessment, and putting that in the gradebook (to be replaced later, of course) might help them overcome that “putting self-value into each assessment”, in addition to helping them gain a growth mindset. I’m still wrestling with what to do next year, so I appreciate knowing that there are others who are facing the same issues.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s