NEW BOOK! Grading from the Inside Out

GFIO_FrontCover_10.20.15I’m very excited to announce that my new book, Grading from the Inside Out: Bringing Accuracy to Student Assessment through a Standards-Based Mindset (Solution Tree), has just been released!

Long-term grading reform begins on the inside and works its way out; it begins with a complete rethink of the purpose of grades within the summative assessment paradigm. Developing a standards-based mindset allows teachers to begin reshaping the grading experience in their classrooms without the premature pressure of a new grading program, a new grading policy, or a new report card template. Once we shift how we think about grading we are poised to move toward more overt changes to the processes and practices of sound grading and reporting.

For more information, please visit the Solution Tree website (here).

All Things Assessment (Solution Tree)

I’m very excited to announce that all of my assessment blogs are moving to the newly updated and relaunched Solution Tree All Things Assessment website. You can find the blog  here. You can find the homepage for the website here.

This website is part of a much larger assessment center at Solution Tree. The center itself is still in development so more information will be shared as it unfolds later this year, but for now, the All Things Assessment site is live, active, and full of great assessment information shared by an array of assessment experts.

For now, this website will remain active as an information page and a way of connecting with me.

Thanks!
Tom

 

Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset (WEBINAR)

On Monday, December 16, 2013 I conducted a webinar entitled Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset. The archived copy of the webinar can be viewed here. (It’s just under 80 min, including questions at the end.)

Please note: This webinar was presented by Pearson Education. When you click on the link above you will first be asked to provide contact information before the webinar will play. While it says “the author has requested the information” please know that it is Pearson (not me) who requires this…just wanted you to know.

Below is a brief blog post that encapsulates (but by no means covers) the essence of the webinar:

While the standards-based grading movement is in full swing, not every school, district, or state is in exactly the same place. The difference is attributable to a variety of factors including the level of the school within which a standards-based approach to grading is being implemented. Elementary school standards-based report cards often look very different from middle or even high school standards-based report cards; that’s not a bad thing as the application of standards-based reporting at each level needs to be suitable for that level. The point is that schools and districts across the country are at various places along the standards-based grading continuum. While some have implemented fully, others are still exploring.

Despite this variation, the common link for all along the standards-based grading continuum is how we think about grading; what I call the standards-based mindset. This mindset represents the heavy lifting of the grading conversation. Once we shift how we think about grading, the implementation of standards-based reporting is easy, or at least easier, since the way we think about grades, how we organize evidence, and what is most heavily emphasized is different. We become more thoughtful about ensuring that a student’s grade represents their full level of proficiency and not just the average of where they were and where they are now.

Adults are rarely mean averaged and certainly, it is irrelevant to an adult that they used to not know how to do something. Yet for a student, these two factors are dominant in their school experience. A student’s grade (at least traditionally) is almost always a function of the mean average and a failed quiz or assignment early in the learning almost always counts against them; remember, every 40 needs an 80 just to get a 60.

The standards-based mindset shifts this conversation to a more accurate way of reporting a student’s level of proficiency. Like any idea, there are always detractors who’ll try to hijack the conversation by suggesting that standards-based grading is about lowering standards, making it easier for students, and letting them off-the-hook; none of that is true. Standards-based grading is about accurately reporting a student’s true level of proficiency. As students learn and grow through the curriculum they should be given full credit for their achievement. When they don’t receive full credit we are sending the not so subtle message that you should have learned faster!

A standards-based mindset is separate from how we report grades. With a standards-based mindset you can still report traditional grades, it’s just that how you determine grades is significantly different. Teachers with a standards-based mindset eliminate the influence of non-learning factors from their gradebooks. Whether it’s extra credit or late penalties, a standards-based mindset is about accurately reporting a student’s level of proficiency. Another misrule about standards-based grading is that meeting deadlines, completing work, etc. are not important; they are, however, they’re different. A student isn’t less proficient in math because the work was handed in two days late. Attributes, habits, and college/career skills are important and with a standards-based approach they remain important, but separate.

The standards-based mindset is about emphasizing the most recent evidence of learning by allowing students to receive full credit for their accomplishments. Reassessment is not about hitting the reset button or developing a do-over generation; it’s about recognizing that students have surpassed their previous levels of proficiency and giving students the opportunity to demonstrate those higher levels…and then giving them full credit for their learning. Students are still held accountable – for the learning – and not punished when they fall short of expectations. We don’t need to use the gradebook to teach students to be responsible; when we do it leads to grades that are inaccurate.

Standards-based grading and reporting is about levels of proficiency, accurate information, and a reorganization of evidence. Before we can fully implement standards-based reporting we need to develop a new way of thinking about grading; we need a standards-based mindset. Whether you still report traditional letter grades derived from predetermined percentage scales or are somewhere in the midst of developing a standards-based way of reporting, the standards-based mindset is the necessary first step toward more thoughtful and meaningful ways of reporting. With a standards-based mindset, if a student used to be a 40, but now is an 80, she should get an 80, not a 60!

Points over Practice?

This post is written as a precursor to my session on homework at next week’s Pearson-ATI Summer Conference

practiceYou’d think by now we’d have the whole homework thing figured out. Should it be assigned? What is the purpose of homework? How much is too much? How much is too little? Should it be graded? Is it formative? What if my students don’t do it? What if only half of my students do it? Why do we continue to act surprised by the fact that some students don’t master the intended learning the first time they practice it? These (and so many other questions) fuel a continual debate over where the actual sweet spot of our homework routines is.

Is homework the means or the end? In other words, does homework present students with an opportunity to further advance their proficiency with regards to specific curricular standards or is it an event all unto itself? While some might be tempted to answer both, it is challenging to come up the middle on the means vs end discussion.

As a means, homework tends to be about practice. Inherent in this practice paradigm is the elimination of points and their contribution to an overall grade. In other words, as practice, homework is formative. As an end, homework is just the opposite; it tends to be an event that independently contributes (even in a small way) to a report grade. While subsequent new evidence of learning may emerge, homework as an end remains a contributor to what could eventually be an inaccurate grade. And that is the bigger point. Whatever we report about student learning – and however we determine the substance of what we report – must be as accurate as possible. Previous evidence (homework) that no longer reflects a student’s current level of proficiency has the potential to misinform parents and others. When homework counts, we are emphasizing points over practice.

“…but it only counts for a small percentage of a student’s final grade,” some might argue, “so it doesn’t really matter.” I suppose on one level that might be true, however, consider a scenario where someone steals a five dollars from you and then asks you to dismiss it since they didn’t steal a lot of money. Now, I do understand that making the connection between stealing and counting homework is a stretch, but my point is that if learning (and the accurate reporting of a student’s achievement) is our priority, then emphasizing points clearly misses the mark. It’s not how much the inclusion of homework impacts the student’s final grade; it’s that it does in the first-place.

Still, others may proclaim (and wholeheartedly believe) that, “…if I don’t grade it, they won’t do it.” Again, while that might be the paradigm in a classroom, we have to ask ourselves who is responsible for creating that paradigm. We must recognize that students don’t enter school in Kindergarten with a point accumulation mindset; the K student never asks her teacher if the painting is for points! So where do they learn that? Somewhere in their experience points (and grades) become a priority for the adults…so they become a priority for students. Parents and students also contribute to this mindset, but we have to acknowledge our role as well. Also, if the only thing motivating students to complete any assignment is the promise of points then we really have to consider whether the assignment is truly worth completing in the first place. Again, is homework a means or an end?

I am looking forward to sharing more on the topic of homework, practice, and assessment at Pearson-ATI’s 20th Annual Summer Conference next week (July 8-10, 2013) in Portland, OR. The session on homework entitled Practice without Points will explore the biggest hurdles that prevent some teachers from eliminating the points attached to practice work, the reasons we assign homework and how those reasons fit within a balanced assessment system, and how teachers can thoughtfully respond to the trends they see between initial homework results and subsequent assessment data. You can read more on why I believe homework should be for practice and used formatively (here) rather than being used as part of a summative reporting process.

I will also be leading a session on Effective Leadership in Assessment specifically suited for those responsible for taking assessment literacy to scale and a session entitled Infused Assessment that takes participants back to the core fundamentals of formative assessment by infusing it into already existing instructional practices rather than creating  summative-events-that-don’t-count. 

If you’re unable to attend the conference, please take some time to follow the hashtag #ATIcon on Twitter.

How curious are your students?

Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In her recent article The Case for Curiosity (Educational Leadership, February 2013), Susan Engel asserts that “curiosity is essential to learning, but in scarce supply in most schools.” One of the major points of the article is that students should be encouraged to ask as many questions as possible. While this might first appear to be a rather pedestrian outcome, we should reflect on whether our instructional choices foster curiosity within our students. Engel wants us to make questioning a goal:

Think of question asking as the goal of an educational activity, rather than a happy by-product. Develop activities that invite or require students to figure out what they want to know and then seek answers.

Unfortunately, sometimes questions are seen as, at-best, an accidental outcome; at worst, they are a disruption to the teacher’s flow. Like most things, curiosity within our students will only be nurtured and developed through purposeful thought & action. What would the outcome be if we examined each lesson through the lens of curiosity? That is, what if we asked ourselves how curious will my students become as a result of this lesson? 

There is no question that this is easier said then done. Undoubtedly the pressures to cover content, meet outcomes and standards, and prepare students for year-end exams leaves many of us wondering about where we might find the time. That said, why do we always try to leave time for questions or squeeze a few questions in at the end. Why don’t we start with questions?

Why don’t we ask our students what they’re curious about? Would it change anything for you if your students told you what they wondered about the solar system, the industrial revolution, statistics, or poetry? Would your students develop a deeper level of engagement if you paused for one moment, right in the middle of a lesson, and asked the students what they’re thinking. When we pause and ask, are there any questions, we’re usually are met with silence; follow that with now, what are you thinking and you’re likely to be surprised at how much is on their minds.

Your move to emphasizing curiosity doesn’t have to be epic. Just begin by keeping curiosity at the forefront of your mind as you develop your usual lesson sequences. Eventually, it will become a natural routine; then a habit.

Fostering curiosity will take some time; time for you to shift your focus and time for the students to develop new, habitual ways of reflection. However, by shifting our instructional mindset to one that makes nurturing curiosity a priority, the same content you’ve taught for years can be transformed into the means that drives an unprecedented level of motivation and engagement.

3 Steps to Aligning your School-Wide Discipline Practices

This post is a continuation from my previous post: 5 Guiding Principles for Effective School-Wide Discipline

3-threeStudents thrive in predictable environments and with predictable routines. Now don’t misunderstand, predictability doesn’t mean boring and within the context of this post, it has nothing to do with a monotonous learning environment. You can, in fact, be predictable and consistent with the opportunities you provide students to explore, create, inquire, collaborate, think, and challenge. An unpredictable experience where things seem to come out of nowhere creates an excessive amount of anxiety which is counter-productive. The focus of this post is about creating alignment with adult responses to student behaviour, the exploration of working model, and the 3 simple, universal steps any school can use to create their plans.

Here is a working model (SW Discipline Planthat you may wish to have in front of you as you read this post.

Before outlining the three steps it is important to understand a few key points:

  1. Teach what is expected. Before holding students accountable for their behaviour we need to ensure that they are clear on what is expected of them. In the same way we would identify success criteria for academic success, we must identify what the social norms are for students in school. What does respect look like, sound like, and feel like? How do students handle adversity? The more specific and intentional we can be the more likely it is for most students to follow suit.
  2. This is working model, not the model. My goal is not to have every school use the exact same plan; it is to make sure that schools create some alignment and predictability with how the adults respond to negative behaviours. Your plan might look a little different; that’s okay.
  3. Each school’s discipline plan is best-served when anchored on the 3 universal principles outlined below, however, each school’s discipline plan must be contextualized; it must fit the routines and social norms of the school as well as being age appropriate. The model attached is a high school example; middle school and elementary models can/should be different.
  4. Creating a school-wide approach to student discipline will not be sufficient for students with more complex behavioural challenges. A general rule to follow in terms of behavioural support is that anything that works for most is likely to be insufficient for the few. Aligned responses create a foundation but are in no way a match for the intensity and complexity of some students’ behavioural support needs.

So with that, let’s explore the 3 steps to creating alignment with a school-wide approach to student discipline:

STEP 1: Decide on the number of behavioural levels. The fundamental question here is whether or not all negative behaviours are the same; we know that they’re not. Speaking out of turn is quite different from physically assaulting someone, so with that, we need to figure out how many different levels there are. In every school where I’ve been a part of creating a school-wide discipline plan we’ve settle on three; one school identified minors, middles, and majors, while the example provided simply identifies levels 1, 2, and 3. I am familiar with schools who’ve settle on two (minors and majors) and school’s who’ve have settled on four (minors, middles, majors, illegals). There is no formula; it’s up to you and your colleagues to decide how many levels there are.

STEP 2: Define each level. Once you’ve determined the number of levels, the next step is to define them. Using the working example provided you can see how each of the levels is defined:

  • Level 1 behaviours are handled by the attending staff member. Chronic level 1 behaviours could result in a referral to the school administration.

The first point is the phrase attending staff member. Every adult – I mean every adult – has to take some responsibility for intervening when negative student behaviours occur, especially if they occur right in front of them. If you see it there is an expectations that you will intervene. Of course, subtle differences within that expectation are possible when it comes to secretaries and/or custodians. This has nothing to do with their capacity to work with students (the majority I’ve worked with are exceptional); it has more to do with developing reasonable expectations for what they can/should be dealing with during the course of a day. Finding balance will be important.

The second point is here is the word could. There is no predetermined sequence that results in a referral to the office. That doesn’t mean some level 1 behaviours don’t get referred; they do. However, it’s up to the staff member to determine when something is chronic and if it requires administrative support. The definition of chronic will be explored in my next post which will outline how this plan is implemented with a staff.

  • Level 2 behaviours are handled by the attending staff member. Chronic level 2 behaviours will result in a referral to the school administration.

The key word here is will. What distinguishes a level 2 from a level 1 is that if a level 2 behaviour persists then it is referred to administration. It’s still up to the teacher to determine if/when something is chronic, however, there is an expectation that when it is that extra support is available.

  • Level 3 behaviours will result in an immediate referral to the school administration

We blended level 3 and illegals into the same category as the end result (a referral) is the same. These are the behaviours that are the full responsibility of the school’s administration. That’s not say that all staff aren’t involved in some way; certainly staff aren’t ignoring fights and other serious incidents. The point is that their sole responsibility is to report it if they see it.

STEP 3: Categorize every behaviour. The final step for you and your team is to decide which behaviours belong in which level. We brainstormed a list of all of the potential negative behaviours we might experience throughout the course of a school year. We then looked for any overlap and blended those together. In the end you have a list of behaviours that you begin to examine and categorize through the answering of a couple of questions.

  1. If the student acted that way, would you immediately refer that student to the school administration? If YES, it’s a level 3. If NO, then it’s a level 1 or 2.
  2. If the student acted that way consistently throughout the year, could you see a scenario where you would never refer that student to the school administration, even if you felt the behaviour was chronic? If YES, it’s a level 1. If NO, it’s a level 2 because a chronic behaviour will always result in a referral.

Admittedly, the line between level 1 and level 2 behaviours is fine. No plan should be so rigid that thoughtful reconsideration is not possible; you might decide a certain behaviour is a level 1, however, as the plan unfolds you might realize it’s actually a level 2. If so, move it…it’s that simple.

As well, any school-wide discipline plan is never implemented in as clinical a manner as it appears. What brings any plan to life are the productive and thoughtful conversations between teachers, students, parents, and administration. Remember guideline #5 from my previous post:

  • Respect the uniqueness of each student, each incident, and each set of circumstances.

There are no automatic responses to students; their uniqueness deserves a level of thought that reaches far beyond a prescriptive course of action. That said, the benefit of adults being aligned with their responses to negative behaviours creates a consistency that students can come to predict. No two teachers will handle negative behaviours in exactly the same way which makes uniformity an unrealistic (even misguided) goal. What are those responses? How do you define chronic? What happens when a student who demonstrates a first-time level 1 behaviour is sent to the office? These questions (an others) will the topic of the next post in this series.

I know this topic is not sexy and doesn’t inspire with futuristic unknowns or the sizzle of technological innovation. It is, however, a core fundamental to creating the kind of teaching and learning environment that allows students and teachers to get to he sexy, innovative stuff. Alignment won’t just happen; it takes thought, purpose, and action. Creating that alignment within your school-wide discipline plan is as easy as 1, 2, 3.