Monday, April 28, 2014

Assessment, Grading & ELL Best Practices EDUC 731

Grades and tests have been two words used by many recently as teacher speak swear words. It is my belief that there is a movement of many educators have had enough of the "school system" way of doing things (status quo) and are trying to break free from the bondage of those two words and moving toward understanding best practices of those two words.

From the Center for Innovation and Excellence 
ELL students must be included in this process and be given multiple opportunities to demonstrate achievements. That doesn't mean lowering the standard for new or beginning ELLs, it means having high standards maybe just not at the grade level that they are placed, but the one where they are functioning best, and give them time!
I see this process as a golden opportunity to see students with eyes wide open. Really see them. Not just a snapshot, but a true and accurate picture of their achievement, growth and learning journey. 

Overall, common grading practices have included some type of communication system between schools and families regarding factors like effort, conduct, attitude and grades. Sometimes grades have been used as a form of punishment and sometimes they have been used as a form of reward. But is that what grades and testing is all about? Punishment and rewards?

I have these questions:

  • What is a grade?
  • What should be included?
  • What should not be included?
  • What are standard based grading best practices involving testing?
What is a grade?

Grades should communicate information not just to students but also to parents and guardians about the student's ability when it comes to the standards for the course. I believe that all students deserve to have a grade that is a thoughtful and informative about their learning journey. 

What should be included?

There should not be any surprises for the student or the parent when it comes to a grade. The reason is because of frequent updates and constant communication about learning to the student and to the parent from the teacher somewhat like a window to the learning journey.   It tells the teacher, parent and the student where they are on the learning spectrum. Grades are based only on academic performance, not whether or not the student turned in the assignment on time, at all or behavior during class. A grade should address the quality of the work samples that come in. 

What should not be included?

Here are somethings that I think should not be part of a report card grade

  • Allowing extra credit.
  • Combining a grading score with a behavior in the class score. 
  • Allowing zeros to be used as a grade for a punishment of not getting work in on time.
  • Averaging the work turned in to give an overall grade.
  • Homework being given a grade.

These are still  problems I see and I think that have no place in 21 Century teaching. Extra credit does not often go hand in hand with the objectives and inflates grades and does not show the correct mastery of the standard.  Behavior  should not be taken into account when it comes to a final grade. The average of a students grades does also not show mastery of a standard. Finally, when you give homework a grade, you have taken away the opportunity to have a  conversation. When a conversation is replaced by a grade, the feedback that the student needs to learn isn't there. It is a disservice and lacks meaning and doesn't communicate learning well. 

What are standard based grading best practices involving testing? 

Embracing fail. I have learned that FAIL stands for FIRST ATTEMPT IN LEARNING. If the student did not meet the standard, it is our job to help them by find an another way to progress toward the learning goals and cultivate the grit and determination to do so. (This is my friend 
Another best practice is to take that information from formative or summative assessments and use it to continue to help the student in their learning journey by providing feedback. They should not all be just paper and pencil nor should they all be computerized. 

Some clever ways are as follows:

  • Conferring 
  • Observations 
  • Journals/binders 
  • Exit notes on stickies 
  • Reading conference 
  • Writing conference 
  • Informal reading assessments 
  • Portfolios 
  • Observations 
  • Quizzes using Kahoot or even Poll Anywhere
  • Gamification 
  • Projects 
  • Student work samples 

ELL learners and Best Practices:

From the Center for Teaching and Excellence 
It is my belief that the best practice for ELL learners is using standard based grading. Since grades should reflect only what a student knows and can do, it is more of a true picture of mastery. This type of grading, conferring brings in the support that the ELL students need. 

  • It involves a great deal of communication.
  • It is consistent and fair to the students. 
  • The students know what the learning targets are and they see a road map for how to reach those goals.
  • It holds students to a high standard but does not disrespect the learning journey for the student.

When you use standard based grading, you are looking at the purity of the grade..the purity of achieving the standard. Adjustments to the learning journey are welcomed. In fact, when other reporting is necessary for ELL students, standard based grading fits in nicely to create a great picture of that students learning. I believe that in a sheltered instructional setting, that there would be a strong support system in a classroom where standard based grading is the guideline. 

The great thing is that the students receive information on the progress of their learning. and gain motivation and confidence to keep moving forward as they navigate a new language and country with new customs. This type of grading system opens the doors to time and ELL students really need the time to develop the language skills. 

In the end, the desired outcome is that all students will learn. We need to seek out best practices for them and improve our practices for ELL learners.