Ken O’Connor “15 Fixes to Broken Grades”

On March 6, 2014, we looked at Ken O’Connor’s “15 Fixes to Broken Grades.”

Thing I agree with:

– keeping behavior and grades separate

– support for students who submit work late (although I would do this within reason because your students need to work as hard as you. However, I think if students hand in late work they probably have extenuating circumstances and need our support).

– report absences separate from grades

– organize information by I Can Statements/Outcomes (I like this but I am still trying to figure this out. I think once I understand the outcomes better, this will be easier).

– provide clear expectations

– rely on quality assessments and not on those that do not meet the standards of quality (ie. get students to redo and then grade)

– use your professional judgment (ie. mean is not the only measure)

– use alternatives for zero (ie. incomplete, etc.)

– use summative evidence only in grade and keep formative assessment out of it

– include lots of formative assessment in teaching practice

– focus on recent achievement and allow for practice time

– involve students in their own assessment and make them part of the grading process (This is harder than it sounds!)

Things I am unsure of:

– do not compare students to each other but to a standard (I believe in this but I am not anywhere close to this level of success and mastery yet. Hopefully one day!)

– not including group scores in grades (I think this is sometimes appropriate. We can use our professional judgment to determine when it is fair and when it is not).

– apply fair consequences for academic dishonesty and reassess (ie. do not give a zero. I agree but I wonder, what is a fair consequence for stealing work or cheating? However, giving a zero would not correct the behavior I bet. But what does? This will be stressful. Hopefully the school I go to would have a policy).

Something I dislike:

– not giving bonus points unless the work has resulted in a higher level of achievement (I think bonus questions are fun and I think students who work hard should have that reflected in their grades. I’m not sure I even understand this point.)


The Stoplight Method: An End-of-Lesson Assessment

This video is from the Teaching Channel. (By now you have learned that this channel is my obsession). I was drawn to it because a high school English teacher actually uses this formative assessment strategy. Students use a post-it note at the end of class to write what they learned (green light), their ideas and questions (yellow light), and if anything stopped their learning during class (red light). This is not only data on student learning but data for the teacher about what went well and what didn’t. I would take the red light information and try to avoid it (if it was a distraction, etc.) or work through it (if it was a lack of clarification) the next class. What students learned can help direct the next lesson because you will not have to guess their understanding. This is a fun way of doing an exit slip and I think using this from time to time would change it up. It also provides closure for the students and is easy to administer. This is almost an adaptation of the red, green, and yellow cups from the Classroom Experiment.

How Learning Contracts Motivate Students

This semester I decided that I want to use portfolios in my future English classroom. I think this practice aligns quite nicely with a lot of the current research, particularly what Davies has to say. I would have students create an online portfolio to foster technology in my classroom. I would also have the portfolio blog pages be separated by “I Can Statements.” Then students would post all their work to the appropriate spot and highlight a couple pieces from each outcome to be marked at the end of the year. Constant feedback would be given, deadlines would not be set in stone, and communication between parents could easily be maintained by simply looking at the blog. Students could also showcase their work and progress at parent-student-teacher interviews or open houses. With that in mind, I wondered how I would set this up and keep students accountable.

Greenwood and McCabe (2006) suggest using learning contracts. These are “written [agreements] between teacher and learner in which the learner undertakes to complete mutually agreed upon tasks in a specified amount of time on his or her own initiative” (15). I think these documents would be great to use because students get to direct their own learning and have choices. Teachers could make sure that students were not just picking their favorite medium of representation by making students pick tasks from various categories. Students know what is expected of them from the beginning and they are held responsible. I think teachers could also differentiate easier using online portfolios with contracts because students could use any indicator they want. Teachers could also aid some students more than others and let advanced learners work at a pace and level that meets their own needs. I would give 20-30 minutes of general instruction that everyone receives, and then students could break off and work on their contracted tasks. During that time, I could do remedial activities with those that need extra help. Some students may be accomplishing less advanced work or tasks but since everyone is doing a different thing, no one should be singled out. Grouping choices and making sure all students get one-on-one instruction with the teacher can maintain an inclusive classroom.

One thing I am still trying to figure out is how to report under the outcomes. It seems like many assignments could fit under many outcomes. Maybe students could place an assignment under more than one outcome? Would you make one rubric per outcome? Would that work if students are exploring an outcome through all the various indicators? How do you teach students who are working on different things and at various levels? I think some intense classroom management strategies would need to be in place so that students self-manage and direct their own learning. I think this will be a lot of work but I have thought about it a lot lately and I really want to try it out. I think individualized online portfolios with agreed upon contracts are the best way (and only way I can think of now) to accomplish the current assessment trends. I just need to take it one step at a time….


Direction of Saskatchewan Education

Tim Caleval, from the Ministry of Education, presented to our class on February 27th, 2014. Tim has a great wealth of knowledge about assessment practices. Based on the “Saskatchewan Plan for Growth: Vision 2020 and Beyond” by the Government of Saskatchewan, the Ministry of Education has a priority: increasing education success for our First Nations learners. The document outlines the current grad rate disparity:

“In 2010-11, over 72 per cent of Saskatchewan students graduated “on-time” (within three years of entering grade 10) compared to 32.7 per cent of self-declared Aboriginal students. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Education also tracks “extended time graduation,” recognizing that some students require more time to complete Grade 12. The extended time graduation (five years after entering Grade 10) rates are 81.1 per cent for all students and 48.1 per cent for self-identified Aboriginal students. The consequences of the education difference in financial terms are significant” (p. 20).

The document outlines an ambitious goal of reducing “the Grade 12 graduation disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in the K-12 system by 50 per cent by 2020” (p. 40). In order to achieve this goal, we need to focus on a multi-cultural approach to learning and assess our students to monitor progress. Once we improve the education gap, there will be less of an employment gap for First Nations and Metis people in Saskatchewan. Much of the success of this goal comes from within the classroom and relies on teachers to create an inclusive and culturally responsive classroom.

Tim Caleval noted that “our future for boosting education success rates relies on First Nations students.” Therefore, the Ministry of Education will be focusing on this goal above all others. Tim noted that there are other goals and issues to address, such as a lack of consistency in grade reporting among the school divisions. He outlined some researched assessment practices that have been proven to be detrimental to students: not giving enough practice time, quizzes/tests to punish, late marks etc. However, he would not give his opinion on behavior counting in the overall grade since this is a divisive subject. I believe that if I were a parent I would want to know how my child was acting but I would not want them to be graded on it. Furthermore, as an inclusive educator I think we disadvantage our learners with various abilities by grading their behaviors. Grades need to reflect students’ knowledge of the outcomes. However, this does not mean we only focus on these things, as our Broad Areas of Learning and Cross Curricular Competencies largely focus on behavior.

Another goal that the Ministry of Education needs to address is increasing “the number of Grade 3 students reading at “grade level” by 20 per cent by 2015” (p. 61). As an English major, I know all too well that Grade 3 is the age where we stop learning to read and start reading to learn. Not reading at grade level can be detrimental to future achievement and therefore, graduation and employment. If students are not reading at grade level, we simply will not achieve the graduation rates we desire. In order to accomplish this goal we need improve the overall classroom experience: collaboration, curriculum, assessment, and instruction (p. 62). I also think we need to rely more on collaboration with Learning Resource Teachers and other specialized professionals. Tim noted that in the Sates they decide how many jail cells to open based on Grade 3 reading levels. I am proud to be part of a system that focuses on improvement and optimism. Instead of opening up jail cells, I truly believe educators and superiors are trying to adapt the system to meet the needs of all learners and bridge the achievement gap. We can see this in our schools from the First Nations and Metis Education Plan that focuses on literacy or our tiered instruction that is being implemented. The goals that our government has targeted are quite ambitious but I think with a little hard work and inclusion, they are manageable. We might as well set the bar high!