Assessment Philosophy and Learnings ECS 410

Philosophy of Assessment and Evaluation:


I believed in a system driven by grades. I thought zeroes were fair game and by removing them we were making 50’s become the new 0’s. Furthermore, I thought that pass/fail classes were a joke and learners would not try without an extrinsic motivation (grades). During the first class when you asked if we should mark behavior, I was all for it! I thought that marking behavior prepared students for the real world!

After reading for the learning journey blog posts, I have changed my mind. As Todd Rogers, a psychologist from U of A, suggests, “a zero indicates the student knows nothing about a topic when they might actually know plenty… the mark of incomplete is more honest” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). I believe that 0’s mark a behavior. They punish students and give them the chance to opt out from completing the curriculum outcomes (which is the purpose of them being in that course). Often zeroes are a result of late marks, and in the “real world” time is flexible. It is important to note that“the no-zero approach puts the onus on the teacher to do everything possible to ensure students are learning what’s in the curriculum” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). Students are still held accountable to do their work but their behavior is rated separately. If students do not do the main assignments in the term they cannot get a credit.

Fun fact: A newspaper article about cholesterol and wanting to get a zero to avoid a high cholesterol rating was what changed my opinion!


Redo’s were something I was against. The first time we talked about this in class, I thought “How is that fair to the top students who got it the first time? Wouldn’t everyone have high marks then?” After some reflection I thought, “But wait, Kourtney, the goal is not for students to compete against each other for marks. It does not matter if they all have 80s. The goal is for everyone to get it at any time that they can.” Now I think that everyone deserves a second chance; Guskey notes that we can ignore “low quiz scores,” allow for redo’s, consider marks “from a previous marking period,” or weight course material differently (2011, p, 87-8). Shepard also shares this idea and states that redo’s allow for fair evaluation (2008, p. 44).

Student role in assessment process:

Before reading Making Classroom Assessment Work and attending ECS 410, I never considered letting students be part of the criteria-building process or informing them about what outcome they were trying to meet. I did not feel right about students coming to parent-teacher interviews.

I believe that students need to be part of the learning process! They need chances to self-assess, compile their own learning (portfolio or blog), and should always be present at conferences/interviews. This is because learning is lifelong and for their benefit! I also think students should get a chance to decide the weights of assignments because they know themselves best. Students should be aware of the outcomes.


  • Laurie Gatsky noted that “assessment should not be a secret.”
  • “Students can reach any target that they know about and that holds still for them” – Anne Davies
  • Students should be involved with “the process of preparing and presenting” because it “gives students the opportunity to construct their understanding and to help others make meaning of their learning” (Davies, 2011, p. 86).


  • We must show students “what is expected and what success looks like” (2011, p. 30).
  • Anne Davies notes that students need specific “descriptions of what needs to be learned” or referenced (2011, p. 27).
  • Kelly Gallagher also highlights this idea in Chapter 3 of Teaching Adolescent Writers.
  • Samples and models are needed for student success.

Practice Time/Descriptive Feedback/Less Grading:

       I have always believed strongly in descriptive feedback and practice time!


  • Noskin (2013) stated that “assessments must be formative and frequent with timely feedback; a summative assessment should follow at the unit’s end” but not before then (p. 73).
  • Davies (2011) also states that “when students are acquiring new skills, knowledge, and understanding, they need a chance to practice” (p. 2).
  • Guskey notes that when feedback is given with grades, students’ “grades on subsequent assessments significantly improved” (2011, p. 86).
  • Anne Davies also emphasizes descriptive feedback in Making Classroom Assessment Work. She notes that “evaluative feedback gets in the way of many students’ learning” and students only “understand whether or not they need to improve but not how to improve” (2011, p.17-8).
  • “Increasing the amount of descriptive feedback, while decreasing evaluative feedback, increases student learning significantly” (Davies, 2011, p. 3).
  •  “The more specific, descriptive feedback students receive while they are learning, the more learning is possible” (Davies, 2011, p. 58).


I believe that we need to asses students on many things!


  • Anne Davies (Making Classroom Assessment Work) expresses that teachers must “gather evidence from a variety of sources, and that they gather evidence over time” (2011, p. 45).
  • Observations, products, conversations are some of the sources!
  • We can avoid pretending that a student’s whole performance or intelligence can be summed up in one number” – Peter Elbow.
  • Bernhardt (1992) states “that it is unreliable to base [evaluation] on a single sample of student writing” (p. 333). Thus, it is also unfair to evaluate students on “a single sit-down test” (Bernhardt, 1992, p. 333).
  • When students are faced with exams, or one time to shine, they are more worried “about what will be on the test rather than thinking about learning” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41). Grades, which are extrinsic rewards, “can reduce intrinsic motivation” (Shepard, 2006, p. 42).


Anne Davies notes, “students learn in different ways and at different rates” (2011, p. 43) and I believe our teaching/assessment needs to reflect this. This includes differentiation, oral and verbal instructions, assignment choices, etc.


  •  “Many teachers teach every child the same material in the same way, and measure each child’s performance by the same standards… Thus, teachers embrace the value of treating each child as a unique individual while instructing children as if they were virtually identical” (Mehlinger, 1995).
  • Lillian Katz’s quote “when a teacher tries to teach something to the entire class at the same time, chances are, one-third of the kids already know it; one-third will get it and the remaining third won’t.  So, two-thirds of the children are wasting their time.”

Use of Assessment and Evaluation:

Diagnostic Today’s meet, exit and entrance slips, quick-write questions: what is going well? What needs to be changed? How do you feel out of five about your understanding of the novel.  

Formative- Thumbs up (instead of mini whiteboards from  “Classroom Experiment”), talking to students one-on-one and asking for their understanding or feedback on my teaching (idea from “Classroom Experiment”), bell work, paragraph responses, jigsaws, think-pair-shares, class discussions, group work, carousel activity, talking circle, Venn diagram on gender, cold call (instead of lollipop strategy from “Classroom Experiment”), jeopardy review, homework checks

Summative – Island art, presentations, worksheets (story plot line) and questions, inquiry letters, vocabulary worksheets 

Student Involvement – Student choice on dates and schedule of assignments. Student choice on assignment representations. Students got to self-assess their efforts and debate marks. Students were aware of the curriculum outcomes (orally and verbally introduced). 

Accommodations/Differentiations – I had to give certain students extensions. I was supposed to give zeroes but I did not do this. I would talk to them individually and then see what dates worked for them. One student had an anxiety disorder so her presentation was done individually. She only had to do it in front of three teachers and a friend instead of the whole class. Two students had to do an island art assignment on their own (missed the class day so they missed the group work) and I gave them extra time to accommodate less people.

4 Key Lessons



2. Beginning with the end in mind:

  • Did this on the unit plan and for the class. Started with the outcomes and what my weekly overviews would be.
  • Students engage when their interests are reflected. I intend to find out about my learners and match their interests to the curriculum outcomes. Taking a book and making outcomes fit is almost impossible and doing it the other way around makes more sense.3. Rubrics:
  • Rubrics are vital and allow you to mark students based on a standard/outcome, instead of compare each other
  • Students also figure out what they need to do
  • Make rubrics with 4 boxes (so they do not always get put in the middle)
  • Rubrics should not have numbers, letters, etc.

4. Finally we must slow down “to create a learning culture… instead of a grading culture” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41). I would rather have my students’ master two things than touch on 800 poorly. This is reflected in the curriculum and will guide my instruction/assessment. We do not need to hit every indicator to get to the outcome. Give students choice so they can hit the outcome really well in one or two ways!

 Challenges and Further Questions:

  • I found grade reporting to be difficult (especially since I had to mark everything). I wonder how I can do this in a more efficient manner.
  • I found that catching-up missing students was hard. I often got them to get the materials from their friends but they still missed out on instructional time. I have been researching flipped classrooms and I think this might be one way to work around this problem. This is because the instruction/lecture is posted online in a video or multi-media format that students can access at any time. Then when students are in class they do their work, meaning students can all be working on different things. This also ensures that homework is being handed in! What other strategies are there for welcoming students who often are missing back into your classroom?
  • How do we balance the fine line between helping/supporting and enabling/encroaching on independence?
  • How do you motivate students without the “mark threat?” I know this is terrible but often students are so focused on marks, it seems like the only way to get them to do their work. Maybe this is a sign that more engaging explorations need to be made in class so that students want to learn!
  • I am still unsure about co-constructing rubrics. I am not competent enough to do this… yet.
  • I believe in self-assessment. However, many professors have told me not to do it because students end up giving each other the wrong answers. How do you teach students to self-assess appropriately and make this activity beneficial? How much time should be set aside for self-assessment?
  • How does a teacher decide what summative assessment is more important than others? How are weights applied and how should this be determined?
  • I am still unsure of our no-failing policies. I have yet to find articles that say failing Grade One is detrimental and I feel like repeating grades should not be looked at as a bad thing. If you need an extra year to learn to read, then so be it! However, I know that professors and some educators have a different perspective that cannot go uncredited. I want to find more information about this topic so that I open myself up to both perspectives. Do you know of any resources, specifically about repeating grades?
  • When is it best to mark students? How long do you wait to do summative assessment?
  • What method can be used to replace the grading system?
  • How do we implement a consistent grading system that provides all students with an equal opportunity, regardless of where they live?
  • Reporting under outcomes seems like a great idea! If your gradebook is set up under outcomes and an assignment covers more than one outcome, where do you place it?
  • Would you make one rubric per outcome? Would that work if students were exploring the outcomes through various indicators and choices?
  • Another thing I struggle with is not comparing students to each other. I agree that students deserve to be held to a standard and that their learning is not a competition. But this is easier said than done. I found myself comparing work so that I could ensure myself that I was being fair. I really hope I get more confidence and skill with grading so that I stop doing this.


Saskatchewan Standardized Testing Plan Scrapped Leader Post

Over this past year the standardized testing debate has been at the forefront of discussions about education. Over the last few months, the implementation of standardized testing had been put on hold. During this time, school boards, professors, educators, students, and parents expressed their general unhappiness with this movement. Don Morgan, our minister of education, stated that “”we know that kind of large-scale testing regime wouldn’t work for teachers… I don’t think it benefits the students and I don’t think it benefits the province.”” I could not agree more!

My biggest concern was that they were going to put standardized testing on hold until educators calmed down. However, Don Morgan notes that “”it wasn’t put on pause so we could turn around and go ahead with it three months later after things had cooled off.”” I am very pleased and inspired that the government listened to the voices of educators, students, and parents. It is inspiring that teachers stood up for something they believed in and were able to determine the future of education in Saskatchewan. As someone on the anti-standardized testing side of the line, I could not be happier. This was the best news I received all day! If I have learned anything from my third year classes, and ECS 410 in particular, it is that students all learn in different ways and need to express their knowledge in different ways. Testing is not the answer for many of our learners. Paul Tough’s work in “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” talks about how “character is at least as important as intellect.” Research shows that students’ GPA scores have a lot more to do with their self-discipline than their IQs. This is problematic for our at-risk learners. Thus, in a sense, standardized tests only disadvantage our at-risk learners even more and they do more to test behavior than actual intelligence. I also feel like there is a disconnect between standardized testing and our curriculum outcomes, broad areas of learning, and general goals.

Instead of standardized testing we will focus on a sector plan. This plan focuses on reading and First Nations/Metis education. “The target is to have at least 78 per cent of Grade 3 students reading at or above grade level by 2015” and I think this is a challenging, but important goal. Written literacy and numeracy are also important areas to focus on; areas that should be addressed in all classes, just like reading. This takes a lot of pressure off our ELA and math teachers. It makes sense to have reading and writing instruction in all classes, as writing and reading are a muscle that requires as much or more practice as nailing the perfect three pointer in basketball. Dan Florizone, Deputy Minister, stated that our focus needs to be on “curriculum… instruction, assessment, professional development” and teacher training, rather than only assessment or testing. By 2020 the goal is to have “85 per cent graduation rate (10 per cent higher than the current rate), 90-per-cent of kindergarten students scoring age-appropriate marks and 80 per cent of all students performing at grade level in reading, writing and math.” This news makes me extremely excited to be a future educator in Saskatchewan. It is news like this that makes me believe that change can happen for the better!

Here’s to working our butts off in the next bit to create a more inclusive school culture and a group of literate students! 🙂

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!

ECS 410: Assessment and Evaluation in Secondary Schools: Case Studies


This reflection looks at Case Study 2: Interim Report Card Grades, Case Study 4: Hiring a Student, and Case Study 6: All or Some. Case Study 2 highlights the effects of assigning a zero and how detrimental this practice can be to a student’s overall grade. Furthermore, zeros are misleading and do not accurately represent what a student achieved or learned during a semester. Case Study 4 analyses how grades can be misinterpreted and often do not provide a clear picture to students, employers, teachers and parents about what a student knows and can demonstrate. How teachers choose to weight assignments has an impact on the overall mark a student receives and this choice can vary from school to school and/or classroom to classroom. Case Study 6 deals with number crunching and evaluating students before they have had adequate practice time. To deconstruct these case studies, current research on high school grading trends and personal experiences will be used.

Keywords – number crunching, assessment, evaluation, grade reporting, overall achievement, feedback, gradebook, zeros

 Case Studies

Case Study 2: Interim Report Card Grade

In Case Study 2 the student received a zero on one assignment because they were absent. As a result, the report card shows that they have a 68.8 percent overall average after the first four weeks of classes. However, the lowest mark the student received was a 62.5 percent on one assignment that was weighted out of eight. The student received a 90 percent or higher on the majority of their assignments. If the zero was not reported the student would have an 81.6 percent average.

I personally would give the student the 81.6 percent because I believe it better reflects what he or she has learned and/or demonstrated. I also think the student will be more motivated to keep up the good work if they see an 81.6 percent versus a 68.8 percent. The current research suggests that zero grades are an unfair and inaccurate marking practice and this case study illustrates how misleading a zero grade can be. A 68.8 percent is not a fair representation of this student’s overall achievement, when the majority of their assignments are in the 90 percent range or higher.

What bothers me most about the student receiving the 68.8 percent is that they were absent for the test. Todd Rogers, a psychologist from University of Alberta, suggests that “a zero indicates the student knows nothing about a topic when they might actually know plenty… the mark of incomplete is more honest” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). Based on the other marks that the student has received, I believe he or she understands the content and could do quite well on the test, if given the opportunity. I think the student should get a chance to take the test and in the meantime the assignment could register as ‘incomplete’ so that it does not skew the overall average for the first four weeks. The goal is for students to meet the curriculum outcomes; if students are not given the chance to demonstrate their knowledge then zeros are used to punish their behavior rather than representing their knowledge of an outcome (Bower, “Giving zeros a power trip”). I am just starting to grasp this concept, as I am very much imbedded in our grading system. I used to agree with the critics that the no-zero policy would not prepare kids for “the real world” and that fifties would become the new zeros. I also used to think that giving second chances or extended due dates was not fair to students who met the deadlines and were present. I am now realizing that all students have different circumstances and furthermore, giving zeros does not hold students responsible to complete their work. This case study has taught me that the zero – which actually represents that the student missed a day of classes in a four week period – not only punishes the student but disrupts the learning process. This zero does not indicate that the student does not know the content or only knows 68.8 percent of it, for that matter. Instead, the zero is used to punish a behavior that has nothing to do with the student’s overall understanding of the curricular outcomes.

This case study highlights many tensions amid our current grading system. First and foremost, it shows that zeros can be detrimental to students because they are misleading and an inaccurate representation of the acquired knowledge. Also, in this case study students are receiving grades for every assignment, including daily work. This means that their practice time is being evaluated. Davies (2011) notes that “students need a chance to practice” and she proposes that “increasing the amount of descriptive feedback, while decreasing evaluative feedback, increases student learning significantly” (p. 2-3). The numbered average does little to show how the student is doing, in regards to the curricular outcomes, whereas, feedback would be much more informative. Bower suggests that we treat assessment like “a needed conversation between a teacher and student” rather than “a spreadsheet” of misleading grades (“Giving zeros a power trip”). Giving a zero would most likely result in an unmotivated student who now has an inaccurate perception of their overall achievement. Bower notes that students who receive zeros are more likely to drop out or become unmotivated (“Giving zeros a power trip”). I would have had an emotional breakdown if this would have happened to me in high school. Thus, I do not think a grade of zero is appropriate (assuming that the student has not refused the opportunity to retake the test) and I believe that feedback after four weeks would be more beneficial and create a continuous learning process.

Case Study 4: Hiring a Student

Case Study 4 illustrates what grades fail to communicate about student achievement to parents, employers, educators and students. Based on the information in Scenario A, Student 1 would get the job. They received 0/25 in practical knowledge – which makes me question if they missed the test or assignments? – and 71/75 on theory. Student 2, on the other hand, received 25/25 on practical knowledge but only 27/75 on theory. Thus, when the weights of practical and theory are rated out of 25 and 75 respectfully, Student 1 receives an overall grade of 71 percent and Student 2 receives an overall grade of 52 percent. If a manager at the local auto repair shop looked at these marks, he or she would hire Student 1 because they appear to be more competent.

However, in Scenario B Student 1 receives an overall grade of 47 percent and Student 2 receives an overall grade of 68 percent. This is because both practical and theoretical aspects were weighted equally out of 50. Student 1 receives 0/50 and 47/50 but Student 2 receives 50/50 and then 18/50. In Scenario C, the weights of practical and theoretical knowledge are weighted 75 and 25 respectively. This reverses the weights in Scenario A. Student 1 receives a 0/75 and a 24/25, resulting in an overall grade of 24 percent. Student 2 receives 75/75 and then 9/25, resulting in an overall grade of 84 percent. Therefore, if a manager was comparing marks based on Scenario B or C, Student 2 would receive the job.

This case study shows the discrepancies of grades and the effects of teacher choices on the worth of course components. Guskey (2011) notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools were established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (p. 85). This affects student motivation, class choices, post-secondary admissions, job choices and scholarship success. I think we need consistent assessment practices because grades determine the future for our students. I would allow students to choose how to weight their assignments and tests so that they could play to their individual strengths, yet still complete all course components. This choice could be made within assignments on the rubrics or between all of the class assignments through a student-teacher contract.

I honestly do not know what scenario I think is fair because I do not know what each component encompasses. This once again highlights how poor report cards are at communicating learning achievement and tasks. One suggestion I would have for this teacher is dropping low quiz scores or providing second chances. I used to believe that students should not all have eighties and/or get second chances but I am now realizing the purpose is for students to meet the curricular outcomes – albeit, at their own pace – and learning is not about competing for grades. As Guskey (2011) notes “grades have long been identified by those in the measurement community as prime examples of unreliable measurement” (p. 85). I think this will be one of the biggest challenges in teaching: how do you decide what learning or skills are more important than the others? Unless we create consistent guidelines to follow, grades will continue to be misleading and very few students will benefit.

Case Study 6: All or Some

Case Study 6 shows the parachute-packing test results of three students. Student 1 was above the competency/mastery level for the first five tests. However, tests six to nine are scored well below the mastery level. Student 2 started at the mastery level, scored above the mastery level on tests two, four, six, and eight, but below the mastery level on tests three, five, seven, and nine. Student 3 was well below the mastery level for the first three tests, fell just below the mastery level on tests four to six, but made improvements on each test thereafter and scored above the mastery line on tests seven to nine.

Based on these results, I would want Student 3 to pack my parachute. Student 1, although he or she started strong, is well below the mastery level on the last four tests. Student 2 has very inconsistent results. But student 3 has consistently improved since test one and has been well above the mastery line for the last three tests. This student has the most consistent and reliable results and I would feel safest with them packing my parachute. It does not matter to me that Student 1 used to be able to pack a parachute and I do not want to take a chance that Student 2 is having a good day.

If this was represented on a grade book, it would look very similar to the chart below (the grades are an estimate):


Student   1

Student   2

Student   3









































Student 1 and 2 would pass but Student 3 would fail. However, this is contradictory to my prior answer that Student 3 is competent at parachute packing. This is because grades do not accurately show how a student is achieving the outcomes without additional feedback. Student 3 would benefit from Shepard’s idea of “replacement assignments and replacement tests or throwing out test scores when learning is verified in later assignments” (2006, p. 44). Student 3 has demonstrated that they can complete the task but he or she is being held back for learning at a slower rate.

Another issue is that the initial tests are marked. As Laurie Gatzky mentioned in her presentation, we should evaluate the recent work rather than averaging the entire course work because students need learning and practice time. It is not fair to evaluate students so early. Davies (2011) also states that “when students are acquiring new skills, knowledge, and understanding, they need a chance to practice” (p. 2). When I coached basketball I did not mark students at the first practice but instead I gave them feedback throughout the season. The “test” or evaluation occurred in the final few playoff games. Noskin (2013) stated that “assessments must be formative and frequent with timely feedback; a summative assessment should follow at the unit’s end” but not before then (p. 73). If students would have been marked solely on test nine, Student 3 would receive an 85 percent, Student 2 a 45 percent and Student 1 a 30 percent. However, this would not be represented on most gradebooks. I would personally give “descriptive feedback during the learning” and evaluate tests eight and nine (Davies, 2011, p. 2).


In the end, all three case studies highlight the tensions and inadequacies of our current grading practices. I know evaluation will be a constant stress and concern that I have as a teacher. However, I am learning the benefits of giving more feedback and fewer grades. Furthermore, I understand that students need practice time and choice, whether it is the choice of how they demonstrate their knowledge or what their assignments are worth. Giving zeros punishes students for their behaviour or attendance issues and disrupts the learning cycle. Every student deserves a second chance, especially since learning is a lifelong process. Our goal as educators should be “to create a learning culture… instead of a grading culture” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41) and in order to do this we need to make learning an intrinsic reward rather than a competition for the best mark, which is an extrinsic motivator that poorly communicates a student’s understanding of the curricular outcomes.


Bernhardt, S. A. (1992). Teaching English: Portfolio evaluation. The Clearing House, 65(6), 333-334.

Bower, Joe. (2012). Giving zeros a power trip. Edmonton Journal, pp. A.20.

Davies, A. (2011). Making classroom assessment work. (3rd Ed.). Courtenay, British Columbia:  Connections Publishing.

Found, Rob. (2012). Not giving zeros also skews marks. Edmonton Journal, pp. A.11.

Guskey, T. R. (2011). Stability and change in high school grades. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 85-98. doi:10.1177/0192636511409924

Noskin, D. P. (2013). Toward a clearer picture of assessment: One teacher’s formative approach. English Journal, 103(1), 72.

Rodgers, Bob. (2012). Why giving children zeros is a “good” idea. Airdrie City View, pp. 9.

Shepard, L. A. (2006). Creating coherent formative and summative assessment practices. Orbit, 36(2), 41.

Pattern Folders: A Literary Analysis Tool

For anyone in ELA, I would recommend using pattern folders to encourage students to find textual evidence. I found this idea on the Teaching Channel, which is an extremely practical and useful site for all educators.  The pattern folders gets students, individually or as a class, to decide on common themes in a resource text. As they read, they pick out passages that match the theme and write these on sticky notes to go inside their folders. Not only does this help with a curriculum outcome but it is also a step in the research process if they were to complete an essay at the end. These folders can help students review. My goal for my students is that they can back up their claims with proof and I think this activity encourages this. Also, the teacher in this video noted that after a quick look at their folders and she can see where her students are and what they are understanding. I would personally use this as a job description for literary circles or as a bell work activity/routine to start the day or a “reading with a focus” activity.

Toward a Clearer Picture of Assessment: One Teacher’s Formative Approach by David Peter Noskin (2013)

David Peter Noskin’s article “Assessment: One Teacher’s Formative Approach” (2013) provides a wonderful English-based example of a unit with a formative assessment focus. Noskin used Hawthorne’s text to discuss big questions and accomplish curriculum outcomes. Within the unit, assessment was “formative and frequent with timely feedback” and students were evaluated at the end of the unit after they were given ample practice time (Noskin, 2013, p. 73). Noskin talks about the importance of letting students know the purpose of the learning but he created the rubrics on his own, something I think his students would have benefited from. However, I loved that the initial pre-assessment of a journal response was the basis of the final essay. Students engaged in journal responses, short essay responses and grammar lessons that focused on student areas of need, like inserting textual evidence, until their final essay was created. Activities built off each other and students received ample feedback instead of just receiving an essay topic and being told to do their best.

One thing I really took to heart is the idea that “the text is not the unit” (Noskin, 2013, p. 72). I think as English teachers we often forget this but we need to consider why we are studying a text and how it relates to the curriculum outcomes and our big questions. I also like Noskin’s honesty when he says he now realizes “that using an activity because it is fun ought not to be my sole or even main criterion: it must foremost align with one of my learning objectives. Then, I can determine how to make it fun and engaging” (2013, p. 74). In the age of Pinterest, this is something all teachers need to be cautious of.

For more information: Noskin, D. P. (2013). Toward a clearer picture of assessment: One teacher’s formative approach. English Journal, 103(1), 72.