Stability and Change in High School Grades by Thomas R. Guskey (2011)

I was interested in looking at current grading practices and came across the article “Stability and Change in High School Grades” by Thomas R. Guskey (2011). The study looks at the inconsistency and subjectivity associated with grades. Guskey notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools where established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (2011, p. 85). This can be detrimental to Grade 11 and 12 students who are competing for scholarships and admission into post-secondary institutions. Initial marks also impact what classes Grades 9 and 10 students choose to enroll in. Guskey (2011) notes that initial grades have an impact “on students’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivation” and can also lead to student drop-outs (p. 85-6). The study looked at over 1000 high school students and considered gender, socio-economic background, native language, and ability. Across the board, “these first grades set the stage for all that is to come,” and placed students in categories that are almost impossible to alter because of student and teacher perceptions (Guskey, 2011, p. 86). Females also received higher marks than boys and similarly, students in higher socio-economic classes received higher marks than those students from less privileged backgrounds (Guskey, 2011, p. 91). In the end, the study showed that we can “predict high school students’ final course grades based on evidence gather during the second week of the academic term” and based on their gender, ability, financial circumstance, etc. (Guskey, 2011, p. 95). Therefore, grades are a hindrance to the learning process, rather than a benefit since they can inaccurately be allotted and define students in rigid categories.

This study makes me wonder why girls often receive higher marks than boys? Furthermore, why do students get stuck in a grade category? Is it because of teacher practices or student motivation or both? What can we do to close the achievement gap? Why do students in different economic and cultural groups get placed in different grade categories? When should we mark students first? What method can be used to replace grading students? How can we create a consistent grading system that provides all students an equal opportunity, regardless of where they live?

I do not think there are any easy answers. But on the bright side, Guskey notes that when feedback is given with grades, students’ “grades on subsequent assessments significantly improved” (2011, p. 86). Some other interesting ideas to get students beyond their initial grade category was to ignore “low quiz scores,” allow for re-dos, consider marks “from a previous marking period,” or weight course material differently (2011, p. 87-8). These are just some of the ways that initial grades can be overcome. In the end, I think we need to stop pretending that a single grade can tell us what students are capable of and we need to practice other ways to monitor and report progress.

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

Strategies for Working with ELL Writers

Today I will be writing about Christina Ortmeier-Hooper’s The ELL Writer: Moving Beyond Basics in the Secondary Classroom. I was drawn to chapter seven, “Specific Teaching Strategies for Working with ELL Writers,” because of my inclusive education background and philosophy. In our diverse classrooms an inclusive approach to writing makes sense for the entire class; inclusive strategies are simply good teaching strategies that can benefit all students. Furthermore, inclusive assignments are not adapted for each individual student but are constructed with all students in mind. It is not realistic for educators to “create separate assignments for their ELL writers” (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 115). Ortmeier-Hooper notes that ELL writers need more guided instruction and revision time but “these are crucial learning objectives for all students, not just ELLs” (2013, p. 115). All students need to understand that writing is a social conversation where audience, genre, purpose, writers and time period all matter (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 116). By creating these inclusive assignments and lessons, all students will have a voice in the classroom and be part of the community of learners.

Tiered assignments are part of my teaching philosophy. I was taught to tier assignments with colors. For instance, if you wanted students to write a five paragraph essay (curriculum outcome) this would be tier 2. Tier 1 could ask for more paragraphs, advanced sentence structures, a drawing, or anything to make the task more challenging. Tier 3 students could work on writing concrete topic and conclusion sentences. Students would be placed in tiers based on teacher observations and pre-assessments. This means that students would change tiers depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Tiers foster an inclusive classroom because everyone learns the same thing but gets assignments tailored to their needs. The teacher does not make an individual assignment for each student but makes three levels because this is more practical. Ortmeier-Hooper suggest doing “entering,” “bridging,” and “advancing” categories. The students receive the same instruction but the writing activities are in three different levels – ranging from what you know about to what you need to research – to challenge all students. When implementing tiered assignments, I believe it is important to consider how students will improve and raise tiers. A great way to foster improvement is “The Sequenced and Linked Writing Assignments,” which ask students to pick a topic they like and write three to five different pieces that build off each other. They will have more ownership and mastery about their topic/writing and by changing the purpose, genre and audience students can see how these things alter their tone and writing style.

I never thought of creating high-context writing prompts. Often when I think of open-ended writing prompts I think of low-context writing prompts like “What did you do this weekend?” I forget that all students may not think to include a purpose or consider their audience when they write. Ortmeier-Hooper suggests making sure that genre, audience, writer and subject purpose are accounted for in our prompts. This allows for more structure and guidance for our ELL students and can help all students start writing. It also highlights rhetoric and gives all learners a chance to work with this outcome. If students are never given a purpose or audience and then we teach them in the next lesson that writing is a conversation and these things matter, it is not parallel. If their writing is always set up as a conversation I think this will be an easier transition to student work shopping and sharing. As Karen has taught us, we need readers to be writers.

I believe that inclusive practice, tiered assignments and more explicit instruction is not only practical for teachers but beneficial for all learners. With our diverse classrooms, we need to find a way to meet all of the needs but not make 30 individual assignments and lessons for each class. Many of Ortmeier-Hooper’s ideas foster an inclusive, practical environment that allows all students to grow. I hope to incorporate many of her ideas into my future classroom.

Value Added Assessment Presentation by Laurie Gatzke

The value added assessment presentation by Laurie Gatzke was very beneficial. There was a lot of information to take in!

Things I liked:

start with the curriculum outcome, then think of assessment and then plan instruction (This was a new concept for me and I wish I would have known it 4 lesson plans ago! Ugh)!

– mark students on mastery of outcomes

– co-construct rubrics with students

– show students the purpose of learning something

Things I disliked:

– no failing policy (I need to research this more).

– teachers seemed to get blamed for a lot

– standardized testing

Things I found to be interesting:

– giving students a second chance after feedback

– rubrics without letters, numbers and smiley faces

– evaluate the recent work rather than averaging the entire course work (learning/practice time) (This was a new concept for me but it makes a lot of sense. Students should not understand the topic the first time or they are not being challenged. The goal is for them to understand the outcome at the end).

– turning the outcomes into “I can statements”

– making a curriculum outcomes and indicators rubric that students can color in and visually see their progress and areas to improve (Yes! This is student and parent friendly)!

– reusing rubrics (Yes! How practical)!

– leveled reading/assessment

– making a rubric from best to worst rather than worst to best (I like this because we read left to right and should focus on best first).

– 5 level rubrics = students always get put in middle (I had never considered this before but it makes sense. I will try to make even rubrics from now on).

My learning process:

Laurie noted that “assessment should not be a secret.” Who knew? But honestly I never thought of including students in the assessment process, as I rarely got this privilege. It makes complete sense though and relates to the cross-curricular competency of creating lifelong learners. The idea of allowing my students to be part of the assessment process and not being solely responsible for it is actually reassuring!

I am realizing how imbedded I am in the marking system. When we talked about giving redos, I instantly thought ‘How is that fair to the top students who got it the first time?’ ‘Wouldn’t everyone have high marks?’ Then I went, ‘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.’ It bothers me how marks are my own obsession. Coming into this class I was against pass/fail classes because I thought they took the purpose out of education. I am starting to see that they put the purpose BACK into education, by returning the focus to what students have learned and still need to learn rather than a subjective number or letter.

Things I still wonder about:

The RAD rubric was hard. I think it is easy to read and rubric and even comprehend what it means but I do not yet have the experience to look at student work and know what grade level it fits into. Seeing more samples and concrete results of what success looks like will be vital to providing my students with fair assessment. This challenge relates to the curriculum, also. I find I can understand the outcomes and indicators but it is hard to know what the results should look like.

It would be nice to see some samples of work in class, or to build this with my co-op teachers in my pre-internship and internship.