Tom Hierck has been an educator since 1983 in a career that has spanned all grade levels. He has been a teacher, an administrator, a district leader, a department of education project leader, and an executive director.

Assessment and Behavior: Sharing the Evidence

Following some recent work with a school, I was presented with this question:

How does participation and dressing out for physical education fit into a standards-based grading system? 

It was similar to questions I had previously encountered that looked at the impact of behavior (should it or should it not?) on academic progress. This school had already embarked on a process of reporting a “professionalism” score for each course that was not calculated in the grade. My initial response to the school was this:

I really think that participation and dressing out for physical education still fit within the behavior and life skills portion of the standards-based grading report card. In looking at targets for physical education, I believe those still fall within behaviors. I would look at this the same as a student coming to class prepared and participating in a core academic course and strongly believe that it shouldn’t influence their academic grade.

It’s important for educators to discuss all of the learning targets (academic and behavioral) that they believe are essential for all students to gain proficiency in Marzano’s guaranteed and viable curriculum. It’s equally important that high-quality evidence be shared with students and their parents as to the accomplishments of the students on the road to proficiency (the bar or better for every student). What’s disconcerting is when these two domains are folded in to one large grade that undermines accuracy and presents unreliable feedback, thereby short-circuiting the chances for growth.

Too often, the approach has been to teach academics and consequence behaviors. Lumping these areas together furthers this practice and reinforces the notion that behavior is simply a “won’t-do” concern that can be mitigated by lowering a student’s academic results. If educators believe that academic struggles are a “can’t-do” concern that occur because of lack of skills, the same attribute ought to be assigned to behavioral gaps. Let’s avoid identifying the root cause as a lack of motivation. We should deal with can’t-do misbehaviors the same way that we deal with students’ academic mistakes. When students make repeated errors during our lessons, we make changes in how we teach (provide more examples, allow students to practice more, begin at their starting point), and provide more intensive, and varied, instruction. These differentiated and improved lessons make more proactive teachers, reducing the likelihood of students repeating the academic errors. Colvin, Sugai, & Patching (1993) refer to this preventative approach as pre-correction. Rather than rushing to be reactive, the same approach needs to be in place for the behavioral gaps. A professional educator would not remove a student because they could not achieve the learning target associated with dividing a three-digit number by a two-digit number. Neither would that educator remove a student because they had not yet mastered raising their hand before speaking.

The evidence that is gained from assessment, formative and summative, can be utilized to close the gaps in the growth towards proficiency. This happens with clarity. The more varied the factors that are placed together in the ultimate evidence shared with a student, the more challenging it becomes to alter that evidence. When educators focus on the learning, not the earning, they provide pristine clarity around the targets acquired and yet-to-be acquired. This is not exclusive to the academic domain and should include behavioral expectations equally. Sharing the evidence is really about ensuring student growth. Sharing the evidence with clarity makes this possible.

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