Posts by Cassandra Erkens


Implementing Changes in Grading Practices & Policies

This is the fourth and final entry of four blog posts about facilitating healthy grading conversations in schools. The first three posts (read posts one, two, and three here) outline a tremendous amount of work that may span a few years’ worth of preparation before implementing changes in grading practices.  

It’s a common mistake to assume that implementation simply involves pulling the lever while saying “ready, set, go!” Even after a solid foundation of establishing coherence, clarity, and readiness has been built, much care and attention must be given to the implementation phase.  The Guiding Coalition is active through the entire implementation phase. Members of the team help to facilitate conversations and consensus processes. They also engage in enacting staff decisions and monitoring the effectiveness of their efforts. The implementation phase offers the formal launch to a public process that is rife with opportunities for things to go askance. During the implementation phase, the Guiding Coalition is still actively pursuing evidence of effectiveness and troubleshooting concerns along the way.

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Initiating a Change in Grading Practices

This is the third of four blog posts about facilitating healthy grading conversations in schools (read posts one and two here). The series is intended to help educators navigate the challenging and sometimes turbulent waters of changing any traditional practice—but especially grading practices—where tradition, the court of public opinion, and the potential for failure at the expense of students’ future opportunities hurl immediate deterrents in the way.

Initiating changes in grading practices requires action research—there’s really no way around that. Read more


Inviting Stakeholders into the Grading Conversations

Note: This is the second of four blog posts about facilitating healthy grading conversations in schools. The series is intended to help educators navigate the challenging and sometimes turbulent waters of changing any conventional practice—especially grading practices—where tradition, the court of public opinion, and the potential for failure at the expense of students’ future opportunities hurl immediate deterrents in the path.

Pulling the trigger (e.g. creating and announcing policy changes) before there is systemwide understanding and preliminary agreements will backfire. Schools that do usually end up on the evening news or the front page of the local paper. Generally, this results in abandoning the initiative completely, and thwarting future conversations from ever happening again. The grading “blowout” seems to leave deep and wide scars across the system.

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Investigating Grading Conversations

Note: This entry is the first in a four-part series by Cassandra Erkens.

School improvement conversations fail when everyone walks away frustrated, the public angrily engages, and all change efforts within the initiative are abandoned. Sadly, many grading conversations fall into that failing category. In fact, the mere worry that things might go badly prohibits some very smart educational leaders from ever launching the grading conversation.

Conversations about grading can prove challenging. They are fraught with ingrained expectations, past practices, emotions, and opinions. But just because they’re hard conversations, doesn’t mean they should be avoided. Sometimes, those are the most important conversations to have. Indeed, generating clarity and consistency in policy and practice across a school building or district—especially on something as significant as grading—is crucial work.  
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What’s in a 4? DOK and Proficiency Scales

When it comes to measurement, four is a popular number; rather, a range of 1 to 4 is a common scheme. Two different powerful measurement systems use a range of 1 through 4 scores to clarify levels of quality. The Depth of Knowledge [DOK] framework by Webb, 2005, uses a 1 through 4 scale to rank the cognitive complexity of an assessment task. The Proficiency Scale framework by Marzano and Kendall (2008) uses a 1 through 4 scale to rank students’ performance levels on individual standards. Read more


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Achievement – Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor (Post 3 of 4 on Using Assessment to Improve Achievement)

Author’s note: In the spring of last school year, I offered 2 posts from a 4 part series on using assessments to increase achievement. The first was in regards to defining ‘learning’ beyond numerical indicators and the second was on holding high expectations for all learners. The third and fourth posts will be offered this fall.

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Achievement – High Expectations for All

Post 2 of 4 on Using Assessment to Improve Achievement

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them
Einstein

As noted in my first post of this series regarding using assessment to support achievement, the primary mission of schools is to help kids learn. Schools write mission statements toward that same end:  all students will be successful. But, have those mission statements become routine and somewhat cliché?   Read more


Achievement—It’s More Than a Number

Post 1 of 4 on Using Assessment to Improve Achievement

A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.
Einstein

The primary mission of schools is to help kids learn. That’s it. That’s the bottom line. It stands to reason, then, that the primary indicator of success will always be achievement scores. But our work with making decisions about learners must remain far more humane then making decisions about learners based on a set of cold, calculated scores (and it doesn’t matter if those data come from the grades in our gradebooks or external test scores). The measure of achievement should never mask the face of the learner. This is personal. And, it’s very serious work. Read more


Assessments Must Build Efficacy

When you come upon a seemingly insurmountable challenge, do you give up or do you persist?  If you tackle such moments, then you have a strong sense of efficacy.  Efficacy requires belief (I can do this) and action (I will take the risks, even though failure is a possibility).  It is the foundation learners require if they are to develop deep understanding and personal skill. Read more


Assessments as Hope

At its core, assessment has always been a process that was meant to support learning; in other words, teachers and learners would use the information from assessments to make decisions about what comes next. In order for teachers and especially learners to even fathom ‘what’s next’ they must maintain a sense of hope. Read more