Topic: General


Assessment: Why Bother?

The title of this post is intentionally provocative, and since you’re reading it, there might be some ideas rattling around in your head that might be aligned with that provocation. Let me be clear from the outset, however, that I am not on a rant to eliminate high-quality, effective evidence gathering.  

I do struggle, though, with the pursuit of numbers simply for the purpose of rank and sort, or mathematical computation as per a formula or computer program.   Educators are familiar with the work of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and the four questions originally defined by the DuFours and Eaker. I want to zero in on questions 3 and 4:   Read more


Next Generation Assessment: Moving from Counting to Quality

In Growing Tomorrow’s Citizens in Today’s Classrooms: Assessing 7 Critical Competencies (2019), Cassandra Erkens, Nicole Dimich, and I outline how critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, self-regulation, digital citizenship, and social competence are the necessary skills for students to succeed as future citizens. In the book, we highlight two important, overarching aspects of teaching and learning in the 21st century.

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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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Assessment is the Engine

This past May, I upgraded my vehicle. Since February 2008, I’ve been driving a 2006 Ford F-150, which I owned primarily for towing my travel trailer, driving up to the ski hill, and navigating the mountain passes from the small town I lived within to Vancouver. While we now reside in Vancouver, we still have a travel trailer, and the need for more reliable towing capacity led me to the point where I decided it was time to upgrade. So last May, I bought a 2017 F-150.

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The Power of ‘This Means That’ in Creating Student Investment

What exactly does a strong critique of someone else’s work look like? How is it the same and different from a critique of one’s own work?

When do readers identify the main idea of a text? Which processes lead to the identification of a main idea?

What does a good data analysis look and sound like? What are the critical components of a strong analysis?

These are just some of the questions I have witnessed teacher teams wrestle with in the last few weeks of collaborative assessment work. The answers to these questions and others like them serve as the bridge between teacher assessment design work and student ownership of learning goals. When we explore goals in explicit ways, we can begin to imagine how we might explain complex skills like critiquing, identifying main idea, and analyzing data to our learners. We have to make these concepts tangible and accessible if we are going to nurture student investment and hope.

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What role does homework play in the world of grading and reporting?

I often hear teachers say they have been told that homework should not be graded. This message is a source of confusion. 

Somehow, students have interpreted this as “homework doesn’t count, so I don’t really need to put any effort into it.” This is not the message we want to send. Any work given to students should be designed to further their understanding and increase levels of achievement. It is crucial to their success and that message needs to be loud and clear.

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Do You Have a “Stop Doing” List?

One of my favorite activities when working with teams at this time of the year is to have them create a “stop doing” list. This is a list of lessons, assessments, instructional strategies, and curriculum that team members realize are not serving them well in their goal of high levels of learning for every student. It’s actually the antithesis of a “to do” list, and will likely be a highly reflective opportunity for collaborative teams. Read more