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

Abstract

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):

Test

Student   1

Student   2

Student   3

1

70

50

20

2

60

65

25

3

70

45

35

4

60

75

47

5

80

45

45

6

45

75

45

7

40

45

60

8

35

60

75

9

30

45

85

Total:

54.4%

56.1%

48.55%

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).

Conclusion

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.

Resources

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.

Using Checklists

This article suggests using checklist in our instruction. Checklists are something that everyone uses in everyday life. They can be used in our classrooms to: record data (formative assessment), evaluate (summative assessment), track behavior, list items that need to be included in a project, list items that need to be completed in a task, etc. (Rowlands, 2007, p. 61). Checklists must be flexible and Rowlands suggests using them “with individual students or with the entire class” (Rowlands, 2007, p. 61). Obviously, using checklists with the entire class is more inclusive.

Checklists are a teaching strategy that often gets brought up in inclusive education. They can help students with Autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, visual learners and those that need structure (like me). If you have a student with Autism in your class, checklists and task lists are not an option but a requirement for their success, in most cases. You can create within (steps within a single task) and between (tasks of the day) task checklists, depending on your learners. Checking off items gives students with Autism much needed closure. Students who need their learning broken down or have trouble starting a task can benefit from checklists. Organizational goals, like using checklists, will be found on many of our students’ IIP’s. Rowlands notes that “poor organization skills, rather than a lack of conceptual understanding, prevent [students’ from producing work that fully represents their capabilities, and we then find ourselves in the unhappy position of recording grades that measure lack of clerical competence, rather than lack of content or skill knowledge” (Rowlands, 2007, p. 64-5). Checklists can be a great tool to assist students who have organizational issues. At the end of the day, checklists are a skill that can benefit all of our learners because they are practical and tactile.

Rowlands notes that “by articulating and labeling operational steps, checklists scaffold students’ metacognitive development,” which is important for problem solving, self-aware learners and is part of the revised 2001 Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning. She suggests that teachers can make the checklists but I think since lifelong learning is a goal, student could help construct the checklists. In ECS 410 we learned that if students are part of ALL steps in the learning cycle and assessment process, then they have a better understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and the task at hand. When I taught Grade Five at Regina Huda School, we provided the class with a checklist about the requirements of an oral presentation before they presented to the class. One thing Taylor and I should have done is construct this with them. Checklists, in my opinion, can allow students to self-assess before, during and after. It provides a visual for them to see if they have completed all their work or are staying on task. I think if we changed the curriculum outcomes to student-friendly ‘I Can Statements’ then students could check off what outcomes they have achieved and visualize what they still need to work on.

Rowlands suggests using checklists from class-to-class to foster consistency and to help students conference each other’s writing to foster constructive feedback (2007, p. 63). I also think a checklist for each stage of the writing process could help students write better pieces and break down the daunting task of writing even more. Rowlands also suggests that checklists can help with comprehension, research papers and can be put in many different formats, like bookmarks (Rowlands, 2007, p. 64-5). I think a classroom poster or an agenda checklist could also work. Checklists are not rubrics, but when coupled with them I think students would have an even better understanding about what they are expected to do and learn.

Basically, I am all for the checklists. I would use checklists in a boat and I would use them with a goat. And I will use them, in the rain and in the dark, and on a train, and in a car, and in a tree. They are so good, so good, you see! – Dr. Seuss (although this may be paraphrased slightly).

“Many teachers …

Quote

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).

Differentiated Instruction with an Example Lesson Plan

This video by the Teaching Channel provides a quick 12 minute description about Differentiated Instruction that anyone can understand, regardless of their area of expertise. Differentiated instruction is at the core of my teaching philosophy.

Some tips:

In order to differentiate you must assess. If you don’t assess, you will not know how to differentiate your instruction because you won’t know the levels your students are at.

Assessment is continuous and pre-assessment is vital in order to group students.

Exit slips and class discussions can let you know if any students are struggling or excelling. These are examples of post-assessment.

TIERED INSTRUCTION is key! Tiered instruction involves teaching the same, global lesson for about 15 minutes (approximately) and then providing different levels of assignments. Students will be put in a particular level based on their pre-assessments and exit slip results. One way to do this is to teach a lesson, give each of the three groups an assignment or task or station to work at as the teacher circles the room, and then summarize with the group at the end of the lesson.

– Groupings can be made based on interests, learning styles or academic level. Groupings should be changed. A great tip is to color code the tiered assignments and change the color so that students are not singled out!

– Scaffolding is also important. Group discussions where students can scaffold off of each other’s answers are beneficial for all students.

It is important to note that:

– Sometimes students can all complete the same thing. Group instruction is not bad. Variation is needed, however.

– It is impossible to incorporate 800 differentiated techniques at once, just like it is impossible to work on 800 goals or data collections at the same time. Start small. I’d recommend trying to do this once a week at the beginning of your career. FURTHERMORE, DO NOT MAKE INDIVIDUAL PLANS FOR EACH STUDENT. GOOD TEACHING STRATEGIES ARE GOOD TEACHING STRATEGIES! 

My Example of Differentiated Lesson Plan Example with Tiers!

Chapter 2 Response

Chapter 2 discussed how to get students involved in the learning process and assessment process. Students need to know that mistakes happen, practice and feedback are needed and success takes on all shapes and sizes. Once again, it is suggested to “reduce the amount of evaluative feedback and increase the amount of descriptive feedback” throughout all stages of the learning (Davies, 2011, p. 18). To succeed, student need to be shown samples and not just receive oral directions.

Guiding Our Own Learning

I have always enjoyed when teachers model in front of the board. For instance, in an English class instead of saying, “do a compare/contrast essay” I like when they actually model it for the class. The class all takes part and ideas expand. I like conversational or written feedback and I like when it is honest but not attacking my work. If someone tells me what I did great and what I need to work on, that is a lot more beneficial than saying that it was all terrible or throwing a 60% on the bottom. When evaluative feedback is given, I still rely on verbal or written feedback (descriptive).

I could see this come to life in my classroom by giving lots of practice time. I hope to do station teaching where things can be modeled. I also hope to spend time expanding assignments rather than moving quickly from thing to thing. I think doing group work or jigsaws or literature circles would be a great way to allow students  time to master a task before doing it on their own. I think self-assessment can be a focus in my classroom as long as the teacher is still giving ample feedback and doing check-ins. Students cannot figure it all out on their own and would need structure. They may be given questions or a checklist. At the end of the day, it all comes down to explicit instruction.

Assessment Step 1: Know the Terms!

Assessment – gathering information on student learning. Assessment informs our teaching and helps students learn. Assessment should match your goals, objectives and criteria.

Evaluation – reviews the evidence and determines whether the students have or haven’t learned the information. Furthermore, evaluation includes placing a value on the work and deciding how well the students learned the information?

Assessment forinvolves checking to see what has been learned and what should come next; students help create and use the criteria; descriptive feedback based on specific criteria; student involvement; students self-assess; students set goals; students collect evidence of learning that relate to standards; students then present this information. Assessment for allows teachers to determine the next learning step.

Feedback – information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

Descriptive feedback – during the learning and comes in many sources. The learner gets information about what they are learning and is able to plan their next step. The more the better, as this feedback increases student learning! Descriptive feedback comes during and after and should be specific. It can be thought of as an ongoing conversation about learning.

Evaluative feedback – reported using grades, numbers, checks, etc. to show the learner how well he or she has performed in comparison to others or a standard. If used too often, student learning can decrease because it shows them that they may need to improve but not how to do so.

Summative evaluation – the teacher sums up the learning

Self-assessment/monitoring – students asses their own work, allowing mistakes to be areas of growth. Through this method, students can more effectively determine what to do to improve. This increases independent, self-directed, lifelong learning.

Criteria – should be specific and constructed with the students through a conversation of their learning.

Goals – should be set with students and it is important to only focus on one or two. When we slow down students have more time to successfully complete the learning cycle!

Goal Setting Conference – a way to get teachers, parents and students to asses their goals, strengths, weaknesses and interests at the start of the year.

Metacognition – awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.

Scaffolding – support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals.

Reliability – the degree to which an assessment tool produces stable  and consistent results. Students produce the same kind of results at different times. Examples: test-retest, parallel forms, inter-rater reliability, internal consistency, etc.

Validity – how well a test measures what it is purported to measure. Evidence from multiple sources matches the quality levels expected by the standards/outcomes. Examples: face, construct, criterion-related, formative, sampling, etc.

Triangulation – evidence collected from three different sources (products, observations, conversations) over time, trends and patterns become apparent

Learning loop – we learn, we assess, and we learn more in a continuous cycle.

Norm-referenced assessment –  an estimate of the position of the tested individual in a predefined population, with respect to the trait being measured.

Criterion-referenced assessment – designed to measure student performance against a fixed set of predetermined criteria or learning standards—i.e., concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. This relates to the curriculum.

Check-ins – checking with students to see where they are on the learning cycle. Assignments can and should be broken down into steps so that teachers can make sure students are on track. This is also less overwhelming. Furthermore, check-ins can assess how students are feeling and address any areas of concern.

Community of learners – a safe learning environment where mistakes can happen and different learning styles are valued. Every student has a voice. Every student deserves to be included! Every student deserves to feel safe!

Professional Learning Communities – group of people learning together. The group requires respect, specific meeting times, support, a safe environment, attainable goals, organization, shared responsibility, etc. (just like our classrooms and students). Learning communities can often be within subject areas, divisions, etc. but they can also include people of all expertise and interests, from all over the world (thanks to technology).

Co-teaching – two teachers (or other professionals) share instructional responsibility and accountability for a single group of students whom they both have ownership. They share resources and co-teaching is voluntary. Both professionals are equal. This allows differentiated instruction to occur easier, two teaching styles to be present, and reduces the student to teacher ratio. There are many types of co-teaching: one teach, one observe; one teach, one assist; parallel teaching; team teaching; station teaching; alternative teaching.

Large-scale Assessment – needs only to collect a small amount of information from a large number of students to determine what students know, can do, etc.

Classroom Assessment – involves a large amount of evidence over time from multiple sources