“If students don’t know where they are going, it is unlikely they will arrive.” – Shirley Clark
Often teachers ask me, “Where do I start?” Five years ago I would have said you have to start by ending the use of a zero for work not seen and stop the practice of reducing marks for work that is turned in late. It is still my opinion that these practices are in need of being revisited by those who haven’t already done so. However, because these practices are still prevalent in schools today I now hesitate to start the conversation here because it is often where the conversation will also end. Without a viable alternative to these practices, many teachers who use zeroes and late marks for whatever reason will balk at the suggestion they reconsider their use.
In my current role as a teacher of new teachers I have opportunities to revisit the debate about assessment. I help my students (new teachers) grapple with assessing the work their students produce and their School Associates’ expectations of what assessment data is being collected and how a final percent is arrived at. Some student teachers are given more license to explore and experiment with formative assessment and descriptive feedback. Others are expected to generate a certain number of marks in a set amount of time. Assessment practices still vary significantly from classroom to classroom, as does the ways teachers “calculate” percentages.
Bottom line, I don’t believe assessment, or assessment for learning (AFL) = marks and percentages.
Assessment for Learning, as far as I understand and have read, has nothing to do with how a teacher generates a number to “represent” a learning activity or a body of learning activities. Eventually a teacher needs to report a mark, level or percentage for distribution to the public. I have written about an alternative path to generating a percentage here. If you can agree with the notion that there isn’t a direct link between “assessment” practices and the “calculation” of a percentage, then consider this:
Preventing teachers from using zeros and late marks isn’t going to change the “assessment” practices of the teacher. It’s the old, tell me not to do something and I’ll do it…” But, change the “assessment” practices of the teacher and I believe you’ll end that teacher’s use of zeroes and late marks.
Assessment is about learning; assessment for learning. It is about being clear with one’s learning intentions, clear about what it looks like when the learning has been achieved and clear in the use of descriptive feedback (words, not numbers) to help students grow. I believe that if we start the conversation by asking teachers to focus on the learning by being clear with learning intentions and the success criteria there is much more of a chance that teachers will have to revisit zeros and late marks. By understanding that the letter grade’s only purpose is to represent what a student has learned, then erroneous use of zeros and late marks has to be questioned by teachers.
Ultimately, if teachers require students to complete the work (which negates the need for a zero) and the completed work shows they have met the success criteria, then I bet a teacher would be hard pressed to take late marks off of a student who needed a bit more time. We want students to be successful. We want them to not only meet, but exceed their potential. Assessment; assessment for learning will support us in helping all students achieve their own success.
I’m interested in where you think we start the conversation.