Monday, November 30, 2015

Approaches to Assessment

I thought to myself over this 5-day weekend that I'm really glad I'm the kind of person that wants to keep learning and growing as a teacher. Those are the people I am surrounded with each day. I love getting links to interesting articles (keep sending them, Miriam!) and trying new strategies in class. For that reason, we (Miriam and I in our Geometry Honors class) decided to attempt a different way of grading our most recent assessment.

We read Carmel Schettino's blog about Why Teachers Don't give Feedback instead of Grades, and Why we Should. If you haven't read it yet, I suggest starting there -- though I will also warn you of getting lost down the rabbit hole of amazing math teacher blogs. It still happens to me all the, no shame in that! In short, Carmel wanted to give feedback without a grade after students took a major assessment - and then give students the opportunity (in class) to USE that feedback and make corrections on their work.

Is this how you generally feel when grading?

The process of grading was definitely time consuming. And we "screwed up" right from the start. My class was a few days ahead of Miriam's class, so my students took the Problem Set (what we're calling our assessments...more on this later) before hers. Generally, I have no problem with this. However, we should have given them on the same day so that we could grade together. Especially as our first time using the rubric, I see the importance of this now. It would have been great to be sitting together and helping one another with the feedback to give and whether or not something fell in the "3" or "2" category.

But I agree with Carmel -- students don't look at the feedback if there is a grade attached. Without the grades, they read my comments and used them to try and improve or correct where they went wrong the first time. Students knew we were going to do this the next day in class. I also started class by opening up and projecting the rubric and talking them through it.

Another problem for us is that we don't technically do Standards-Based Grading. When we wrote the assessment, we didn't make each part out of 3 scoring them at the end was tough. Some were worth 6, others 9. So it wasn't HARD, just time consuming. We know better for next time now. If we give larger problems, we will simply make parts of them each worth 3 points to fit into the rubric.

I also think I will read the entire rubric with students again before the next assessment. I want to have a larger conversation about what a "3" means, etc.

Something that was really awesome: Since the rubric separates conceptual understanding and the mechanical skills needed to solve the problems, it was so evident when a student fully understood all the Geometry concepts, but didn't have the Algebra skills to finish solving a problem. One student hasn't been earning the grades he wanted all year and I was able to see that it really was his mechanics that were holding him back. It's awesome to look at it from that lens and see very clearly where he needed to focus his attention.

To sum it up...the rubric did several things that Carmel originally wanted (and that Miriam and I also wanted)

  • Revisions were done in class 
  • Revisions were the students own work (we did tell them that they would be doing these revisions the next day in class and that their only homework was essentially to look-up/study anything they wanted, but to not talk to other students about the problems)
  • Instead of immediately being a summative assessment, it became a sort of formative assessment and allowed for learning to take place DURING the assessment
Changes/Improvements/Other thoughts
  • Miriam and I need to grade TOGETHER next time! 
  • We found that students might not have thought they actually got a problem wrong after taking the assessment the first day -- so they didn't look up anything about that problem. I think we find a way to encourage students to revisit all problems that might be helpful...
  • All problems (or parts of problems) must be worth 3 points to make for an easier time totaling a score at the end

I have some other thoughts on ways to change assessments for next semester....and was inspired by the posts over at Experience First Mathematics (Blake School)  -- but that will have to be another blog post...this one is already too long! 


  1. Danielle

    Thanks for posting this - it is another nudge in the direction of more meaningful ways to assess. We just finished fall term finals here and, as usual, it left me feeling unsatisfied. I understand the principals behind these assessments, but I have never felt that I nailed it - that I wrote a meaningful assessment that my students learn from and that I learn about them through. sigh
    I have known of Carmel's work since meeting her at an Exeter summer conference and I really admire the Geometry work she has done at Deerfield. I want to keep moving toward this problem based model of assessment. I just need virtual nudges from folks like you and inspirational words about the transformative effects of such changes in practice.

    1. I am pushing myself to blog about my experiences a bit more this year -- I love how much the MTBoS will engage when they have the time (the major problem). I also went to the Exeter Summer Institute -- a big reason I'm doing PBL in my Geometry class this year. So different than the other class I'm teaching...makes me realize how much more I like it! Thanks for the comment!