Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Outcome based assessment first, high stakes second.

Today I asking for any opinion of what I am trying to implement as my new assessment and teaching strategy.  First, I will talk about how I am assessing currently and problems I see, then I will introduce my policy.  I will be bringing this forward to my administration, but I would like some input before I do that.  The course I will be implementing this in is “Math 30 Applied”, where there is a standardized exam at the end the course worth 50%.
Currently, my marks have been based on the picture to the right.  Students are also given the chance to write a replacement exam, once at the midterm and once at the end of course.  If students achieve better than their lowest mark they can replace this mark with the mark they achieved on the replacement exam.  As you can see 95% of their mark is based on how they achieve on exams. 
3 large problems:
I am assessing student achievement and not student learning. 
I am promoting the idea of memorization for an exam, regurgitate then forget the learning.
I am forcing students to learn outcomes on my strict schedule.
I am tired of grades being sticks and carrots for students.  Students are scared of writing high stakes exams where they have to demonstrate their learning in this one “snapshot”, and if they don’t demonstrate learning this bad mark will haunt them for the remainder of the course [a stick].  I am also tired of students completing assignments only for marks.  [a carrot]
The new strategy: based on here
Students, at the beginning of the term, will receive a list of the 25 learner outcomes required by the course.  The list will also have one illustrated example of what a student should be able to do to demonstrate an acceptable standard of understanding.  I have supplied a picture of the first couple of outcomes.  This list is based on the mandated outcomes from my provincial government.  I will be teaching at the same pace and will still be teaching through discovery learning.  The assessment, however, will not be the same.
On Thursdays, students will be given a set of questions based on 4 outcomes.  3 of these outcomes will be chosen by the students, where the 4th outcome will be one chosen by me.  This 4th outcome will be one that has already been demonstrated by the student.  Each student will receive their own personalized assessment.
I am giving one mandatory demonstration a week; however I am allowing my students unlimited demonstrations of any concept. They can demonstrate their learning at lunch, before or after school, or during their prep.  Also keep in mind, when they want to demonstrate an outcome of their choosing, there will also be an outcome of my choosing.
The questions will not be marked in the traditional sense.  Using a holistic approach, on each question, I will assess the student on the outcome out of 4. 
Mark 4 - Student has shown full understanding of the concept with support of reasoning.
Mark 3 – firm grasp of the concept.  Demonstration of some of the concept, with your reasoning not shown to its full extent. 
Mark 2 – Some grasp of the concept.  Did not completely answer the question, and used some inconsistent notation or reasoning.
Mark 1 – Weak of very little understanding of the concept. Confusing reasoning, with very little support algebraically.
Mark 0 – Not at an acceptable level of understanding.
If I was to compare my marks with how our traditional percentages are, mark 1 would be a 50%. 
The mark that goes on student’s rubric will always be the LAST demonstration of the outcome a student completed.
For example, in the second week Sally chooses outcomes 5, 6 and 7.  After assessing, Sally receives a mark of 4 for outcomes 5 and 6, and a 2 for outcome 7.  Three weeks go by and Sally wants another chance for outcome 7.  She chooses outcomes 7, 12 and 13.  As my outcome, I also put outcome 5 on the assignment.  If Sally can’t demonstrate outcome 5 again at a level of full understanding, her rubric will be go from a 4 on outcome 5, to the level of understanding she is currently at.
I am trying to promote the idea of truly understanding a concept, not just memorize, spit it out and forget about it.
Also, at any time during the course a student can create their own project, question, assignment on any outcome.  They can bring the completed item to me, and after a discussion with the student, I will assess their understanding based on the discussion with the student according to the rubric above.  Students can be responsible for their own learning.
This is truly at a beginning level of planning as I have not executed any of this, so please post any comments or problems you may see arise.


  1. This is a clear, excellent example for students, parents and the public at large between assessment OF learning vs. assessment FOR learning. I really like what it asks of the student and the possibilities it opens up for individual learning. Bravo! I'll be very interested to hear how it goes.

  2. This sounds good. You should look at something called SBG or "Standards Based Grading" which a number of people have written about.

    Just remember not to fall into the easy trap of calculating a mean of their grades to determine the final score and you should be fine.

    It will be a lot of work though, so I've found myself actually cutting back on the completely graded assignments and giving more constructive feedback on their individual assignments. So more talking to students and writing down comments and less keeping track of numbers.

  3. Oh never mind my comment about SBG, you don't mention in your post but I see you link to an article about it, so clearly you know about it already...

  4. I think this is an excellent way to assess students' understanding. I do think it could become time consuming for you to monitor, but definitely worth it. Just one concern - the mark of 0. Isn't a "weak or very little understanding" indicated in the '1' the same thing as "not at an acceptable level"?

  5. Well done; don't get too worried about how you translate the outcome mastery marks into an end-of-course compilation; that is an 'autopsy' grade, not an 'information' grade...

    I think you'll find with this method, that mark ends up being much more relevant and informative, anyway.

    In the final analysis, any single number that purports to represent a range of achievements on different concepts is nothing but a proxy measure, anyway - measures of central tendancy are only there to give the most surface approximation of the 'cloud' of marks that they describe, and they should always be investigated deeper.

    Final grades that are closer to 100% are pretty accurate; no matter how you calculate them, the student needs to show remarkable consistency to get there, so they're fairly reliable. Same for marks that approach 0%...

    It's the marks in the middle that lose validity and reliability, because you can't be sure what the student knows. Does 50% mean he knows half of everything equally, or all of some things and none of others?

    Ah, but I rant... As I started to say, I love your way of breaking down the outcomes and more accurately addressing /assessing student mastery of them. You are on the right track!

  6. There is a much greater emphasis on student learning through these changes. Mastery learning, progress over time, and chances (with practice) are highlighted. Your students will quickly appreciate these changes. Please let me know how things go when you present this to your administration.

  7. David,

    Well done on pushing yourself to place the focus on learning rather than achievement. The end goal is for the students to understand the outcomes... does it really matter how/when they get to do this (other than by end of year)? I think that you have placed the focus on this...

    Now, my recommendation would be to step back a bit. I tell my teachers the first step toward more focus on learning is descriptive feedback. On each task/learning activity, if you provide coaching to the students on how to better understand the outcome, you may never need the rubric. Also, Dylan Wiliam will say that as soon as you assign a grade/number, the focus is now on Assessment OF Learning rather than Assessment FOR.

    Here is what I do for my math students (although I have only done this up until grade 8). We select the outcome and we work on this until they can show me they understand it - the rubrics, grades, etc are kept by me - they only see the descriptive feedback and the coaching. They know whether they get it or they don't.

    At the end of the term, the mark is created by my notes as well as a conversation with them (self-assessment).

    It is tough to sum up everything in a comment but my only suggestion is focus on coaching rather than the rubric/mark.

    I love how you have made it very transparent for the student and provide them with choice/autonomy on assessment. Well done!

    I am not sure if this helps but continue to think coaching rather than marking (which it seems you have already done).

    As an admin, I would absolutely support your ideas here and continue to have powerful conversations around student learning. Remember move the focus away from numbers as assessment and toward words. Assessment OF learning can happen with your unfortunate standardized portion you must do.

    Please let me know if this makes no sense.

    My assessment bible: Working Inside the Black Box