Recently, I had a discussion with a first year teacher after 4 months of teaching in her first year, here is how it went:
Her: I’m scared I not going to have enough summative assessments at the end of this year.
Me: How many is enough?
Her: I went around to other teachers and discussed and the general consensus is around 25-30 if I averaged it out. Some teachers had even given 50.
Me: Do these other teachers teach the same exact students you do?
Her: No, they teach different courses and different subject
Me: How do the students of other classes and teachers of different subjects have anything to do with your students?
Her: Then who should I be asking?
Me: your students, ask them how important is having 30 assessments, would you prefer less assessment of higher quality or more of lower quality? We must understand that the more grades we give students, the more we lower the value of everything we have graded to far.
her: Dave, don’t we give more summative assessments to allow for students to have more chances in achieving the best grade possible.
Me: So it sounds as if this strategy has nothing to do with learning. It sounds as if we are giving more assessments to allow students to get the best score in the “Game” of school.
We then engaged in a discussion around the meaning of assessment and marks. She started from a belief that there is an actual number of summative assessments which she is required to have for each student. I hope I showed how wrong this belief was! Teachers never should have a goal of the number of summative assessments to give students, and in fact we should be aspiring to have zero summative assessments throughout the course and start moving to entirely formative assessments. The only summative assessment which should occur is at the end of the course, only under the assumption that no more learning can occur.