Sunday, 30 October 2011

My BC Education Plan Wish List: #1 Meaningful Reporting and Holistic Assessment

With the arrival of BC’s Education Plan, conversations have begun about what this is going to look like, and how we could possibly implement this in our schools.  I have been thinking a lot about issues which need to be done well in order for this plan to be a success.  I fear that good theories may be used for bad practice if this plan is not implemented with care, thoughtfulness, proper funding, and consultation with teachers.  Appropriate class sizes will be vital as well if students, parents, and teachers are going to have opportunities for detailed dialogue about students’ progress and goals.  There are many questions about how this plan look.  Over the next few weeks, I hope to individually address a few items which are on my "Wish List" for BC Education.

Wish List Item #1: Meaningful Reporting and Holistic Assessment

I have been reading a lot about technology and family involvement as I browse through online conversations around BC’s Education Plan.  As a result, I am concerned that there will be movement toward having all teachers post grades online using spreadsheet programs which average out assignment scores to provide a final mark.  These programs are popular because they appear to be modern tools which give parents a clear picture of student progress throughout the year.  I do not believe that such programs are the most effective nor innovative way to assess.  The perception (and often the practice) with online spreadsheet programs is that students earn “points” for each assignment they complete.  In some cases, students earn a point for each correct answer they give on an assignment/test/homework all year long and all of these points are totaled and averaged for a final percentage grade.  We should not be punishing students for learning more slowly by averaging marks throughout the year, but should be teaching them that improvement is possible and helping them to identify areas of personal strength and weakness.

Our job as educators should not be to rank and sort students based on average marks.  Rather, we should identify key skills that students should master and assist students as they build these skills.  As a result, percentage-based marks on secondary school report cards should be abolished during this education reform and online spreadsheet programs should not be used to determine final grades.  The more I think about it, the more ridiculous it is to place a child’s mastery of learning outcomes on a 100-point scale.  Are there really 100 different "levels" that students can achieve, overall?  In primary grades, students receive anecdotal reports.  In intermediate grades, students receive letter grades without percentages.  I have never heard a good explanation for the difference between a mark of 82% and a mark of 84%.  Not to mention that percentages do not tell parents areas in which their children succeed and struggle.  I understand that letter grades are desirable to parents, universities, and would be necessary if students transfer out of the province, but percentages are not necessary and promote obsession with numbers and statistics, not meaningful learning.  I have never heard a primary student ask, “Is this for marks?” or “How many marks is this worth?” but those are common questions in secondary school, even on the first day.  Let’s teach our students to learn so that they can improve specific skills, not for points.

As I wrote in a previous post, I do not agree with the spreadsheet/averaging method of grading and have moved toward a more holistic view of assessment.  BC’s Education Plan appears to provide an opportunity for portfolio-based assessment.  I am not opposed to posting feedback for parents and students online, but that feedback must be meaningful, clear, and leave room for students to improve later on.  I would prefer to provide anecdotal feedback to students and families during the term and discuss letter grades at the end, when clear progress has been documented through the development of a personal portfolio.

Information I have read about BC’s Education Plan seems to promote more flexible assignments; it appears that students will meet learning outcomes through activities, assignments, and research on topics of their choice.  I have been blogging a bit about the interim reports I am preparing and believe that it would be possible for somebody to develop software which allows teachers to quickly and easily enter specific learning outcomes and students’ progress with these.  My interim reports are works in progress, but I can visualize how more detailed online reports could look.  With an outcomes-based software program, parents, counsellors, and administrators could log in and see how students are doing with key concepts, but know that these are “in progress.”  Students would know that just because they are “minimally meeting expectations” in September does not mean that they will not be “fully meeting expectations” in June.  Teachers could update students’ individual profiles as they demonstrate their ability to meet specific learning outcomes, and as they demonstrate improvement.  This could occur at different times of the year for different students.  Final reports would be based on students’ most recent and consistent work, not an average of points from a spreadsheet.  Ideally, students would develop personal goals and track them on the same program, allowing parents and teachers to support these goals.

As meaningful assessment and personalized instruction require more interaction between teachers and students, I would like to see smaller class sizes established alongside the implementation of BC's Education Plan.  This is necessary so that teachers would be able to regularly conference with students about their progress and provide them with opportunities to build skills.  As a teacher who tries to conference with students about their projects and marks, I can say that I do not currently have time to meet with each student as often as I would like to, nor do I have time to have in-depth conversations with all of my students when I do meet with them.

I have MANY more thoughts, both positive and negative, about BC’s Education Plan and will add to this "wish list" another day.  What are your thoughts on assessment and reporting under this new plan?

My Related Posts:
5 Years Later: Assessment
If you could design a report card, what would it look like?
Continuing The Reporting Experiment

Related Posts from Others:
Death of A Grading Program
Giving Grades is The Easy Way Out
For The Love of Learning
Grading Dependence
The Case Against Grades

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