The move from grade based learning to quality based learning means that we, as educators, need to be consistent in our measures and interpretations of work quality. A lofty goal for sure, but well worth the undertaking. Today we’ll explore the challenges and steps to achieving success.
Challenge #1: Experience Needed!
Our curriculum standards tell us what our students need to learn, but provide little guidance as to what the learning should look like. Perhaps, after many years of teaching the same grade level, a teacher develops a good idea of the appropriate different quality levels of achievement for that grade in any given subject area. The experience of reading many grade three and four narratives over the years, for example, has taught me what to look for, what to expect at this level, and which qualities distinguish good achievement from exemplary. The challenge is , however, that not all teachers have the luxury of remaining in the same grade for several terms in a row. Teaching assignments are shifted, new teachers are hired, etc. . Let’s be honest. As educators, we come to classrooms with a variety of personalities, experiences and biases. Teachers are as varied at the students they teach. How, then, can we be sure that we assign quality based grades fairly and consistently? We definitely need to recognize that we must arrive at consensus about what the “learning should look like” for each subject area and grade level. If we don’t have a clear picture of what successful learning looks like, how can we ever hope to help our students achieve it? Furthermore, how will we know when they have reached it?
Challenge # 2: Building Bridges of Common Understanding
What do we need to build bridges of understanding so we can arrive at quality level consensus? We need a process; a blueprint for the bridge that will help us all arrive at the same destination. This process must be actively engaged upon by colleagues with the same intent. Our goal is to provide our students and their parents the assurance that their learning is being evaluated fairly and consistently. This will give them the confidence to put in the effort that it takes to reach their higher learning goals. We are setting the target before them and letting them know clearly what is expected and exactly how it will be judged. Bridges can’t be built in haphazard ways we must all follow the steps to get the job done so let’s get building.
Step 1: Gather samples of student work in that subject area. Each grade teacher brings several sample of work that they feel best represent quality work. Samples can include any form that shows evidence of learning: journal responses, maps, reports, projects, problem solving, videos of student performances or presentations, computer projects, etc..
Step 2: Dive into the collections! Look at the collections and work together with colleagues to develop criteria, rubrics with common, yet age appropriate language. The criteria should provide a clear description of what quality and success look like at each grade level. How? Try this:
- Sort the work into categories
- Make a chart
- Use it in the classroom. Discuss and revise it. Use again and repeat the process until a consensus is achieved!
Step 3: Create and/or explore the results of common assessments. Using common assessments can also help teachers arrive at consensus of expected levels of quality. Collecting student work on these tasks then allows teachers to select samples that demonstrate certain aspects of learning in each of the different levels of the rubric. These samples can then be annotated and redistributed to all teachers so they clearly illustrate student capabilities.
Teachers then take the samples and score them on the agreed upon rubrics and then compare their scores to those of other teachers and discuss any discrepancies. If needed, the language of the rubric can then be adjusted as necessary. This is a process that needs to take place over time to continue to support and develop consistent teacher professional judgement.
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Step 4: Analyze the Data! According to our expected levels of quality, how many of our students are achieving success? What does that mean for our instruction?
Now we have a benchmark. If the results of any given assessment in relation to the agreed upon benchmark are surprising we have to ask ourselves important questions that will drive us to improve our instruction and/or assessment tools. What do we need to do more? What do we need to do less? Did we emphasize what we needed to while teaching? Did we clearly communicate the expected levels of learning to our students? How should we change our approach? In short, we need to use the data to drive our instruction going forward.
Hopefully, these steps have given you food for thought and some practical steps to take in either your school, or at the district level to structure sessions in which you can come together with the common purpose and goal of developing common levels of quality in relation to the expected standards or learning outcomes. Just remember,
Together, Everyone, Achieves, More
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Herbst, Sandra. “Grading, Reporting, and Professional Judgment in Elementary Classrooms.”Connect2learning. Connect2Learning, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2017.