On twitter yesterday Carolyn Durley (@okmbio) shared a post written by Val Pereira (@knowwhatuknow) that made me think of how I had assessed two Applications of Math 10 classes several years ago. Math 10 Apps was part of the old curriculum but I think the assessment strategy of Learning Outcome Based Assessment or Standards Based Grading would be applicable to many math or science classes. Val Pereira’s Posts are included below on her process and student responses.
Standards Based Grading https://valpereiracentralblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/standards-based-grading-tracking-marks/
Student Responses to Standards Based Grading https://valpereiracentralblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/student-response-to-standards-based-grading/
I do wish I had recorded my student thoughts on this assessment practice, but as I recall they resembled those from Val Pereira’s link above.
Learning Outcome Based Assessment
For me Applications of Math 10 was not a very satisfying class to teach. I really enjoyed the curriculum, but students struggled and using percentages was not giving me enough feedback as to their understanding. After a trip to a Math PSA meeting in Prince George and speaking on the long drive home with Barb Wagner, a math teacher at one of our then Jr. highs, I decided to change my assessment and evaluation practices.
Plan Plan Plan
This is something you want to start ahead of time as there is significant planning but it is well worth it and pays off for future semesters. Reflecting on the curriculum, there were 58 distinct learning outcomes. This is often easier in math and science classes with discrete learning outcomes than in other classes although I could see it applied wherever the LOs are discrete. So instead of weighting and percentages for quizzes, assignments, tests, mid terms, projects etc I would gather data using a scale on the student’s ability on each specific learning outcome. For other courses I would think this in combination with descriptive feedback would be a great way for other courses with some not so discrete learning outcomes. A great paper on classroom assessment is Black and Wiliam’s, Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment.
I used the following and it was somewhat subjective at times but the students were able to self assess and always had the ability to show an increased understanding of the learning outcome. There was never any debate that I recall about where they were at, just questions on how they could improve. No more worry for students for their mark plummeting due to a high stakes test. No more asking for 0.5 of a mark or 1 mark which was nice not to deal with anymore.
I – Incomplete – it was expected of the students that every LO had to have at least a minimal understanding to pass the course. This was supported by my administrator and I’d suggest you get that support off the top if you wish to take this approach. It was also clearly explained in course previews and in discussions with the students. It fits with the idea of mastery of the curriculum. Not 100% of half the curriculum!
M – Minimally Acceptable - student has the ability to solve few problem types for the LO and may not communicate their steps effectively.
S – Satisfactory - Student can solve several problem types for the LO and communicates their steps effectively.
G – Good - Student can solve most problem types, uses units appropriately, and communicates their steps.
E – Excellent - Student shows an excellent understanding of the learning outcome with the ability to show multiple ways to solve problems and can communicate them effectively. ie show’s work, uses units appropriately, able to solve different problem types of LO, answers in complete sentences or with verbal explanation.
Ways to Show Understanding
Students still completed assignments, quizzes, tests, projects and exams. None of them had a percentage or mark out of anything (37/44) listed on them. I would specify which LOs were covered by which questions. I’d assess each one using the I, M, S, G, E scale and decide where they were at. I’d record that in my gradebook which was paper and the great old Integrade program. You could use a spreadsheet for this too. This way is definitely not for BCeSIS gradebook!
The tests with multiple LOs would have a header like:
____ LO 58 ____ LO 47 ____ LO 6 ____ LO 12
The LO would be listed next to the question too.
If previously the student had shown no understanding, I’d put down whatever they were able to show in my gradebook. If students had an M before and got an S I would change it to an S. If the student had shown an E before and an S later we would discuss, this rarely happened as I recall. Fits with the retest idea of higher mark counts.
I’d also create quizzes and tests to cover areas where students hadn’t shown understanding and I’d let them know before what LOs were going to be covered. If they had E’s I wouldn’t often assess it again, I was more interested in the other areas that they needed to show an understanding or where they could show an increased understanding. This meant I made several quizzes or tests according to what the students needed. Instead of creating three tests or midterms to make sure the students weren’t cheating, I determined three assessments according to my gradebook where improvement could be shown and who was best for each one to show further understanding.
At the end of the day, if students had not shown any understanding via assignments, quiz, test, projects, exam there was an option for an “I” worksheet which along with them explaining their understanding of the LO allowed them to get at most an M for the LO. Many students had one or two of these going into the final month of the semester.
One question that came up was how to report. I was ditching % but the Provincial Grades Order required that I provide percentages for Term and Final Marks. So how to convert a bunch of letters into a percentage? I created a GPA scale to correspond to the I-E scale I used and wrote a small program in Visual Basic to do a calculation. You could do this in a spreadsheet and there are templates online.
Running each student totals of their M, S, G, E through the calculator I found that the class average was much higher than it ever had been when I taught using percentages. At first I was a little alarmed and concerned that the GPA conversion was inflating their marks. My alarm was an artifact of my past practice of teaching with percentages and I realized that the reason the class average was much higher was because the students had shown an understanding at least at “50%” for every single learning outcome for the course. Of course their percent mark should be higher, zeros were not an option!
Using this method I was easily able to look at my gradebook and determine where I needed to go back and reteach a concept. Columns with many blanks, or mostly Ms were an indication to me to change my method. Using percentages the best I could do would be to reflect on an entire unit, rather than one learning outcome. Reflecting on the entire unit is too late for your current students as you won’t have time to reteach that!
Students also kept track of their progress on a sheet I provided with the 58 LOs. They knew where they could improve and they also had an idea of what they should study for upcoming quizzes or tests on areas they could show improvement. Students could also ask how they could show a better understanding. Individual projects could be thought up on the fly for some for LOs to allow students to seek a better understanding (Determine the midpoint of the diagonal on the wall using the width and height, here’s a meter stick. We’ll discuss precision and accuracy as well).
It was wonderful talking with parents with this method as I could clearly articulate what students could do or needed to do to show understanding to improve. It was no longer a discussion of “they need this score on a test to get this mark.”
I knew at the end of the semester that my students had shown mastery in the course. Out of two semesters there was only one student who failed the course as they choose not to do the “I” assignments on 7 LOs. If I were to teach a course with discrete outcomes again I would very likely pick this method of assessment.
On the AFL track, I like to think this method was very complimentary of Assessment For Learning as it was agile, and informed my teaching practice. Here is an old post from June 2011 comparing types of jackhammers to assessment for and of learning – Assessment and the Jackhammer http://www.prn.bc.ca/ts/?p=1325
TL;DR There are much better ways than percentages to assess learning. Try them.