September 14, 2017-- Tests, quizzes, assignments, essays, report cards, marks, and grades are all part of most everyone’s vocabulary as a result of having been through school. What grade did you get? is one of those ubiquitous questions floating amongst students, teachers, and parents when conversations turn to school. However, to what degree does a grade reflect learning? Further, what does it mean to really learn? Two weeks ago over 50 parents attended a presentation by the English Department in order to learn about the assessment changes they are piloting within the Secondary School. Parents began the session with a quiz and were asked the following questions:
1. What is traxoline?
2. Where is traxoline montilled?
3. How is traxoline quaselled?
4. Why is traxoline important?
As you would imagine, none of the parents present could answer the questions and each parent received a score of 0/10 on the initial quiz. We then took around 8 minutes to review the text below:
The Montillation of Traxoline
It is very important that you learn about Traxoline. Traxoline is a new form of zointer. It is montilled in Ceristanna. The Ceristannians gristeriate large amounts of fevon and then bracter it to quasel traxoline. Traxoline may well be one of our most lukized snezlaus in the future because of our zointer lescelidge.
Following the lesson about traxoline parents took another quiz and each parent scored 10/10 – a perfect score for each parent. Assume now that the lesson had been longer, and that there was a fair bit more information to learn, along the same lines. Assume that a student had received the following grades:
Based upon the assessment practices of many of our experiences in school years ago, and as has been common in ISD grading policy, final grades were typically determined via an aggregate of points across all assessments, leading to a total percentage that then correlates to an A-F letter grade. Some assessment types may have been weighted more importantly than others, but learning was essentially broken down into the acquisition of discrete pieces of knowledge over time. In the case above, our reporting system would have told the student, the parents, the school, and universities that the student was below average – as seen by the C-.
However, in looking more carefully above, the student progressed over the learning period; In fact, by the end of the unit the student has clearly come to learn what she should have – a score of 45/50 on a Final speaks clearly to a student who has come to understand what has been taught. By analogy, if over a semester of learning to play the guitar, if a student can play a chosen piece of music very well on the guitar, why would be average in how well he did in the beginning when the song and the guitar were completely new to the student? Or, if after mastering how to ride a bike, why would we penalize a student for having fallen in the beginning, or for having used training wheels? We wouldn’t.
In the Secondary School we are moving towards an assessment philosophy and assessment and grading practices that reflect a longer-term view of learning. Our IB Diploma Program final exams demand that our student, on the test, show their ability to be economists, literary critics, physicists, or historians. The exams demand that they know certain key facts, terms, and skills of the discipline; however, they also demand that students are able to access, understand, process, and then critically apply the knowledge and skills of the discipline in order to solve real world problems contained within the discipline. We fully expect a student not to be able to do this at the beginning of the course. It is only through their exposure to the course that they come to learn. Thus, we would we average in their initial levels of attainment when they are novices? It would only be punitive, and discouraging. We need to look towards the end of learning to see where our students end up. In order to prepare students for the assessment expectations at the end of Grade 12, we need to develop and implement practices that purposefully build to this over grades 6-10.
Returning to the montillation of traxoline, it becomes apparent that we need to not only change how we assess, but also, how and what we teach. While the 50 parents each left the session with a perfect score and were able to explain what traxoline is, none of them actually knew what it was, or whether anyone should really care. We learn for purpose – to deepen our understanding of the world, to gain new knowledge, to solve problems, to help others. A grading system based upon the accumulation of atomized facts that can be represented by percentages down to 1/100 of a decimal point never really get the learner to the point of answering the questions, Why should we learn this? How can this knowledge be applied? Why should we care about this? That is, if traxoline is important, then we need to ensure we teach students about its important in a way that they can relate to and build upon, and then we must assess in a coherent manner that shows we value this type of learning. We must first frame the learning in an assessment system that coheres with this view of teaching and learning, and this is the work we have already begun in the Secondary School.