Fix 10: Don’t rely on evidence gathered using assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality assessments
Haha, maybe the end of the school year wasn’t the best time to attempt these 15 fixes. Ok, yes, challenge accepted. I will only accept quality assignments. Quality for one, however, can be mediocre for others. Fair is not equal… I digress.
Here is the climate in Science 10 lately. We are looking at how ecosystems change over time; the students have a bunch of jumbled up stages in secondary succession. Their task is to put the text in order, and illustrate what that would actually look like (make a cartoon). Student A reads the directions carefully, cuts and pastes the steps, rearranges them into the correct order and does a satisfactory job at illustrating. Their conclusion is written clearly on the back of the page by the end of the period. Student B does not read the directions, writes out the steps in shorthand (almost illegibly) on a scrap of paper and attempts to use the Storyboard That website to digitally draw out a cartoon. Student’s A can verbally explain the stages in succession; their work matches their understanding. Student B, however, can explain the science pretty accurately verbally, but never actually completed any assignment to support their explanation, despite 3 gentle and encouraging reminders in 3 successive class periods. The partially completed version of the assignment I saw several times left in my classroom was certainly not a quality assignment.
I am not wrapped up in the means of how I get my evidence, but at the end of the day I want to be accurate and consistent, and I want the students to be clear on how they can improve their level of understanding. Student B would take 12 months to complete a 5 month course if everything I required was “quality”. That, or the current situation, whereby he finished the course in 5 months but his mark is not the greatest because I didn’t have the patience or tenacity to wait for quality.
One of my mantras for assessment is that weighing a pig does not make it fatter. I don’t want to collect droves of assignments; I would much rather collect one quality assignment every few weeks (depending on the age and subject). This, for me, definitely brings about a bigger issue and a paradigm shift for both students and their parents, as well as my colleagues.
I guess my take home message after being mindful of this fix is that I need to know my students. Only after I know them and their interests and abilities can I truly understand what quality looks like for them specifically. Then, and I know this is lacking for me at times, I need to stay diligent with those repeat offenders and keep giving back low-quality evidence until it is good enough. Man. Assessment is so cool – it takes both sensitivity and discipline simultaneously.