Real Assessment for a Change

Matt Guthrie is, like me, a middle school teacher. Whereas I taught English, Matt has taught both math and science. I am interested in his perspective both as a math teacher and as a teacher whose insight I value.

Thanks Jason for giving me the opportunity to guest post here alongside people who are so much more knowledgeable than I. I almost said no when he asked me to write about how I plan to assess my math classes this fall. His request was sparked by a tweet where I said I was in the process of developing an inquiry-based math class for my seventh graders this year. My response was, “Sure, as soon as I figure out how I’m gonna do it.” That was not just a joke. I really had no idea. Yet. And I’m still not completely sure this is the format I’ll use. So we’ll call this Assessment Scheme 0.1 – Beta.

A little contextual background. I teach middle school math and science, specifically 7th grade math this coming school year. I teach in what used to be a small rural town that almost overnight became a bedroom community for the state’s capital and a rapidly growing IT and biotech industry. Our student population is fairly diverse, though our immigrant and poverty level students are growing in number. In another year or two we will be a Title 1 school. I started teaching high school twenty years ago and I’m always looking for a better way.

So, my plan is to use standards based grading. Here in NC, our standard course of study (SCOS) for all our classes, grade levels, courses, etc. is broken down into various strands and goals. The simplest thing to do is to assess each objective within each goal. Sounds simple. But what mechanism am I going to use?

Because we are talking math, there is going to have to be the occasional quiz or skills check of five to ten problems just so the student can demonstrate that he or she can do the rudimentary process. I do not want that to be the only form however. By designing a PBL, inquiry-based lesson, students will have to demonstrate an application of those rudimentary skills, leading to the higher levels of Blooms taxonomy.

I have decided against rubrics and have opted for checkists of learning goals for each project or lesson. The reason is twofold. First, I don’t want to stifle or prescribe a student’s creativity. They will receive feedback on important items like types of visuals, animations, fonts, color schemes, and what not. I only want to assess the math piece. Second, providing a checklist will give a set of clear goals and expectations for the students.

Students will maintain portofolios of all their work. Some will be hard copy, others will be electronic. There will be the obvious examples of wiki articles and class presentations, plus my team is investigating some e-portfolio solutions. When the quarter ends and report cards go out, some type of grade has to be given. Students are going to grade themselves. They will have to justify their grade with evidence from their portfolios. I will conference with each of them, reserving the right to change the grade up or down based on my professional opinion. Their grade will be on a scale of 1 to 4. A four will indicate mastery, 3 – proficiency, and 1 and 2 are needs more work.

As I get ready to implement these ideas, I’m making my list of potential barriers and obstacles. The students won’t be a barrier. I’m looping with my sixth graders from last year, so they are already accustomed to similar features from science last year. I am worried about the parents, the admin, my PLC, and the grading software we are required to use. Some grade has to be given on a 100 point scale and converting a list of goals to somehow accurately reflect their progress in this system is going to be a challenge. When I start doing things differently from my PLC, I’m going to be branded even more deeply as a non-team player. Honestly, I envision the parents totally freaking out, thereby leading to freaking out admins.

So what I am going to do about these potential roadblocks? Work my butt off. Implementing a system like this without any protests or complaints by all the stakeholders would not be easy either. This will require a lot more than giving a kid a grade on the basis of the percentage of problems he gets correct. Since I must anticipate complaints, I’ll definitely have to stay on my toes, documenting everything along the way when it comes to assessing.

But, as Tom Petty once said, “I won’t back down.” In the end, I think this is such a better way to do things. I idealistically believe that after one quarter of doing this that all parties involved will see it benefits.

Twitter: @mattguthrie
Skype: gutmajohar
Google Voice: 919-351-9530

1 comment to Real Assessment for a Change

  • ktenkely
    Twitter: ktenkely

    Matt, first of all, love the title “Assessment Scheme .1 Beta” :) Aren’t we all in that place with some part of our teaching process every year? That is the hallmark of a good teacher! Second, I can’t wait to read a follow-up post about how it is going. Your fears are healthy ones but hopefully in the end your administration and parents see the brilliance in the way that you plan to grade. Because it is a true reflection of what a student knows and can do with what they know. Good luck!
    ktenkely´s last blog post ..Answer Garden

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