For too long, assessment and “grades” have been used to label and track students while providing very little meaningful information to students or their parents about what a student knows and is capable of doing. Grades, in many classrooms, are more a function of obedience than a reflection of learning.
In Menlo Park City School District, rethinking our grading and assessment practices was an important precursor to the development of our Whole Child Learning & Development Framework that aligns our district’s resources and priorities to a learner-centered approach to instruction and assessment. The Framework reinforces our belief that student and adult well being, relationships, and collaboration are foundational to the success of our more academic and cognitive efforts: learner centered classrooms, competency based learning & evidence based assessment, and meaningful work. We hold ourselves accountable by asking how well each child is “engaging, achieving, and thriving.”
Competency & Evidence Based
Assessment is an important factor in our competency model, yet it is difficult to get right. Our efforts to design better measures of student learning started with teachers mapping standards, units, resources and general timing of content and instruction for California Common Core State Standards. The resulting Universal Guaranteed Viable Curriculum (UGVC) maps describe what we teach in each subject and grade level and generally when we teach it. How a teacher chooses to teach is determined by their interest, creativity, effective practices, and past experiences. Timing of the units are only defined to the degree that specific units will be taught in a particular trimester, allowing for limited, yet important, district, teacher-designed benchmark assessments.
MPCSD believes strongly that “assessment for the sake of assessment” is as unhelpful as having no assessment; however, when assessment is strategically designed and thoughtfully implemented, the resulting data can be used to accelerate learning and productivity, ultimately raising the achievement of all students and effectively directing intervention and extension.
A Balanced Approach
A balanced assessment system includes data to improve outcomes for students, collected at every stage of the learning process, with the right, teacher-designed tools. Assessments are purposefully structured to measure these different aspects of student learning: summative, interim (or benchmark), and formative. Assessments are not inherently formative or summative. An assessment becomes formative when evidence is used to guide current, on-going instruction and to make instructional decisions.
In MPCSD, we’re empowering teachers to consider how their summative assessment practices can have formative value--reinforcing our belief that learning is a continuous and dynamic process. Our partnership with Altitude Learning, which includes professional learning, leadership development, and a highly customizable Learning Management System, has allowed our teachers to spend less time on strictly summative efforts by increasing formative tools and value. Teachers receive actionable data; students are given meaningful feedback and ultimately feel greater ownership over their learning and progress.
Assessment comes in many forms and when used best, serves as evidence for levels of attainment of the teacher’s learning targets. Our assessments include writing samples, performance tasks, and other classroom assignments that give teachers information about a student’s understanding, application, and progress towards specific learning goals.
Instead of providing a single letter grade for a content area, the content is broken down into key, grade-level learning targets and expectations. Evidence of learning gives specific information about students’ mastery of these learning targets. We believe, as research shows, that students learn more effectively and develop a growth mindset with evidence-based feedback and grading.
The Whole Child
By reimagining grading within the context of our Whole Child Learning & Development Framework, we put the proper emphasis on assessment and make it a truly useful part of the overall learning experience. Students are dynamic beings who each gain and show mastery at different speeds and in different ways. Developing an assessment practice that allows learners to own their learning and show what they know in multiple ways, platforms, and times ultimately leads to the engaging, achieving, and thriving that is our vision for all children.
To learn more with us about how you can transform the grading practices in your classroom, school, or district, please join us and our collaborators Altitude Learning for the Transformative Grading Conference 2020 on June 15-16 in Menlo Park, CA.