By Christian Ehrhart
I felt it necessary to give you some background as to how I understand some key terminology. We are practitioners, not theorists. We take the theory as we understand it and find the most effective means to implement those strategies so all students have opportunity to achieve.
Assessment is to determine understanding of a concept. Whether it is formative or summative, assessment should demonstrate learning. If assessment is not used to identify learning, then the assessment is either unnecessary or invalid. Assessment is not just a product; it can’t be in order to understand learning. To say that assessment is a product seems to me to ignore what we know about modalities of learning. The only end product should be learning; the assessment should be another tool that can be used to arrive at the learning. This idea seems simple, but is a shift in philosophy of its own that is paramount to positively affect student achievement. Emphasize and teach with process not focused on a product (something we will explore later in greater detail). The product or assessment is used to direct the process. In education we do this all the time; dare I say it: data. Data is information we collect to direct how as teachers we can manipulate instruction. But data alone is not enough, effective instruction must follow. In my opinion the mode of assessment is the easiest form of communication between teacher and student. Using an evaluation as a communication of learning creates a common language that focuses completely on the information that is to be learned. A shift to process of learning from products of learning emphasizes the art of teaching. For many this is the scary part; remove all reasons for unwanted achievement places a spotlight on the instruction. Throughout the book I will focus on the shift in philosophy and try and use examples of the instructional practice to demonstrate the concept.
Many educators discuss this in terms of redos or retakes. What I am describing is the use of your assessments to determine the reteaching or enrichment that is needed for effective instruction. Retaking or redoing any assignment without additional remedial instruction is pointless. The students will eventually achieve your standard, but little learning has occurred. In the same regard those who are exceeding the standards should be pushed to an uncomfortable level beyond the minimal curricular expectations. If we are interested in growth for all, not just the bottom, then we must push those teacher pleasers just as much as their peers.
You may not agree, but I am going full mental shift – grades can’t matter to the teacher. A grade is a number, and that grade should demonstrate understanding. Consequently, when schools focus on grades we institute grading of behaviors that do not reflect learning. Teachers worry about grades, failures and test scores. Consequently, notebook checks, extra credit, attendance, class preparation, time in class, and organization become part of a grade to bolster student success, but not learning. Essentially the grade is inflated – a portion of the student’s grade has nothing to do with the curriculum. For example, each behavior can affect the grade, but many students are able to function just fine with less than stellar organization skills. Address the issue when it becomes an obstacle, not a penalty regardless of knowledge. I believe if we are to grade any behavior it should be accountability of learning. Forcing students to revisit relearn, and redo provides necessary repetitions for long term retention and guarantees success. So give them the grade that accurately reflects what they know – the most recent achievement, not penalize them for their efforts. And remember – Is the grade reflective of learning (process)?