Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Reassessment Doesn't Work, Right?"

Teachers often wonder, "What is this teaching our students?"

The opportunity to reassess "gives students something for nothing." Some teachers are worried that students will fail a test to find out what's on it, using the first attempt as a kind of review. I'm not one of those teachers. These same teachers are also concerned about the added work reassessment places on their part. Although I do not share these concerns anymore, they deserve attention.

For the past two years, I've been developing an approach to conditional reassessment. It aims to ensure that students who choose not to do the work before a summative assessment must complete the work before reassessment. Likewise, students who chose not to do the work before an assessment, and are satisfied with their grade, are not penalized for the incomplete practice or homework. What does anyone have to gain by doing that?

The safety net is the frequency of checks for understanding that precede summative assessments. Ideally, the checks for understanding consists of well-tracked formative assessments, but I sometimes use a series of short summatives that are recorded but not factored into the summary grade by default.

The decision to factor an assessment becomes a question of evidence. For that matter, I'm not concerned about whether the evidence comes from a unit exam or a short quiz. The only time I feel safe with regard to reporting grades is when the evidence tells me something about student achievement. Furthermore, the means through which the evidence was obtained should never damage a learner's confidence. Sure, kids will get their feelings hurt from time to time, like any of us, but it should not be to the extent that it gets in the way of educational goals.

"Okay, how is this fair?" 

After two years of treating assessment this way, I have only worked with about three students who could achieve advanced mastery without completing the practice or homework. Further, I have never had a student go through my reassessment process more than three times in a year. That's about 7 percent of the total assessments.

If you're really concerned about work habits and whether or not reassessment is fair to the student who did it well the first time, then look at it this way: the three-time re-assessee was still evaluated 93 percent of the time based on first attempts. If you determine summary grades on a 0-100 scale, this student's choices are still becoming of an "A" student. Statisticians understand that there's little to no observable difference between a 98 and a 90, given the relatively small evidence sample sizes we use to report grades. So what makes teachers the greater authority?

"I'll tell you how it's fair!"

All students get the opportunity to experience knowledge seeking over point chasing. That's what makes it fair. Letting students make lots of choices that place their education in their own hands requires frequent feedback, of various types, to support students throughout the learning process. Although this process is not full of successes in the traditional sense, it does, however, allow students to learn more about what they know and don't know, as well as how they learn new information and strengthen existing knowledge.


Another question I get is, "What does this look like in your classroom?" 


The work flow shown here is a generic sketch of how evidence of understanding is handled in my classes (click or touch). The practice and homework are assessment for learning and rarely calculated in summary grades for reporting. However, numerical-based feedback as well as commentary are almost always provided and tracked. NOTE: (1) Choose either numerical or commentary forms of feedback, not both. Whenever numerical is used, students focus on the number. Commentary is the only type of feedback known to lead to achievement gains. (2) Review of student work and assessments is effective when it is student-led. Students can complete tracking sheets that show assessment items in relation to an achievement level of the standards. Students also complete a reassessment agreement. Providing this kind of practice helps students communicate more effectively with their parents, as well.

The purpose of this approach to assessment is to provide students with the opportunity to become accountable for their education by providing safe choices. The strategy that keeps me sane throughout this process is called consequences with empathy (from Love and Logic). Click here for a quick sheet on empathetic responses.

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and stories about successes and failures. And remember, ask yourself if the issue is about point chasing or knowledge seeking.