Practice Trumps Policy: (Part 1 of 4) Impeding Effective Formative Assessment

October 25, 2017

Effective Grading Lead by Realization That Practice Trumps Policy: Impeding Effective Formative Assessment Part 1 of 4

Many school & district leaders are putting a great deal of time, effort, & resources in attempts to drive changes in school & classroom grading actions & practices. Where these efforts will fall short is if they adhere to the erroneous belief that teacher actions will change simply by establishing new (grading) policy. When policies are simply developed to stop ineffective grading / feedback practices (zeros, large penalties for late work, late of accurate weighting of evidence of learning / proficiency, etc.), they not only prevent culture change that will drive effective teacher actions—They also prevent teacher voice from being at the forefront of driving transformations in how teachers view the connection between teaching, learning, and accurate & truthful grading & feedback.

School & district grading policies must be developed to guide teacher actions and provide teachers the right amount of structured freedom to adapt actions and practices based on their specific classroom needs. Policy changes that develop from teacher voice and input—Often changes culture in how teachers view feedback and grading to then drive the changes in practice.

Grading Policy can Reduce Teachers to Formatively Assess Student Tasks

If there is one thing ALL teachers have in common (regardless of how much money they have in a trust fund, how much their spouse makes in another profession, etc.) .… is that they are all time-poor! The most common sentiment busy, hard working teachers share when faced with an opportunity to improve practice and student learning is: Where will we find the time?
Any assessment comes down to three key points: Purpose, Evidence, Inference. Once teachers determine the purpose of what they are assessing—The key then is for them to gather enough evidence to make an accurate inference into where students are in their learning?

When school and district grading policies direct or allow teachers to devalue student work turned in late, teachers lose the ability to make reliable inferences from student work—and thus no longer can use this given task or assignment as an assessment. Why is this so? Teachers must use the work students turn in to determine their current level of mastery and thus use to determine their grades. But student work is also where teachers use evidence to determine inferences as to what students need next in the learning.

If students know that no matter how stellar their work is compared to given criteria they will only receive 50%, 70% or even 80% of the value—would we expect them to put forth their best effort? Teachers: If your principal or superintendent told you that no matter how awesome your performance was today as a teacher or administrator, you would only receive 70% of your daily pay rate… would you give your very best effort?
Alternative Action: Stipulated 2nd Chances

Instead of reducing value (and honesty) of work because of being late—as well as not simply conveying to students that deadlines are simply a myth… a core practice many schools have implemented (even into policy) are stipulated 2nd chances. Stipulated second chances provide students an additional chance to show proficiency. Teachers struggle often to ensure their academic teaching does not eliminate their ability to instill in students some degree of responsibility and accountability (Nagel, p. 90).

Examples of Stipulated 2nd Chances:
Students can make up missing work only before or after school (or during any designated free time).

Late work submissions must be accompanied by a parent note, conference, or phone call.

Students are excused from extra or co-curricular events until missing work is submitted close to or at standard.

Students must polish written work for possible submission to a journal, school or local newspaper, or school board (stipulated second chance is met whether or not the external publication accepts the submission).
Students must share work with the class via presentation or some mode of technology (adds rigor and meets Common Core speaking and listening standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5: “Make strategic use of digital media [e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements] in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest” [Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2014b]).
(Nagel, 2015: p. 91)

How is your school or district ensuring policy doesn’t promote infective practices?

Part 2 will focus specifically on core practice of Stipulated 2nd Chances (November 1st).

Nagel, D. (2015). Effective Grading Practices for Secondary Teachers: Practical Strategies to Reduce Failure, Recover Credits, & Increase Standards Based / Referenced Grading. Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, CA.