Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AFL, letter grades and dinner, a great combo

I had a wonderful dinner with the first few principals involved in this conversation and two of our assistant superintendents as well as Ruth Sutton.  The dinner time conversation?  Moving away from letter grades.  Everything we have read, seen, experienced and heard tells us this is the right path to follow.  Ruth had spent the day with around 100 elementary and middle school teachers talking about assessment and was generous enough to spend time with us afterwards giving us her experience, thoughts and ideas as to the steps needed to make this work.

One thing she said that really stood out is that we need to get the kids to focus on personal bests and not on their rankings.  The image that she painted was one of running a marathon and focussing on our time.  Every time we run we want to get better.  If we always finish first, second or third but our times are getting worse we are not improving we are regressing, but rankings would not show that.  I loved that analogy, encouraging the students to focus on their progress and not on their rankings.  She said that research shows that to keep students engaged that up until grade 12 they should not be ranked and sorted.  The longer we have them focus on improving, the more successful the students will be.  She also suggested that we bring in people from universities and big companies to talk to parents and students about what they want to see in their respective recruits.

The universities need to talk about the skills that the students need to STAY in university and not just to get in.  Many of us can think of students that we went to in university that bombed out of 1st year university because they did not know how to self-assess, critically examine their work, peer edit and so on.  It is almost a wasted group. What skills were they lacking that allowed for them to flunk out of university?  What is it that most employers are looking for?  Self-motivated, eager to learn, adaptable and goal setting individuals.

Every time we talked about what we needed to do, it came down to the assessment practices.  If we are telling parents that this is good for the kids then the proof has to be in the pudding.  The parents need to see the rich information that comes from formative assessment and standards-based assessment.  It will not work if we take away what they know, tell them this is good and then not have the assessment practices to back it up.

Lastly we talked a little about reporting, what should the new report card look like and what should it contain.  One of the ideas that I really liked was changing comment boxes to "Succeses and Next Steps".  This would have what the child is able to do and what the child needs to focus on next.  This speaks to planning, it speaks to record keeping, it speaks to solid assessment practices.  The other part that I really liked was including the child's own writing of his or her report card.  Have the student write "What I am good at?" , "what do I know?" and "what do I need to get better at?" as well as maybe "What are my next steps as a learner?" and have them present their own evidence to back it up.  If this is done properly the child's own self-evaluation should pretty much be bang-on.

After EdCampVancouver and this dinner, I am very excited about where education is headed.

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