Blowing Up the Gradebook

This presentation done by my friend and colleague, Chris Haskell, at Ignite Portland held on Wednesday, September 19, 2012, made me think more about student assessment:

I’ve always felt that our students deserve so much more than simply getting a final score on an assignment or a final grade for a course. As a parent, I want to know more about my child’s progress than what is found on a report card. How can I really understand how my child is doing when all I see are letter grades and short comments like “a pleasure to have in class.”

A huge problem of report cards is that they are summative–they only provide a static snapshot of student learning at the end of a grading period. But my questions focus on the process of learning: What is my child doing right now? What are her learning goals? How is she progressing? Does she like school and what she is studying?

Students holding report cards.

Students holding report cards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do we still assess students this way, through a summative report card? I think mainly because “that’s the way we do it” and it’s easy for the teacher and school. Just a slip of paper with grades that parents can brag about (or not!) and impersonal comments. So you are probably asking–what is my solution?

Well, it’s not an easy one, because it would involve a paradigm shift of how we do things in school. Instead of grade reports, we should be able to view and assess throughout the school year–through the PROGRESS our students are making. Instead of thinking of final grades and that students have “learned” something, why not look at a more important aspect of student learning–development or progress? How might we do this?

In order to explain what I’m talking about, I’ll provide an example using an example English creative writing class. Here’s how it would work:

In this classroom, each student has a laptop and can login to the school’s wireless network. Students have access to Google docs and other web-based tools for reading, writing, collaborating, and publishing.

Students create their own blog for the class, where they post just about all of their writing. Because blogs are great ways to share, receive feedback, and publish, with posts appearing in reverse chronological order, student progress in writing could be easily viewed throughout the academic year. Teachers, other students, AND YES–parents, could read and post comments to individual posts. Teachers could set goals for students to reach, such as number of posts written, creativity of post and writing, number of posts with positive comments, posts that include multimedia, etc.

Instead of letter scores, students could receive digital badges for achieving certain goals or levels. This enables students to achieve progress not only at their own level, but it also moves students, parents, and teachers beyond the concept of “grades”  to the concept of “achievement” or “progress.”

But what will the teacher post as a “grade” to the report card? Letter scores could be based on the number and types of badges students achieved during that period. If a student has difficulty achieving the required number of badges, then intervention could be initiated DURING the formative assessment period, instead of waiting for the end.

This is just a brief example, but could be translated to other content areas as well. By providing students with individualized learning goals and paths, including technology to monitor and share progress, and creating a digital repository and record of achievements, students could demonstrate proficiency and learning at their own levels, making learning fun, engaging, and meaningful.

What do you think? Is your school doing any sort of online portfolios to assess students? How would you tackle “blowing up the gradebook?” Do you agree or disagree? I’d like to hear from you.


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