messy assessment :)

Terri left the following comment on a recent post, “Tracks of Teaching.”

I was just thinking of this very thing this morning.  How do you assess kids on what you have taught if none of it is evident?  For example, I taught a unit of study on narrative poetry.  A student turned in an essay on the day it was due.  Mind you, we had already conferred on this piece.  The writing was in essay form and nothing like the child’s writing ability  (it was taken home to be typed).  He realized his mistake, he says, once he saw everyone else’s piece.  How would you assess that–knowing that three weeks of teaching went into this–such as looking at poetry, word choice, line breaks, small moment in time, etc?

First, thank you for your comment.  It is nice to know I’m not alone in this messy work of assessment and trying to be fair.  Fair to the students.  Fair to the standards.  Fair to the process of growth.  Sometimes it seems as though it’s impossible to be fair to all!

This is why I was relieved when Penny Kittle shared with me her philosophy of always accepting a new draft from a student.  No matter what or when, a student can resubmit a piece of writing and Penny will rescore it.  The new score will replace the old score.  Yes, you read that right.  It isn’t about earning back some of the points, or gaining partial credit.  The new score completely and totally replaces the score from before.

I like this system for many reasons.

  1. It values growth and process.  Students are consistently becoming stronger writers.  Often, it is best to wait several weeks to revise a piece of writing.  Each day students are in Writing Workshop, they become stronger writers.  I’m interested in the very best they can do. 
  2. It places the responsibility on the student.  No longer do I feel like I need to consider the effort a student put forth when I grade a piece of writing.  If they tried hard, but didn’t meet the standard, they can try again. 
  3. Along those lines, I found myself assessing more accurately based on what was turned in, as opposed to the effort a student put forth. 
  4. I also feel like I can turn back something and say, “This doesn’t meet the expectation — please try again.”  For instance, a student handed me his editorial on Friday and I handed it right back to him.  It wasn’t even half a page!  I was able to say, “You won’t do well on this, it isn’t complete.  Spend the weekend finishing it.”   I think he was relieved as well.  He knew it wasn’t his best work.

Keep at this messy work of assessment.  It is only through the process of assessing and talking about it with others that we can get better.  Thanks for continuing the dialogue!