OK, the power of Twitter has hit me hard. The #sbgchat this last week was, like all weeks so far, awesome. Someone asked about how to calculate an overall grade in a standards-based grading system. Obviously, the perfect world would allow us to continue to keep the standards separate, but most people have to supply a single grade for a single course. I suggested to this person to check out Marzano’s materials. A couple people tweeted and multiple people retweeted the idea to be cautious with Marzano. The only idea I could take away that evening, which was supported the next day via another conversation, was that Marzano pushes the idea to use “formative scores” to calculate grades for each standard and subsequent overall grades.
This bummed me out a bit, as I think there is a misunderstanding. I think Marzano uses the word “Formative Scores” different than what comes to mind for much of the educational community when they hear the terms. My understanding of Marzano comes largely from this book (I didn’t make these PDFs, just Googled them...): http://pepstep571.wikispaces.com/file/view/Marzano+Formative+Assessment.pdf. If you go to the page labeled 27, you will see a summary of his perspectives on formative and summative scores and the distinction between his “definition” of formative and summative scores compared to the idea of formative and summative assessments. It is crucial to understand what he is trying to say here before we are too critical of his methods.
I think the key here is to take a step back. Our whole goal of assessment is to see what kids know and can do. All assessments are flawed, but hopefully, we can have enough assessments tied to a particular standard to get a reasonable idea of how well a student knows that standard
With this in mind, when we assess students, we can use the information from that assessment in at least two ways. We can use that information to inform our learning...which is where “formative” assessment comes from. Also, we can use that assessment to inform our judgement on what a student has learned...typically called “summative” assessments. Pyscologically for the kid, if you wrote a score down on the assessment that the kid can see, you are using that assessment to judge the kid and they will likely not use it to inform their learning. Any assessment with a score tied to it is a “summative” assessment. It doesn’t matter if you are using clickers, thumbs up, exit slips, or a written test. If there is a numerical grade, the assessment has had a “summative” interpretation done on it.
If I am looking at student work with the lens to put a numerical score on it, I hope I write that score down into some sort of gradebook. Further, at the end of the grading period, when I look back to see what that kid knows based on a variety of assessments, I should consider all of those assessments. The most recent assessments are more important, but if an assessment was important enough for a student to do and for me to grade, it can and should have consideration at the end of the grading period. That consideration may very well be, “The have grown since then, I am ignoring this now.” It may also be, “they are really up and down and before I can give a final grade I have to find a different way to assess this student’s understanding.” These SCORES are FORMATIVE because they are giving me information about a students understanding.
Where does the classical “formative” assessment fit in to Marzano’s model? He has another use of assessment which he calls “instructional feedback.” I think this is when he is using the generally accepted idea of formative assessment. Marzano’s definitions are different from the mainstream logic. I am not going to get into which set of definitions are better. When we take a step back, most people who are talking about reforming our assessment and grading practices are saying the same things:
- Have clear standards/goals/targets/objectives/whatever
- Be sure instruction and assessments match the standards.
- Give kids quality feedback throughout the learning processes
- Help kids find ways that they can give themselves and peers quality feedback
- When you write down symbols that represent the learning (grades, numbers, etc), be sure that those symbols have a clear meaning.
- When giving a grade that summarizes the learning on a standard, use math cautiously.
- Consider more recent evidence more than older evidence.
- Avoid the “overall” grade per class as much as possible.
- Keep kids involved as much as possible.
It doesn’t matter who you read. O’connor, Wormeli, Marzano, Stiggins, Chappuis, Guskey or even some Schaefer. The above ideas are what we should be after. Don’t get hung up on vocabulary or methodology.
A few weeks ago, I was meeting with some colleagues socially, and the idea of grading came up, and how much of a grade should be made up of “formative assessments.” To be clear, we are talking about formative assessments in the classical sense...assessments FOR learning. Someone said that she considered quizzes to be formative, and also because of that, formative assessments should be calculated into the grade...and there shouldn’t be an opportunity to redo, reassess, revise, etc. Another fellow asked her if when she did thumbs up/down, or hold 1-5 in the air to show understanding type of exercises. Of course, she did. Were those included in the grades? Of course not!
Assessments are not deemed formative or summative based on what you decide to call them. As many people have said before, it is what is done with the information collected from the assessment that defines them. Not what you intend to do, what you actually do.