Saturday, March 6, 2010

MAC Week #1 Reading - Giving An A

Big Change in the Social Mission of Schools

Old vision- Weed out the unwilling or unable; rank the rest.

Problem – Society needs ALL students to be lifelong learners.

New vision – All students will become readers, writers, and math problem solvers (in a digital world); then rank them!

- Richard Stiggins, PhD

Benjamin and Rosamund Zander (2000), authors of The Art of Possibility, explore the idea of giving an A as a life practice. In their view, the practice of giving an A allows the teacher or leader to line up with students or team members in their efforts to produce the outcome, rather than lining up with a set of standards against them.

This is a wonderful possibility in a world in which success in public education is based on a standardized test score from a test given once a year. This standards-based education (as currently practiced) has created a culture in which a lot of time and effort is used to evaluate evidence of what has been taught as oppose to analyzing the outcomes of what has been learned.

Examine the current system. Every state in the Union has been required to establish content standards that clearly describe what students should know and be able to do in their grade level at the end of each school year. The standards assessed in an annual state test are given priority as essential standards at the expense of all other standards. Textbooks are selected based on how well they align to these essential standards. Calendar pacing guides are established to ensure that these essential standards are taught in time for the annual state test. And within the pacing guides are district assessments designed to measure progress toward the annual state test. Teacher performance evaluations also often examine how well lesson plans align with the essential standards and pacing guide.

In this atmosphere a student’s performance is often evaluated on how well they test at the time they are assessed. For example, in accordance with a pacing calendar, a teacher must cover chapters 3-7 of a standards aligned textbook by the end of the second quarter of the school year. There will be a district assessment at the end of the second quarter to measure progress toward the annual state test. Conventional wisdom dictates that the teacher give lesson and chapter assessments to measure progress toward the district assessment. A student who fails a chapter test is penalized with a low grade. The teacher is then forced to move on to the next chapter. There is often not enough time to re-teach the chapter.

The student now has a grade that will be averaged with other grades as the class moves on to the next chapter. The student has been assessed for the knowledge and skills taught at that time period. It does not matter if the student subsequently demonstrates the knowledge and skills two chapters later – the chapter test has already been averaged into the total grade. The student did not keep up with the pace and it is the acceptable practice to average test and assignment scores into a final grade. This student also has only one opportunity a year in a state test to demonstrate the ability of scoring well on that test.

I do, however, see the possibility of more effort spent on analyzing the outcomes of what has been learned over examining the evidence of what has been taught. This possibility begins with me.


Stiggins, R. (2010) Seven essentials assessment actions for school leaders. 2010 Summit professional learning communities at work: New insights for improving schools (pp.379-418). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree

Zander, B. & Zander, R.S. (2000) The art of possibility: Transforming professional and personal life. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press

1 comment:

jbb said...

Question is, what does any of this have to do with learning?