Counting What Counts

The triangle presented in Chapter 5 of Making Classroom Assessment Work is great – it widens the playing field, giving permission for teachers to make real and authentic use of anecdotal records. It also suggests making those records a bit more formal, introducing critical thought about the way teachers take notes on everyday classroom activity. Finally, it empowers teachers to use continuous formative assessment, in exactly the way Carol Ann Tomlinson suggests in The Bridge Between Today’s Lesson and Tomorrow’s. However, I have questions on the transition between continuous formative assessment and the issuing of summative, evaluative grades.

Let me lay out my understanding, and then follow up with my questions:

Formative assessment should make up the majority of your classroom feedback. It can be anecdotal or more formal. It allows you to monitor and provide descriptive feedback on student progression. It is used to make instructional decisions, related to both the pacing and structure of lessons and the differentiation offered to individual, or groups of students. It is also used in goal setting, allowing students to know where they are currently, where they need to go, and gives ideas on how to get there.

Summative evaluation should be used infrequently. It is is a snapshot of learning at a point in time. It assigns a grade, or a mark, to a student’s performance. It should be correlated with curricular outcomes. It is often expected of teachers by parents and community, despite research suggesting a reduction in frequency. The assignment of a grade has been shown to inhibit future learning, rather than support it. It sorts youth.

Some questions:

The majority of learning in a classroom arises out of formative assessment. Formative assessment does not directly contribute to a student’s grade. Thus, the majority of student learning does not directly contribute to their grade. How do we resolve the inauthenticity of grading?

By increasing formative assessment and decreasing summative evaluation, we are increasing the learning and decreasing the number of factors contributing to a grade. Does this not further reduce the authenticity of grades?

I believe that evaluations should challenge students and help them grow; they should not be a venue for regurgitation. Can you create authentic learning experiences out of summative evaluations?

One professor I had would give descriptive feedback on work and, a week later, give us the grade. This was to encourage us to read the feedback and use it to improve. Does this strategy make evaluation formative? Or does it make the assessment summative? The former seems good, the latter bad.


One thought on “Counting What Counts

  1. Zach, thank you for your questions aligned with honesty, your words are spoonfuls of delight.
    I would have to agree with you that while formative and summative are contrasted with education and students it does seem ridiculous that final grades are a questionable manner. Though in saying that I still prefer and suggest that we keep grades. I know education is moving farther away from this and there may be change in the near future. I like grades, probably because I grew up with them and they are ingrained in our system of education. I would propose a proposition to you. What do you think of providing a grade on an assignment with constructive feedback? Then give the all students time to improve their mark by appropriating the given feedback. This way the student knows where they are in the books, but also knows where they can go and how to get there. Now I know this is still technically grade orientated but it could be a good balance. Feel free to critique as this is just a suggestion. I appreciate how you analyze topics and view the pros and cons of the matter.


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