Thomas Guskey PD – Improving Student Learning with Standards, Assessments, and Grading


Professional development held by Butler ESC. Thomas Guskey is the speaker.

Opening Act

Rating system on how well we know assessing student learning (and out interest). Favorite question:

What is your disposition as a learner today? (1 = you better be good to 10 = I’m a sponge)

Getting into the Groove

Systemic Change

  • Change is a complex process
  • Professional Development is essential

So here’s the takeaway quote: Change is a prerequisite for improvement. Unfortunately this hasn’t really caught on with quite a few folk. Now people are contextual, there are differences. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try.

Ideas on the common core standards

  1. These ideas are not new. Ralph Tyler had two questions: A) What do I want students to learn and B) What evidence would I accept to verify student learning. The odd thing about education isn’t necessarily based on standards or learning,  it’s based on time (ie contact hours, semesters, grade level, etc).
  2. The ideas are more important than the vocabulary. Vocabulary (the shifting vocabulary of educationese) is a waste of time and doesn’t much matter (Guskey apparently is a pragmatist).
  3. Good ideas can be implemented poorly. A key question is how will it translate into practice. Teachers plan in terms of materials and activities. Not goals and standards.
  4. Success in education hinges on what happens at the classroom level.

Guidelines for Success

Think big, but start small.

Be aware of your cognitive capabilities. Small success move towards grander goals.

Ensure assessments become part of the instructional process.

Quizzes and tests should be learning tool. Key: A tech point. Technology can make this happen fast, quick, and easy. Kids should know what’s on the test. Learning should not be a guessing game. Where did this attitude crop up? Probably how teachers were taught.

Assessments must be followed by corrective instruction (high quality).

Teach differently. It’s not the assessments that matter, it’s what you do with the results of the assessments. Key to this is structured opportunity for teachers to develop and plan. Easier and better.

Students must be given a second chance to show improvement.

This is the way we train everyone in every professional area. You learn from mistakes. That’s learning.

Tips and observations on Formative Assessments

Idea – use review after the formative assessment so that you can teach better review. This is also demonstrates to students the way in which you the educator want their students to show improvement (the method).

What do you do with students who don’t demonstrate mastery in the 2nd assessment? Do you give a third? No. Move on. Kids learn in different orders. Kids may learn via different schedules.

Grading and Reporting: Guiding Questions & Observations

We know quite a bit, but very little of it has trickled into the classroom. For example, how much subjectivity is involved in grades? Guskey mentions studies demonstrating quite a bit of variation in grading assessments (1912). Most educators have very little training on grading – how it works, best practices, etc.

For that matter, parents often understand very little about current grade practices. They often revert back to how things were when they were kids.

The questions:

  1. What are major reasons we use report cards and assign grades to students’ work?
  2. Ideally, what purpose should report cards and grades serve?
  3. What elements should teachers use in determining students’ grades?

Grades are often a mystery to students. What they getting and why they’re getting them. That’s because there isn’t consensus in the education field.

General Conclusions from the research on grading

Grading is not essential to the instructional process.

So, naturally, why have grades?

While grading isn’t essential, checking is essential.

Checking is diagnostic (teacher is on the kid’s side), grading is evaluative (teacher is judge). This is a strange position. A very strange position (judge and an advocate). Grades should not be punitive. That is, grades should not be used to punish behavioral infraction.

No one method of grading serves all purposes well.

Parents consider report cards for them.

Common methods and some observations

Key comment: More grade categories = high grade subjectivity

Grades with comments are better than grades alone! If there is one important thing to keep in mind, build a successful experience in that first unit of study because students put themselves in grade categories. Teachers should show students how they can succeed.

You can’t really get away from subjectivity. You have one group (teachers) making judgments about another group (students) and trying to communicate such judgments to another group (parents). It’s important to recognize bias.

Technology “hides” subjectivity under the guise of mathematical precision. An area in which technology is working against us.

Grading and reporting should always be done in reference to learning criteria, never on a curve. (Valedictorian etc pits folks against each other).

Key Concept

Grading Criteria really should be separated into the following:

  1. Product criteria
  2. Process criteria
  3. Progress criteria

Other countries do this. Not combined into 1 category. For example Canada: 5 Categories – Achievement, Participation, Homework, Punctuality, Effort. (Note: Love it). Achievement correlates with providential test scores.

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