PeteSearch: What the Sumerians can teach us about data

Please read the post linked and think about the data we collect on students.
How can we make grading a more neutral act?
How do we convince others that they do not have the power or should not have the power?
How is the data I collect corrupting me?
How is the data our schools collect corrupting them, and in the process making them less valuable?
How do we be more open that all data collected has it base in subjective humanity?
Do we regularly look over the data we collect and try to find where it is giving us bogus information?
(Via Nat Torkington )

So, on the best test ever, what grade did you give the kids?

Lately I have been getting a lot of email about my blog. I love it. This question rocked. Here is what I responded. If you want to evolve the conversation yourself feel free to comment, email, tweet or contact me in some other way.

On Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 9:02 AM, Henry wrote:
Oh yeah...I have been reading your blog.  I have you as someone I follow on Twitter so I link off of that.  So, on the best test ever, what grade did you give the kids?  All the same or did you still give individual grades?  I liked the getting the group consensus on a question and having anyone defend it--just didn't know how that fit the pressure of giving a grade.

Thanks so much for asking the question. It is so helpful for me. In rereading my post I realized I had not really talked about the grading at all. This adds so much to my attempt to clarify what I am doing this year in physics, I hope others will comment and contact me as well.

So there are two solutions in the pyramid testing option [PDF]. In a traditional points based grade book you might weight each section of the test to match what you are emphasizing that day. So a very generic match might be 50% of the grade is your personal attempt, 30% is the group's grade and 20% is the almost always totally correct class grade. It seems to me that this is a fair way of putting these grade into the book.

Here is what made me truly excited about what happened in my class on Wednesday. I have been using standards based grading. The unit we are in has four standards. The questions that I asked in class each focused some combination of two of the four standards. As students were working on the questions I had the standards in mind that I was evaluating. I would ask questions about why a student choose something (during the personal time) or I would listen into a group conversation. Then I would run up to my computer and record scores. I also asked if students wanted to hand in their work at the end of the hour. Some did. Others did not. Great work was handed in.

I am going to give one more attempt at each of the standards, so I am not too worried about them handing in something yet. If they do not after hand in something after the second attempt then their grade will not be good. They will be allowed to challenge that. Students are allowed to challenge any one standard on a given day. They have to name the standard and tell me what they have done to improve their knowledge. There is a long list of resources for them to use to improve.  I then give a quiz or just talk the standard through with them.

The main point of this is that the conversations I had with students were wonderful and very instructive about where they were at. The period moved quickly but without stress. There was no tension in the room like a normal test can bring. It was the first time I can remember feeling like I was evaluating while knowledge was increasing.

The Best Test Ever

I gave up on giving tests a long time ago. I am not saying that I hate them, just that I have not found a need in a long time to give one. On Wednesday I was wrapping up a unit and I thought I would try to make some authentic assessments. This was news to my students, and I never even really told them that the goal was assessing.

All this was because of standards based grading. I took into the class examples of work that students should be able to do having almost completed the work of our inquiry into mechanical energy. I put up the problem or the question and allowed them to try it on their own. After that they had a chance to claim their work. If they wanted to put their name on the paper and turn it in they could. If not I asked why and helped them figure out what was wrong. They can always meet the standard later.

On the next standard I asked a more conceptual problem called a ranking task, and used a strategy called pyramid testing. I asked them each to commit to an answer on their own. Then all submitted their answer and they had 10 minutes to come to a group conclusion and commit to it. Finally, I left the room and told them to put a class answer on the board. I told them that I was going to pick a random number and that person on the class list would have to explain the class decision. I

As I listed to groups talk I gained a ton of understanding about how my students were meeting the standards. Even the classes ability to convince each other of a final answer on the conceptual question gave me a lot more insight into their knowledge than I expected. The hour was lively, filled with discussion and learning and assessment. The best test ever.