New Year (Semester End!) Musings

The November/December high-speed train has made its yearly visit, and though I am certainly still exceedingly busy I've got some thoughts swirling around that I'd like to share. 

With only about 10 days left with my students I am firmly entrenched in a familiar January struggle that has me torn between doing what I need to do (some marking, end of semester conferences, prep for exams) and what I want to do (drop everything and work on plans for next semester). Spending a few minutes blogging seems like a great way to avoid making a decision about the other things. :)

Shortly before the Christmas break, my pre-holiday frenzy was interrupted by this blog post by Susan Campo. She wonders about the meaning of a 30% final evaluation in a gradeless classroom and reading her post put me into a strange head space. Having jumped back into the classroom this year trying lots of new things I hadn't posed this question myself...and it really threw me for a loop.

My path this year has led me to think about my students' learning in more of a mastery sense than I have before. I have been coaching my students as they work towards a good understanding of all of the overall learning goals. Thinking about the meaning of the 30% culminating task in the context of my current assessment practice led to many questions, most without clear answers. I'm going to use a hypothetical classroom with 10 learning goals to share some of my thinking with you. Bear with me.

A student has consistently demonstrated a good understanding of 9 out of 10 of the course learning goals. (For the sake of this example let's say that their 'mark' in the course is 76%.) The remaining learning goal (#10) has been a significant challenge for this student, but they are committed to figuring it out, putting in lots of extra time and effort before the end of the semester. 
On the 30% culminating task, this student finally nails learning goal #10, but for some reason they make mistakes on a couple of other tasks that they had previously demonstrated confidently and consistently. (For argument's sake, let's say that the 'mark' on the final evaluation is 70%.) 
From a mastery point of view, this student has actually improved their overall standing by finally achieving that last learning goal. If we look at the final evaluation in isolation, the 'grade' they achieved might actually hurt their overall standing in the course. 

  • In this case, what is the value of the 30% final evaluation for the student? 
  • Why place an arbitrary numeric value on this end of semester task when it does not help capture the complete picture of their work in the course? 
  • Should the exam not be another opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning of course material? 
  • Does this performance really have to be 'separate' from their term work?

There are lots of other similar scenarios I have thought about, and I don't have time to write about all of them, but the essence of my thinking is that I am feeling constrained by the final evaluation policy.

I don't have any solutions. The good news is that my students and I, in our discussions about the 12U Chemistry exam, have landed on a plan; it doesn't address all of my concerns but may bring a nice flavour of reflection to the exam preparation process.

I'm going to set an exam with ~ 15 questions, of which my students will be required to complete 10. A couple of weeks before the exam, students will be given the list of topics corresponding to the 15 questions. With the help of their self-assessments and my assessment data, we will identify the exam topics that represent their most important outstanding 'growth areas' (those they did not consistently demonstrate during the term). That is, students will decide ahead of time what questions they will prepare for but MUST choose some questions identified as being in their 'growth areas.'

So, then, how to assess? Doesn't it make sense to look for areas of growth? How do I differentiate the assessment so that I recognize huge gains (student who moves from level 1 to level 3 on a certain learning goal vs. someone maintaining a level 4)? I've got some ideas. :) I also promise to write about them when I make a decision about what the assessment part 'looks like.'

I've also been doing some fun planning for sem 2...but no time to share tonight. :)

- - -

So, today (day after the post above) our school buses were cancelled and I had an unexpected chance to work on exam prep for my 12U chem course. I created a template planning document, then merged it with some of the data in my assessment spreadsheet. 

Each student now has a custom page to help them prepare for their exam. There is a list of question types, sample problem references, and the student's current 'level' for each of the skills (I removed the name from the image here). Data isn't available for the last unit yet, so we will add this as we go. I have left myself a column to record their achievement on the final evaluation. Yup...thinking ahead.


  1. GREGORY Harris2 April 2018 at 12:37

    Interesting read. What if the final doesn't take place on one day over 2-3 hours? Rather it takes place over the last week or semester?
    I asked some Grade 7&8 students what they thought their final grade should be after finishing a literacy circles unit. These students more or less came up with the mark i would assign. Most graded themselves a bit lower than I would. E.g., B- compared to B.
    The success criteria was created by other teachers and shared with students. As I found out, some students did not understand the SC. I revised the SC with them. Their grades all went up after that.
    My point is evaluation must be humane; all parties must understand the parameters. By involving your students you are treating them humanely. How to get better at meaningful evaluation is what educators should be striving to do.
    I just found your blog today. You should write more. Thank you


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