Determining a Grade: Organizing, Monitoring and Gathering Evidence

“We’re all in this together.” How many times have we said this in the last year? We realize that to beat the pandemic, we all need to do our part. This idea applies at least as much to teaching and learning. It’s the central theme of this blog…and never more true than when we are talking about assessment and evaluation.

The last few posts have focussed on a thinking process for determining a grade for reporting. We’ve suggested that the nature and quality of the evidence will determine how challenging it will be to summarize the learning accurately and fairly. And, that taking the burden on ourselves is unfair, to both ourselves and to our learners. When educators and learners collaborate in assessment and evaluation of the learning, the results are greater efficiency, increased accuracy, and most importantly, improved learning and motivation to learn.

Before continuing with this series on grading, recall the components of the process in order to determine a grade: 

  • Visualizing and planning where you want the learning to go;
  • Organizing, gathering and monitoring evidence of learning; 
  • Selecting relevant data that accurately reflects students’ growth over time; 
  • Analyzing trends and patterns; 
  • Interpreting the trends and applying professional judgment.

In the last two posts we’ve engaged the planner in you and the organizer in you by shining a flashlight on this thinking process as you embark on the learning journey towards the end of this academic year. 

Organizing, Monitoring and Gathering Evidence: Checking in 

I’ve read (somewhere) that educators make, on average, over 200 instructional decisions every day.  I think that is a conservative estimate! Many of these decisions are made in a blink of an eye, including the questions you ask; who will respond; how feedback will be given; considering what the next move will look like. Other decisions are made by stepping back from the fast pace of day-to-day interactions, if only for a few minutes, allowing you to breathe and mindfully check in on progress towards the learning goals. 

Weeks ago you established a vision of where you wanted the learning to go. You planned and organized strategies to gather and monitor evidence of learning and now you and your students are in the thick of the learning journey. It’s mid May, making it a perfect time to check in by reviewing the documentation you and the students have compiled. Monitoring progress now gives you time to consider your next instructional moves in response to students’ needs. Engaging students in a similar process of reflection and feedback supports their own agency to consider their next learning moves. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Who’s showing a pattern of growth and progressing well? 
  • Who’s showing inconsistent progress? Why? 

Ask students to consider: 

  • Where are you in attaining the learning goals?
  • What can you do based on the success criteria? 
  • How might you improve to attain specific criteria? 
  • What support do you need? 

Considering and reviewing these questions cycles back to the thinking process of planning for grading.  Checking in allows you to focus on evidence – or lack of evidence – needed to accurately reflect the achievement of each student come reporting time.   

  • What constitutes evidence of learning? 
  • Do I have enough evidence? How much evidence is enough?
  • Do I need the same evidence for each student?
  • Are some students ready to demonstrate attainment of the learning goals now? 
  • What adjustments need to be made to move the learning forward? 

What might this look like?

Follow the thinking of a grade 8 teacher of Science, Math and Language returning to a virtual setting as they apply these considerations to their practice. Note: A reminder that the main focus of this template relates to science. Learning goals from Mathematics and Language have been included to emphasize how big ideas transcend specific content areas. Although this educator may have other planning templates, this version is presented to highlight the thinking process of planning for grading

“Students never fail to impress me! As I had hoped, the science focus on Systems in Action has allowed students to make connections to what is happening in the world around them. Time is flying by and before we know it the month of June will descend on us (and along with it come report cards!). I really want to slow down the learning and make sure students have time to consolidate their learning, express their thoughts and demonstrate what they have learned. 

The template I designed has helped me see an at-a glance representation of students’ progress. The layout of the big ideas/overall expectations with colour-coded learning goals has been invaluable in organizing the learning. The list and purpose of tasks along with space for brief comments related to what a student can do allows me to witness what I have seen and heard. This data set pinpoints what feedback might be needed and supports decision making for next steps.

I took some quiet time and looked through the notes I’ve made along with the artefacts collected by students in their digital portfolios. Of course, not every student is achieving at the same pace. I looked for trends and noticed three patterns: student work depicting a pattern of growth, other data sets revealing an inconsistent pattern and a few students are struggling. While students start working independently on their design challenge, I will set up virtual conferences with each student to review their progress and we’ll decide together on next steps.

Here’s a summary of one student’s work that shows a growth pattern. The pre-assessment concept page showed that Student A was able to identify simple types of systems and their purpose. After I modelled how to analyse an electrical system, he was able to apply this process in deconstructing the structure within the NHL and how it has been impacted since the pandemic began. 


Student A was able to summarize the information of the assigned readings using both the reflection chart and designing an infographic to represent the data. When asked to add to the initial concept page by responding to the prompt, ‘What have you learned about systems in the last two weeks?’ he used the success criteria to guide his entries. I noticed he even corrected some misconceptions on his concept page. This evidence suggests that Student A is performing at a level 3 in Science and Technology. The ‘Analysis and Predictions’ assignment will give me an insight into his thinking about assessing the impact of an existing system and being able to express different points of view. This will give me a good indication if he is working through to level 4 thinking. At our conference scheduled for this week, we’ll go over the success criteria and use specific examples from the documentation to highlight what he has achieved and suggest possible next steps in a few areas.

Student A

The documentation for a few students reveals an inconsistent pattern. Student B started off well by showing that she could identify various systems and the purpose of many components. After deconstructing other examples and responding to the readings she was able to identify input and outcomes of a system as well as considering different perspectives related to societal influences. However, the reflection and graphic organizer assignments along with the corresponding quiz failed to reveal these key ideas. Only a few ideas were added to the second review of the concept page although she was able to include other key points when prompted to use the anchor chart as a guide. I’ll have a conversation with Student B about monitoring her own learning and transferring artefacts to her digital portfolio. This will enable me to assess her progress more accurately. 

Student B

I’m concerned about one student who has shown little interest in the content of this unit although she was very engaged in Student A’s analysis of the NHL as a system. I listened in on their conversations and it was clear that Student C added ideas and shared insights about the impact of the pandemic. She was able to informally demonstrate several of the success criteria but incomplete assignments do not accurately reflect what Student C knows and is capable of doing. I will need more evidence in order to determine if the learning goals have been met. I know this student’s family has been adversely impacted by the pandemic. Next week’s conference will be a tough conversation but I need to broach the subject and together we need to decide how to accommodate and adjust the way she demonstrates her understanding. 

Engaging the Manager in You: Checking in, Tuning up, Moving Forward

Engaging in analysis of the documentation with students can help them become more metacognitive about their learning and assist them in setting goals for furthering their learning (assessment as learning). Student-captured pedagogical documentation can provide you with a different perspective when making decisions about the next action for learning, for students and for yourself as an educator.

Pedagogical Documentation Revisited

With only a few weeks before the next reporting period, it’s important to do a check in to see whether your own plans are generating the evidence of learning that you expected. This will both allow you to ascertain that you will have sufficient quality evidence for grading, and monitor students’ progress. Now is the time to tune up any cracks that have been uncovered and shift gears if needed to ensure that  the learning and the documenting of the learning are on track. 

One last thought and a call to action: Having a vision of the learning goals yet being flexible enough to see many ways to get there supports student success. Share one strategy or decision you made midway through a learning period that ensured gathering of quality evidence. 

References: 

Ontario. Ministry of Education. (2015). Capacity Building Series: Pedagogical Documentation Revisited. Toronto. 

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