Determining a Grade: Selecting Relevant Data

It’s the last week of May. You and your students are approaching the final stages of a learning cycle. Setting and sharing learning goals with corresponding success criteria were foundational steps but when the vision went live, students engaged and it felt like the learning had a life of its own. The rhythm of exploring, expressing ideas, aligning the ‘work’ to criteria, feedback, reflection and digging even deeper created a tsunami-like momentum. 

Evidence of learning has been mounting. This monitoring moment takes on a  more urgent significance. If you are mindfully preparing for determining the grade, then merely riding the wave of learning experiences and collecting numerous artefacts is not enough. Part of the process is selecting the data that accurately reflects students’ growth over time. 

Not all artefacts are created equal. The goal is to select the most relevant and meaningful pieces to accurately depict students’ learning over time. When planning for grading and thinking ahead to the reporting phase, naming the learning supports next steps for both students and educators.

Over the last few weeks, we have been compiling a series of posts related to determining the grade for the June report card. In the last three posts we’ve engaged the planner in you, the organizer in you and the manager in you, tracing the threads of thinking from visioning to monitoring evidence of learning as you dove into the learning cycle towards the end of this academic year. 

Recall the components of the thinking process 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.

Engaging the interpreter in you

Taking a step back (for even a few moments) and filtering the information you and your students have gathered will go a long way to identifying gaps as well as selecting fair and relevant data to support finalizing a grade in a few weeks.

Ask yourself: 

  • Have students been given opportunities to demonstrate their learning through meaningful questions and tasks carefully aligned to the knowledge and skills identified in the curriculum?
  • Have students been given multiple opportunities to apply feedback and improve their work?
  • Have I engaged students in naming their own learning with respect to criteria?
  • Is there evidence of learning, linked to success criteria, that is gathered from my observations and conversations with students?
  • Are there any discrepancies between students’ products and the ideas presented through observations and conversations?
  • Have I and my students selected newer artefacts of learning to replace older samples when learning has taken place?

What might this look like?

Follow the thinking of a grade 8 teacher of Science, Math and Language facilitating learning from a virtual setting as they apply these considerations to their practice.

I used to think that, to be fair, every single piece of information I gathered from students, whether through conversation, observation, or a product,  had to be mashed up into a single grade. This way of thinking was overwhelming and, quite honestly, irrelevant for students and parents. Now I am thinking that I must be more selective. I know what is meaningful; I know what counts. More importantly, the students know what the learning should look like and sound like.

I had anticipated this unit, Systems in Action, would help students make sense of what was happening around them – in their own household, community and throughout the world. The questions I designed ranged from identification of systems to assessing impact.  Each task was structured to add meaning to the big ideas by highlighting opportunities to investigate, make connections to their own lives and communicate their ideas. We’ve engaged in virtual room discussions, deconstructed samples  and used success criteria to name the learning and push their thinking forward. 

Last week, while students were individually planning their systems design challenge, I conferenced with each student to review the data we had compiled since April. I wanted to ask probing questions, based on the big ideas, to see if students could pinpoint the knowledge and skills within their own work. I also asked, ‘What artefact best represents your learning?’

Responses from Student A reinforced what I had witnessed during the initial stages of the learning cycle. This student is able to identify the purpose of various types of systems and can assess the impact of any changes. He is gaining insights by drawing inferences from different perspectives and is able to predict the impact of specific changes. When asked ‘What artefact best represents your thinking?’, he described the updates he made to his initial concept page. He also stated that after working on the Analysis and Prediction task, he was ready to add what he had learned by following the success criteria. My next instructional step for Student A, as well as for other students, will be to bring back initial samples and deconstruct characteristics of level 4 thinking. I will nudge Student A to look at these samples in preparation for work on the culminating task. 

When conferencing with Student B I was curious to delve into her thinking about how she was progressing. There’s a discrepancy between the quality of her work and the ideas I have seen through observations and when asking prompting questions. Did I need to support her understanding through guided sessions or were there other reasons for the inconsistencies? Using the success criteria as a starting point for our conversation, I realized Student B was able to name her own learning even though it was not evident in hard copies of her work I had read. Turns out she was not updating her digital portfolio on a regular basis. Together we selected the appropriate artefacts and uploaded these. This will enable me to assess her progress more accurately. I have replaced the old evidence of learning with the updated files. I will monitor Student B more closely in the next few weeks. Together we created a checklist to support monitoring the submission of her work in a timely fashion. 

Virtual learning during the pandemic has been difficult for some students. Student C has struggled with regular attendance and submitting work. Through observations and conversations, I know she is able to demonstrate key success criteria. During our conference we talked at length about her family’s struggles. She spoke passionately about how life has changed for her parents and siblings. She felt ashamed that she could not participate more in schoolwork. I realized she was sharing deep insights into the social and environmental influences on a system. Together we named her very authentic learning by making connections to the big ideas of this learning cycle. I will adjust the assessment process for Student C by providing additional conferences with me and changing the culminating task requirements to allow for Student C to reflect on this unique moment in time, while still meeting the success criteria. 

Exploring the idea that planning for grading is a thinking process, not a set of linear, sequential steps, highlights the true meaning of assessment i.e. to ‘sit beside’ and work alongside students. Learning towards a desired outcome can be witnessed in so many ways by following multiple pathways to get there. Naming the learning is a vital step in the process; intentionally selecting relevant data leads to formulating an accurate picture of what a student can do, say and communicate. 

One last thought and a call to action: 

These turbulent times have acted as a catalyst for change in so many ways. Have you ever struggled with fairness and equity when reporting to parents/guardians? Let us know what persists as a challenge for you. Be on the lookout for our last post in this series, ‘Determining the Grade: It’s Time to Report’.

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