Assessments – the tool that all teachers use to measure understanding in a classroom setting. When I began my first year of teaching, I was so excited about everything. Literally, everything! Excited to teach, excited to help, excited to assess, excited to have my name on the door and even excited to grade (crazy, right?). I distinctly remember when my excitement was initially interrupted by my first real disappointment.
That disappointment came on a day that I had given my students a summative assessment and after grading the large stack of papers, I began to cry. Yup. Crying, sniffling, chin quivering and all. If memory serves me right, I’m pretty sure I ate a carton of ice cream that same night just to top off my complete and utter depression of the idea.
Why had my students done so poorly? How could this have happened? I taught my heart out. Are my students not paying attention? How could they not pay attention? I spend hours creating fun, engaging lessons for them. Are they not studying? I don’t understand how that’s possible. I provided each of them with a study guide and we went over the correct answers while I cleared up any confusion.
After much deliberation and speaking with other educators that I highly respected, I began to look through a different lens. The problem wasn’t that the students had made mistakes, ultimately, the problem was me.
You see, most teachers, myself included, are very hard on themselves and tend to look through a lens seeking full attainment of skills for students. We want to teach our hearts out, in return for all students to be successful. However, the real question is, what are we missing? There are obvious gaps in student’s understanding and what are we doing to recognize and fuse those gaps?
The answer lies within strong formative assessment (checks for understanding). I have learned that when teachers use strong strategies to gauge understanding during each lesson, success will follow. I began to allow my formative assessments to drive my instruction and to prevent gaps in learning. I was able to identify if there was any confusion and/or misconceptions prior to the bell ringing each hour. Additionally, through providing descriptive feedback, my students were able to assess their own work and recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. Suddenly, there were vast improvements in proficiency rates. Their scores were climbing and I wasn’t crying anymore. My standard-based assessments were fluid and fair. Well, so I thought.
Then, Jennifer Vicknair, one of the most wonderful educators that I have ever had the pleasure of working with, shared with me such an incredible tip that helped set my students up for success. Too often, we teachers make the mistake of not factoring in the effect of point value of assessed work. For example, if we give our students a ten question quiz and they make one mistake, they score a 9/10, a letter grade of a B. One mistake yields them a “B”. So allow me to connect this. I was standing in front of my students on a daily basis trying to advocate for them to take risks and don’t be afraid of failure but then I wasn’t following up my words with appropriate actions. Little did I know I was treading lightly in the wrong direction in setting up my students for failure.
What am I talking about? I am talking about the power of THE 14 POINT RULE (cue echo effect). I was shown that if we use the point value of 14 as the floor for assessments then all students will have the opportunity to miss one question and receive the lowest A possible, a 93% A to be exact. Teachers can still have small assessments but the student’s point value would need to be scaled. Therefore, an assessment weighted at 5/6 (83% C) would be scaled to a 13/14 (93% A). Perhaps you are thinking….well doesn’t that make it too easy on the student? Actually, this approach is putting equity into practice seeing how no other formal assessment/standardized testing (benchmark testing, state testing, ACT, SAT, etc.) will drop a student a letter grade or proficiency level by missing just one question.
This is a VERY common oversight that teachers aren’t recognizing as being detrimental to our students. Since implementing the 14 point rule into practice with my own students, I have seen a horizontal alignment of class grades and proficiency levels. For instance, if a student has a “B” as a class grade, that same student test at the “Mastery” level for standardized testing. The alignment is quite beautiful, really.
As a mother of two elementary aged students, I can attest to this struggle from a parent perspective as well. Not long ago, my very bright fourth grader had a meltdown because he missed one question on a three point quiz and he made a “D-“. Just the sight of that letter grade in his pile of proficient grades, brought him to tears. He struggled to get his grade up before report cards. Despite his relentless efforts, the highest he could get his grade was a “B”. When teachers offer multiple amounts of small assessments, it can be detrimental and inequitable for students. As teachers we have to remember that our goal is to set our students up for success, not failure.
I recognize that I am a life long learner and I am always looking to polish the craft that I love…..teaching. Evaluating my assessments helped me to rethink my teaching practices. I encourage all teachers to embrace new ideas and strategies that are proven effective for the best interest of students. First challenge on the books….the 14 point rule. Let’s go!