Here is a number that scares me a little: 44472. Why does that number scare me? Because it is theoretically the number of assessments we do in High School every year!
When I came into the school, I learned that we have a guideline that each teacher is “expected” to give three assessments per subject per quarter (two formative and one summative). I am not sure where this number came from, who set the expectation, or where it is written (because it’s not in our handbooks!), but I’ve heard it in a number of meetings with teachers and curriculum leaders. I understand the thinking – usually you want several pieces of evidence to make valid inferences about what students have learned. However, as we know, formative assessments are not meant to “count” towards a student’s grade. As time has gone on, it seems our teachers have begun to think of formative assessments as quizzes or smaller summative assessments they have to be marked. As I understand it, there are two reasons this happened. The first is that teachers found our students did not take formative assessments seriously since they did not “count”. The second is that prior to the arrival of our K-12 Curriculum Coordinator, Ms. Gibson, the school did not appear to continually work with our teachers on what types of formative assessments are the most effective for learning. So, over time, as teachers left the school and new teachers came in, the nature of our formative assessments appear to have changed. I have heard students ask “is this a formative or a summative assessment?”. If you can’t tell, that’s a problem! In speaking with teachers and curriculum leaders, I believe we have now arrived at a place where many teachers believe they have to do two small and one large summative assessment per subject per quarter.
But how do we get from 3 per quarter to 44472? That sounds like a lot!
Allow me to break that down for you. You see, each student in Grades 9 and 10 take nine classes and in Grades 11 and 12 they take eight. Three assessments per quarter would mean Grade 9 and 10 students take 12 per year per class (12 x 9 = 108). If they are in 11 and 12 they would be doing 12 x 8 = 96. We have 228 students in Grades 9 and 10 and 209 in Grades 11 and 12. That means, if each teacher does the two small and one large assessment per quarter, Grades 9 and 10 do 24408 (228 x 108) assessments, Grades 11 and 12 do 20064 (96 x 209).
What does 108 assessments per child mean? Well, considering there are only 178 contact days, it would mean a fair bit. Factor in week without walls, the week before each set of exams (when there should be no assessments), parent teacher interviews, the first week of school and the last week of school we lose an additional 31 days. This means we would theoretically be doing 108 assessments in 147 days. We also have MAP testing three times per year and our Grade 10’s have CAT 4 and PSAT as well. The KHDA mandates we take these external assessments, so, our Grade 10 students – if we are following the “expected” practice – would end up doing 120 assessments in 147 days!
For a teacher, it’s not much better. We have 57 teachers that take students, accounting for partial loads we have 52 full time teachers on staff in High School. Given our number of 44472, our 52 teachers would average just over 855 assessments per year. That’s a lot of marking! To me this raises a number of questions:
Where did this number come from? There is nothing in the IB, the KHDA or the Common Core that says we have to have 12 assessments per subject per year. It isn’t even in our own handbooks. It appears to be a guideline from a time when we were a smaller school with smaller assessments. The issue is that some teachers believe it’s still something they “have” to do. They do not!
Is this too much assessment? Maybe, maybe not. These numbers are mind-boggling, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a flawed practice in every subject. That said, assessment should not be about a set number of tasks. Assessment should be driven by clearly defined learning standards or objectives. Therefore it may be appropriate to have fewer assessments or (gasp) more, depending on what learning is being targeted. What I do know is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach for each subject area makes little educational sense because different subjects are targeting different areas of learning. I also know that if students are expected to do this work at home, each task was richly developed and had to be marked with feedback… that would be a huge burden!
Does this impact the quality of feedback? This is something I will be monitoring very closely. The only thing that really matters in an assessment is the quality of feedback a student gets. Feedback should be specific and targeted toward learning objectives. Students should know exactly where they are in their learning and be able to articulate their strengths and weaknesses in each learning domain. Feedback is the most effective way to do this, and I wonder if 855 tasks in a year limits our ability to provide outstanding feedback? If a student does not understand why they got the grades they did, or what they need to do to improve, there is a clear indicator that the feedback isn’t meeting standard.
How does this impact the classroom? Every day we are looking to improve the quality of teaching and instruction. I wonder if fewer assessments would mean better lessons? If a teacher is spending their time marking so many papers, would that time be better spent on lesson preparation?
What does this mean for Homework? Homework is meant to be something that augments the learning of our students, it doesn’t count against grades. As principal, I wonder how students can manage this load and do homework. I had a discussion with a parent recently who told me her daughter does 3 or 4 hours of homework every night. Do students get to choose if they can do homework? Can they set priorities? In what ways does our homework improve learning?
And the most important question: What is the impact on student learning? All year our students have been working really, really hard. But how much have they learned, and do they know why they learned it? If they don’t… what was the point of all that work?
So, is it time to panic? No! We know that not every subject is giving the “expected” 12 assessments per year. We also know that this number was never intended to be an absolute, it has been a guideline. I have read all our assessment policies and have not seen these numbers written anywhere. However, even a guideline, we can get into some difficult territory with students and teachers. Guidelines have a way of becoming practices, and when we look at the numbers, practices can place significant burden on our students. The point I am making is that it’s time for the school to take a long look at it’s practices and ensure they are designed to meet the needs of our learners.
I’m pleased to say that this work has already begun. Ms. Gibson, our curriculum coordinator is doing an amazing job of reviewing our curriculum and assessment practices at UAS. We are in a monitoring phase, where we are being very reflective about our practices before we make any changes. We give no more or no fewer assessments this year than any other year. Every day, Mr. Coppes, Ms. Cummins and I recognize the amazing work of our teachers and how far we have come in 10 short years. However, we are on a journey of constant improvement towards being an exceptional school. On that journey we will value quality over quantity, feedback over marks, and learning over testing. We will work to improve our subject offerings so that students aren’t burdened with taking required courses later in their schooling. As we grow, students will know exactly where they are in their learning, and as a result, our assessment numbers may go down, but our results will go up. It is an exciting time to be at UAS and I am looking forward to seeing these projects develop to improve our both our IB scores and internal UAS scores in the coming years. I just left a meeting led by Ms. Gibson where teachers were given the resource 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor.
I left happy, knowing that the practices we are building at UAS are up to date and supported by research. I left thinking we are doing some very important work modernizing our practices. And, I left thinking 15 is a waaaaay better number than 44472!
Wednesday, January 18th – 8:00 AM – High School Principal’s Coffee in the Counselling Area. This week’s topic – 5 key skills for success in the 21st century.
Jan 16 to 26 – Exams. Reminder – parents must submit the signed release form if students are to leave the school to study. Parents will also be responsible for child pick up. If we do not receive the release form, students will be placed in and in-school study hall.
On Sunday, February 5th we will be hosting an information session for Grade 8 and 10 parents. Grade 8 parents will be in the Library and Grade 10 will be in 2200.
On Thursday, February 9th reports go home.
SAT prep – Wednesdays 3:30 – 6:00 for the May 6th exam 750AED Started Jan 11th but it’s not too late to join. If you are interested, please contact Ms. Raleigh-Carrera