What happens if everyone gets an "A"?

Well, I graded a set of final exams today and the lowest score was an 86%.   My first thought, “The test was way too easy”.  Then I actually searched through the student answers to see if there was any response with which I had been too generous.  I was looking for reasons to dock students points!  What was wrong with me?  It’s as though I couldn’t accept the fact that the entire class had done so well.

It felt so flawed because this is what I had been shooting for the entire year: to have all students attain the standards.  The standards were clear.  The test had been built upon the standards and understanding expected from this unit.  Critical thinking was required to complete all problems. I re-read the test with a demanding and discriminating eye searching for weakness.  However, I was satisfied with the assessment.

So why was I so bothered by the high scores?  Is this idea of a bell curve so engrained within me that I can’t let it go?  Are the years of old fashioned grade scales such a part of me that, despite my intellectual convictions about standards based grading, I can’t actually in my heart embrace it?

I’m shocked at my own reaction to the success of my class.  I should have been rejoicing and there I was sitting at my desk thinking that something was wrong.  It seriously took some processing time before it sunk in what had actually happened.  Students had learned and were able to demonstrate their understandings in a summative assessment.  There was a 100% success rate!  That’s what it should be!  This should be our goal: all students succeed.  All students reach high, learn and thereby grow.

So, what happens if everyone gets an “A”?  If the grades are a true reflection of student achievement and are fair, consistent,  and accurate, then we celebrate!

Time for Assessment - on the student's time

The 6th graders studied the images and considered the questions and began furiously writing on their tests.  I could hear the rhythms of pencils being repeatedly lifted and pressed to the desk, resulting in a soft drumming disseminating throughout my classroom.  It was comforting.  The class was turning the page, eagerly moving ahead to analyzing and graphing data.  However, one boy, John, remained processing question one.  He was just as intent as the others but not making the same progress.

After about 40 minutes, the second to last student finished the test and pulled out her Kindle.  Upon completion students were to leave the test on their desk and quietly take out a book to read or peruse the National Geographic magazines in my room while waiting for the rest of the class to finish.  My goal is for each student to have a fair amount of time and a fair environment to finish the test.   A student should not feel rushed just because others are done with the exam.  I want each assessment to be a fair opportunity for a student to show me what he can do and what he knows, not how fast he can demonstrate these achievements. 

So, there we sat. And sat.  And sat.  John continued to plod along.  It was excruciating.  The students kept looking at the clock and then at me.  They were anxious to get on with the experiment I had planned.  As was I.  But, we waited.  And waited. And waited.  At one point, John stood up with a smile on his face, extending his test to me.  I was thrilled that he was only a about ten minutes behind the others.   Abruptly he exclaimed, “Oh wait” and plopped down to erase his entire graph!  I wanted to cry out, “No, just turn it in!” 

Finally, data graphed and all blanks filled, his test was finished.  At first I questioned my decision to make the entire class wait.  However, especially later when holding his assessed test in my hand, I realized how valuable the evidence was.  Here was a student who I’ve suspected needs some learning support.  I have other observations and signs of his need, but this was real proof.

Now, how do we get the parents to agree?

Feedback Assessment, and Redos

This past week my 6th graders created a wall display of six different habitats with five to six animals grouped into each habitat.  They then each selected one animal that they would research and create a label with an annotation outlining the adaptations that that specific animal had allowing it to survive in its habitat.  We created a Google Docs with the sign-up sheet. Each student also entered in the planned annotation into the same document.   I wrote feedback on the document.  I gave them time to make changes.  Then I provided an assessment based on their written work and entered in the grade book.  If they made additional changes to complete the assignment according to the standard, I recorded the new grade and removed the weighting for the previous grade.  Thus, they (and parents) have a record of their progress without imperfect attempts damaging their grade.   Result: Amazingly accurate and well-done annotations from every single student.  So good, in fact, I was able to use their wall display as a reference for my 9th grade Biology class.

Though my attempts at informative and formative assessment don’t always yield these perfect results, I know what I’m aiming for and I’ll keep forever at it until the results are consistently bringing all students to the standard.