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We Need Numerous and Alternate Forms of Assessment/Reporting

I am always in my wife’s bad books when it comes to report card prep.  My wife teaches grade 1 (and has taught all grades up to grade 7).  It takes her approximately an hour to write each student’s report card, an hour of editing and then another hour re-editing after her principal has read them.  I laugh as I’m done all seven of my blocks in about two hours with edits.  Each year we have the same conversation about what a report card should look like and what its purpose is.  This year, with the “New Curriculum” rolling out in September I think it’s time for districts and the Ministry to make some real change in what assessment and reporting looks like.  Some school districts are ahead of the game in BC, Surrey being one of them.  They have given their teachers the power to choose one of three reporting styles: FreshGrade, traditional or a “New Report Card Template” for elementary.

At the high school level we still input numbered comments or create our own banks of comments and cut and paste.  We are limited by space on the report cards and, due to over 180 students, limited by time.  FreshGrade is a step in the right direction as an alternative in how we report student learning at the high school level.  FreshGrade is an innovative, first to market, multiuse reporting tool that integrates a portfolio, gradebook, report card and a messenger app.  A lot of people are on Twitter and Blogs lately pushing a shift in reporting and touting the benefits of FreshGrade.  I will not deny that I am on the same bandwagon as I am planning on implementing blogging and portfolios next year in my classes (not FreshGrade but other platforms: see Students Digital Portfolios).  I do not want to come across as a FreshGrade ‘hater’ but as I have played around with it I personally see it as an elementary or middle school alternative.  Like many other multiuse technologies where individual platforms are more powerful and do more, FreshGrade has limitations as designers attempted to pack as much into it as possible.  Here is what I am struggling with:

  1. By using portfolios and putting visual evidence online, what are we showing? There needs to be a visual and physical representation of growth. Therefore teachers would need to put the good, the bad and the ugly up to show student learning/understanding. Furthermore there should also be some form of rubric or assessment scale attached with teacher, student and/or peer evaluation.
  2. The evidence is clear that Standards Based Assessment (SBA) is best for student learning. How do we use FreshGrade with SBA? There should be an exemplar put next to their work so parents can see how their son/daughter is doing compared to the standard as well where they need to improve. I have not heard of this being done in the FreshGrade conversation.
  3. FreshGrade limits the ability for feedback from others. Those who are supporting the use of blogs in the classroom argue that the benefit is that students can connect with the outside world and get feedback from others around the globe. Students are skyping and blogging with students in Europe, North America etc. FreshGrade is a closed network for Parents, Student and Teacher and lacks the ability to be put out to the general public.

Starting in “upper intermediate” and continuing into high school grades we need to focus on creating networked students who know how to use social media in responsible ways.  Whether that is using Twitter, Facebook Notes or LinkedIn to create a network of people that could help shape the students learning.  There is no arguing against the power of collaborative learning and FreshGrade does not allow this to happen.  So yes we need to use portfolios, blogs and other social media to illustrate our learning and post work on a frequent basis but if it stays static in a closed environment we are not allowing growth of student learning.

As for reporting I argue we need to do is focus on an alternative template in the high schools as we can learn a lot from our elementary colleagues.  We can and should still have formal report cards that act as a snapshot of learning to date.  But what we should do is create a fluid document that can be revised and modified throughout the term/year.  We should convert these fluid documents so we can report on the curricular competencies in each subject rather than assignment scores (I like the Summary Reports that FreshGrade allows for and these should be a model we base our high school informal reports on).  Then we can use elementary reporting styles to comment on the current understanding of each competency (Exceeding, Meeting, Approaching, Not Yet Approaching).  I envision students also self-assessing on this document as well, allowing them to negotiate and discuss their level of understanding (much like the FreshGrade Self-Assessment template).  Students would know immediately what they need to work on and can self-assess at the end of term as well to see if they agree with the teachers view.  These categories can be combined with student self-assessment, averaged out at the end of the reporting period and given a letter grade. Parents could then have the ability to interact with the document as well, asking questions of the teacher, providing feedback of life at home, student concerns/conversations at home etc.

Rough Example of Alternative Template:

Assignment #1 Assignment #2 Assignment #3 Overall
Competency #1 Meeting Meeting Meeting
Competency #2 Exceeding Exceeding
Competency #3 Approaching Approaching

Parents can then look at the chart and see what their son/daughter needs to work on.  Notice there is no reference to a mark for the assignment but where the student is currently with the competencies.



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