Scaling up in your school

Assessment for learning works best when everyone uses it! This is just a quick snapshot of two schools where this assessment process is taking place right now. We are sharing our journey with you in the hopes that it shines a light on the path.

The plan at Holt High School:
This is Sean again. You read about my personal efforts at the beginning of this course. Now I want to talk about how we moved things forward from my own individual efforts to more school-wide efforts.

After learning a little about formative assessment and trying some things on my own, one thing became very apparent, I needed some help! I needed people to bounce ideas off of and people willing to think hard about these ideas that I was struggling with. I started small. I worked with some teachers that I knew were dedicated to getting better and looking for ways to improve their teaching. So I suggested some ideas I had tried and mentioned some articles that I had read. I quickly had a small group of people I could learn with and learn from. We each tried some things in small settings and had successes and failures that we could all learn from but we needed more than stolen times in the hallways or emails that we dashed off quickly after class.

Working with Theron Blakeslee at Ingham ISD we were able to develop a small working group (all math teachers from grades 7-12) that was willing to meet for two weeks over the summer for some SB-CEUs. We were not able to include everyone who was interested but we were able to get 8 people to learn together and start our process. We read as much as we could, watched a few videos and tried to cover the big names in formative assessment. When we found a reference that seemed interesting we tracked that article or book down and read it. Each day included some learning (reading or going over reading) and some work time (student friendly standards, sheets to track progress, lesson plans that include places for formative assessment, etc.). We also worked to get buy-in from our administration by sharing what we were doing and inviting them to participate in our work.

For the school year we also partnered with the State of Michigan’s formative assessment initiative. We used many of their resources and had three coach training days and 2 team days to plan and debrief our work with other similar teams. With enthusiastic administrative buy-in at the building and district level we were able to continue our work throughout the year. We met one time per month for a long half day (teachers donated their lunch time as well). This time was also split into a few parts. The first part was sharing our progress and bringing in pieces from our classrooms. The second part was additional learning. The final part was planning what we were going to do between the meetings and what we were going to try. I won’t speak for any other members of the team, but for me this support helped me to keep formative assessment at the forefront of my mind for the entire year and helped me try new things and sustain what I was doing at the beginning of the school year.

We also tried to bring some of this learning to members of the high school math department who were not in the summer group. We planned readings and discussions and had people bring in work, but concentrated on just a few aspects (feedback was the big one). This was a way for members of the group to apply what they had learned and expand the learning to include other members of the department. I think all members of the department have a good understanding of our formative assessment work, but this was not as successful as the group that had more time to work (for obvious reasons).

For next year, we are planning on continuing to meet with the summer group. We are also going to add another group that is similar, to include teachers from all different content areas and maybe one more within the department. The math department will continue to have formative assessment as a goal for the year and we are going to use lesson study as a different way of implementing formative assessment in the classroom. This should allow us to be more specific with our planning, since the lessons we study will provide a better background for the work.

The plan at Dansville High School:
From Amber: We are currently in year four of this assessment process.

YEAR ONE: We started in 07-08 with early adopters experimenting with different grading policies during the second semester. We had a few teachers who had read some books by Marzano and on their own decided to try some things out in their classroom (I think it was 2 out of 18 teachers). The early adopters reported about their action research at every staff meeting for the rest of the year. This “reporting” was not given a huge spotlight – more like “hey, is anyone doing anything cool in their classrooms right now” and the principal had spoken to the early adopters beforehand so they knew to share out during that time. At the end of the year, the books the early adopters were reading were offered to the rest of the staff to read over the summer – the entire staff ended up getting the book and most read it over the summer.

YEAR TWO: As a result of reading the assessment book over the summer, more staff chose to change their grading system to start the 08-09 school year. Some of the grading changes were intense and broad scale – some of the changes were minor (such as just offering retakes alone). Throughout the year, all who were implementing the new system shared out at staff meetings. What works wins… more staff were compelled by the anecdotal data and student reaction to the change. Teachers that were trying the new grading and assessment methods were excited and seeing positive results which bubbled over in many conversations that they had with other people, including parents. They were getting positive feedback from students and parents as they worked to refine the changes they had made. On top of all the in-house work teachers were doing, a small group of representatives from each subject area formed an assessment team with an ISD coach so they could dive deeper and have a team to work with and bounce ideas off of.

YEAR THREE: Before school started, all staff met in their departments to decide if they wanted to adopt common grading systems for the new school year. All departments adopted a common, new grading system for the new year with a majority of the final grade being comprised of summative assessments. The grading percentages were not common across department but were at least common within departments. The entire staff agreed on policies regarding retakes, extra credit, late work and cheating: We would all offer retakes on assessments, there would be no extra credit (extra learning opportunities but no “free” points), we would accept late work without docking points on the actual assignment (the points would be docked in the work habits part of everyone’s grade) and cheating would result in a temporary zero until the student could show learning in that area (and there would be office consequences). Also, at the end of the year we came to a consensus on a work habits rubric that every teacher will use every other week and include as 10% of their grade, making summative assessment 90% of their grade. So, at the end of the year we were able to build consensus for common percentages school wide. It's important to note that changing grading systems was never mandated by the administration.

WHERE WE ARE HEADED: We would like to agree upon our grading policy school-wide. We will move forward with consensus within our departments. We would also like to move to a common 0-4 grading scale. We are planning to develop a standards-based report card. As part of this discussion we have talked about eliminating GPA and having their transcripts reflect their proficiency on actual learning targets. We will separate the work habits score and the academic content score on the report card. The work habits score from each teacher will be combined into an overall score per semester and the students will earn a ¼ credit per year. This format will provide colleges and future employers with specific data on the competencies of our students.

Task: Would you be able to do something like this in your school? How would your “scaling-up” plan be different from these? Create your own plan. Include what you are going to do with a specific timeline and who is going to be involved. Also include how you are going to determine if the plan is working.