What's a "profile of achievement"?It's like a baseball card that lists the batting average, runs batted in, and other data about a player without placing a value on performance. In order to evaluate a player's performance, you must factor in other information, such as: Is the player a rookie who has a low batting average in general, but a high average for a rookie? Therefore, for student performance you report about such things as absolute achievement, relative progress, scores for specific writing skills (not writing as a whole), and so on.
Should teachers trade in their traditional assessment methods for profiles of achievement?It's not "Yeah, portfolios! Boo, multiple choice!" or any other either/or choice. Good assessment is about expanding the assessment repertoire because no single form is sufficient. There are reliability and validity problems with each. Every method has its strengths and weaknesses, and its place.
In schools, teachers should report the profile of achievement and compare students to standards or norms. For example, a student in a second-grade class may be a year younger than classmates and therefore less experienced. There is no reason to compare this child flat out with others with no qualifying language or context of expectations. At the same time, teachers should report, for example, that a child who may not be a strong writer for his age has made progress in attitude and with some writing skills.
What are ways of putting students' performance in context?Many schools report performance on a novice-expert continuum. Teachers draw up a rubric that describes what a student should have mastered from the novice to the expert level, with steps delineated and explained along the way. Teachers then put students' learning into context. They can point out to parents, for example, "Here's where we placed your child on this continuum. The evidence we used to support our assessment will help you see why."
The same rubric also can be used to report individual progress. Teachers can say, for example, "Relative to other five-year-olds, your child is still behind. But, as you can see from the last assessment, she has made gains and we're happy with that progress."
How can teachers expand their assessment repertoire?
Begin where you know you have a mismatch between an outcome you value and the way you now assess it. For example, if you know your 20-question multiple-choice quiz on the Civil War is inadequate, experiment with adding another type of assessment that's rich and interesting. What have you got to lose? You're not tossing out the test. You're finding a way to fill in a gap. Also, give students scoring rubrics and other insight into what criteria is applied to assessment secrecy should be minimal and have kids practice peer review. Self-assessment and self-adjustment are at the heart of better performance.
If a school's policy is to give letter grades only, what can an individual teacher do?There's nothing to prevent teachers from expanding their modes of assessment while still living in a letter-grade world. Assessment reform is about getting different and richer information about students' performance, all of which teachers can factor into a grade. It's a matter of expanding your pile of evidence, not necessarily changing the grading system.
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