Ken O'Connor

Teachers are effectively linking an increasingly broad range of assessment and evaluation approaches with their teaching to improve learning. The nest stage is linking this broad-based classroom assessment to grading practices in order to make grades meaningful. Participants will examine grading practices and principles that capitalize on these assessment approaches, encourage effective learning, and support student success.

Dr. Ken O'Connor is an educational consultant. He wa formerly the Curriculum Coordinator with the Toronto District School Board in Ontario, Canada. His responsibilities included student assessment, evaluation and geography. His teaching background includes over 30 years of experience form Grades 7 through 12 in six schools in Ontario and Victoria, Australia

Ken focused his presentation on September 27 around an essential question: How confident are you that the grades students get in your school are: consistent, accurate, meaningful, and supportive of learning? How soon in the school year should we give summary grades? Do we have enough evidence? Interim reports should be anecdotal rather than achievement. What is the impact early in the year if students receive low scores? What is the best organizer for tracking student achievement, grading, and reporting? O'Connor believes we need to consider standards. And/ or learning goals for each course / subject / grade. Another key issue is: How do we crunch numbers? What rules do we have in assessment?

When referring to change process there are three maxims of change: 1. Adapt don't adopt; 2. Start small; 3. Work together. We should focus on 1-3 things that would make a difference with our students. Collaboration is key if we want to become effective.

Thomas Guskey Communicating Student Learning "… grading practices are not the result of careful thought or sound evidence, rather they are used because teachers experienced these practices a students and, having little training or experience with other options, continue their use."

What are our beliefs around "fairness?" Fairness is about equal opportunity, not uniformity. We need to be clear about our outcomes if we want success for our students.

Students need to have success experiences. We need to motivate them.

Ken spoke about purposes for grading. We need to know our terminology in order to have purposeful dialogue. "Marks" is what we put on individual students' papers and grades are the summary on a report card.

  • Communicate the achievement status of students to parents, students, and others.
  • Provide information that students can use for self-evaluation
  • Select, identify or group students for certain educational paths or programs.
  • Provide incentives to learn.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of instructional programs.

We need to have a clear sense of what we are communicating and that we have a shared value about grading and achievement. Perspectives on grading involve professional dialogue. Ken summed up school as a learning game not a grading game.

We need to emphasize growth and achievement. Our goal should be to have as many students as possible to be successful. We need to assess the students at their working level and eventually they should be getting better at their level. If we want our grades to be accurate and consistent then we must have clear standards.

In How to Grade for Learning , O'Connor presents eight guidelines for successful assessment at any grade level.

Use individual achievement as the only basis for grades. O'Connor contends that to have meaning, grades must be pure measures of each student's achievement of the learning goal.

  • Sample student performances, do not mark everything for grades. A student's most recent effort should be reported, not his trials to reach that level.
  • Grade in pencil. Keep records so they may be updated easily.
  • Relate grading procedures to learning goals.
  • Crunch numbers carefully. With this guideline, O'Connor challenges teachers to question their practice of simply averaging marks to arrive at a final grade.
  • Use criterion-referenced standards to distribute grades and marks.
  • Use quality assessment and properly record evidence of achievement. The author discusses the importance of record-keeping procedures, presenting several methods of indicating grades and recording marks.
  • Discuss assessment, including grading, with students at the beginning of instruction. O'Connor encourages a clear, written grading policy that is shared with students and parents at the outset. He goes on to explain: "when students know how they will be assessed and especially when they have been involved in the assessment decisions, the likelihood of student success is increased greatly."
  • Grades should be based on achievement and on individual achievement.

In order for our students to experience success then we need to provide them with several opportunities for learning. An important part of the assessment plan is how much evidence and which assessments are critical to being able to determine student achievement / grades. To have quality assessment we do need a variety of activities in each of our terms. We need to gather evidence from observations, conversations and products. We must emphasize quality not quantity.

Ken believes we must meet these five quality standards for assessment if we are going to be successful.

  • appropriate and clear target
  • clear purpose
  • method matched to target and purpose
  • appropriate sample of the learning domain
  • control for all sources of interference

The best thing we can do is to ensure our grades convey meaningful, accurate information about student achievement. Students need to know how we are assessing them. We can involve students in establishing criteria. We do have students taking responsibility for their learning through student led conferences. Alfie Kohn sums up the three C's of motivation: Collaboration (learning together), Content (Things worth knowing) and Choice (providing choice in our assessment and assignments).

Ken ended the day with a tribute to Einstein: " Doing the same thing over and over and expecting things to improve." He encouraged us to think about our assessment practices. "Adapt not adopt with our new eyes."