New Assessment Scheme: Details, Pros, Cons

Update: the most recent version of my grading policy has its own page, “How I Grade,” on a tab above.

The new assessment and reporting plan is done… for now.  Here’s the status so far.

The Rubric — Pro

If you score some level-3 or level-4 questions, you don’t get credit for them until you’ve finished the level-2 skills.  It doesn’t invalidate the more advanced work you’ve done; you don’t have to necessarily do it all over again — it’s sort of held in the bank, to be cashed in once the level 2 stuff is complete.  It doesn’t penalize those who choose a non-linear path, but it doesn’t let basic skills slip through the cracks.

Choosing Skills — Con

Oh boy, this is definitely ridiculous.  As you can see, there are way too many.  It actually got worse since my first draft, peaking  in version 0.6 and coming back down in the one linked above.  These guidelines helped me beat it back.  I’m telling myself that the level 2 skills will repeat in each topic, and that it won’t end up being 100 items in my gradebook.  On the other hand, this program has 6 semesters-worth of material crammed into 4 semesters-worth of time.  It is like being carpet-bombed with information.  And yet, when our grads get hired, there is always more their employers wish they knew.  The previous grading system didn’t create the problem; this new system will not solve it.  The whole project would be frankly impossible without SBG Gradebook, so bottom-of-my-heart thanks to Shawn Cornally and anyone else involved.

Re-assessment — Pro

Re-assessment can be initiated by me (quizzes) or by the student (by showing me that they’ve done something to improve).  Grades can go down as well as up.  I took to heart the suggestions by many people that one day per week should be chosen for reassessment.  We’re blessed with 3-hour shop periods, which is typically more time than the students need to get a lab exercise done.  So shop period isn’t just for reassessing shop things any more; you can also reassess written things then too.

Synthesis — We’ll see

Some synthesis skills I consider essential, like “determine whether the meter or the scope is the best tool for a given measurement”.  Those are  level-3 skills, with their individual parts included as level-2 skills.  That means you have to do them to pass.  It also means I have to explicitly teach students not only how to use a scope and a meter, but how todetermine“.  Seriously, they don’t know.  Sometimes I weep in despair that it’s possible to graduate from high school, maybe even get a job, work for a few years, have a couple of kids, and still not know how to make a decision strategically.  (Or at least, not be able to call on that skill while you are physically located inside a classroom).  Other days I stop tilting at windmills and start teaching it, helping students recognize situations where they have already done it, and trying to convince them that in-school and everywhere-else are not alternate universes.

Other forms of synthesis are ways of demonstrating excellence but not worth failing someone over; these become level-4 or 5 skills.  It still tells the student where they are strong and where they can improve.  It tells me and their next-semester teachers how much synthesis they’ve done.  That’s all I need.

This directly contradicts my earlier plan to let students “test out” of a skill.  But, because level 2 and level 5 are now different skills, I don’t have to write 5 versions of the question for each skill.  I think that brings the workload (for the students and me) back down to a reasonable level, allowing me to reassess throughout the term.  The quizzes are so cumulative that I don’t think an exam would add anything to the information.

Retention — Too soon to tell

It’s important to me to know how you’re doing today, not last month.  That means I reserve the right to reassess things any time, and your score could very well go down. This is bound up with the structure of the course: AC Circuits has 6 units, each of which builds directly on the previous one (unlike a science class where, for example, unit 1 might be atoms and unit 2 might be aardvarks).  Con: a missed skill back in unit 1 will mess you up over and over.  Pro: provides lots of practise and opportunities to work the same skill from different angles.  With luck, Unit 5 will give you some insight on Unit 2 and allow you to go back and fix it up if needed.

Feedback — Pro, I think

This will be tough, because there’s not enough time.  The concepts in these courses are complex and take a long time to explain well.  The textbook is a good reference for looking up things you already know but not much good at explaining things you don’t know.  That means I talk a lot in class.  At best, I get the students participating in conversations or activities or musical re-enactments (don’t laugh — “Walk like… an ee-lec-tron” is one of my better lesson plans) but it leaves precious little time for practice problems.  I’ll try to assign a couple of problems per night so we can talk about them in class without necessarily doing them in class.

I’ve also folded in extra feedback to this “weekly portfolio” approach I stole from Jason Buell.  Each student has a double-pocket folder for their list of topic skills.  There are a couple of pieces of looseleaf in the brads too.  When they’ve got something they either want feedback on (maybe some especially-troublesome practice problems that we didn’t have time to review in class) or that they want to submit, they can write a note on the looseleaf, slide the documentation into the pocket, and leave it in my mailbox.  I either do or do not agree that it sufficiently demonstrates skills X, Y, and Z, and write them back.  We did a bit of this with a work-record book last semester, and the conversations we had in writing were pretty cool.   I’m looking forward to the “message-board” as our conversation goes back and forth.  I hope to keep the same folders next year, so we can refer back to old conversations.

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