Over the past couple of years, I watched several colleagues shift how they approach both teaching and assessing in the math classroom. There is a movement in our school to get away from clumped units and percentage marks, and move to a scaled number. This of course looks a little different in each classroom. While some teachers move to cycles, others dismantle grouped outcomes altogether. The scales in each classroom vary from a 1-4 scale to a 1-6 scale. The rubric for each scale may be worded differently or the numbers may have slightly different meanings. But the general message from each of these rooms is mostly the same: Stop putting boxes around units (and in student’s minds), and stop reporting a percentage that is ambiguous to students in regards to where they are and where they need to go.
I was inspired by my fellow colleagues to move in this same direction. I spent time over the summer thinking about how to implement this in my classroom. September rolled around and I still felt I wasn’t ready for the transition. However, I find if you wait to be ready, you never actually get there. So I decided to jump right in with both feet – well actually, it was more like a cannonball mess of a splash.
While I sometimes feel like I am a beginning teacher again, I quickly realized the benefits of what I was doing for my students and for myself. I have removed units and weave my way through the curriculum where I see connections between outcomes. The first thing I noticed about this approach is that I have stopped saying things like, Remember when we talked about this two units ago, well it also applies here, or, It’s no different than what we did last week, it’s just in a new unit. I have noticed that students’ minds are more free to see the connections between outcomes. Students are no longer thinking, Thank goodness that unit is over, I can forget about it now. In my classroom, nothing ever ends.
I told my students I would be marking their outcomes on a 1-6 scale, and they would receive no percentages from me. Ever. (Except on the report card of course, which is a different discussion.) There was certainly some push back; a panicked over-achiever asking, How will I know how well I did then?! I argue that a percentage does not tell you how well you did on each individual outcome, but more so how many mistakes you managed to avoid (or make) overall. Students who see a 76% on a test do not naturally tick off which outcomes they need to improve on. With scaled assessment, students can actually see how well they did on each outcome, allowing them to come in for review and then challenge an outcome they did not do well on. Students have a google sheet with the course outcomes so they can monitor their progress. I take the three most recent pieces of evidence for each outcome to attain their grade. I do not limit how many times they wish to challenge each one.
I also have three General Learning Outcomes (GLO’s) for each assessment: Develop Number Sense, Mathematical Communication, and Mathematical Accuracy. With the 6 point scale and the GLO’s, I find I look at students’ assessments much differently than I used to. Before when I tallied up marks and calculated a percentage, I would look for mistakes and drop the grade accordingly. Now I look for how well the students understand an outcome. I feel that a student who understands how to add two mixed numbers together, but makes a mistake by dropping a negative sign halfway through the question, should not be told they don’t know the process for adding mixed numbers. The student would receive a six for understanding how to add fractions, but would score lower on the GLO Mathematical Accuracy. I feel this communicates very clearly what a student understands and where they need to improve.
Overall this has been an eye opening experience and one I am still trying to get a grip on, but intend not to let slip out of my hand.
SRSS Staff Author: Jeff Dykerman