What's the big deal with assessment and grading?

In the middle school, we have chosen to use an assessment and grading system often referred to as "standards based assessment and reporting"  rather than a more traditional grading system.

One of the main reasons we utilize this system is that it sets both teacher and students free from agonizing over points! Instead, everyone can focus on the learning.  Students are encouraged to ask: "What do I know?" "How can I show my teacher that I know it?" "What areas do I still need to work on?" "How can I understand those areas better?"

When students know what areas they struggle with, they are better able to focus on those areas and ask for help!

Meanwhile, teachers ask: "What do my students know?" "What other opportunities can I give the students to show me their learning?" "How can I help them better understand the material they are struggling with?"

When the teacher has a good idea of what his or her students know (and what they are still struggling with), the teacher can do a better job of planning where the class will go next!

We believe that when students pass a class, their grade should mean something more than a letter or percentage - it should directly reflect their learning! Of course, we cannot see into each student's brain to truly know whether or not they understand the material, so we rely upon demonstrated understanding - the student's ability to show us that they understand the material. There are lots of different ways to show understanding: we might have a conversation, write or draw or build something, or a variety of other tasks.

At Westside, the whole middle school uses the same words and phrases to talk about our understanding of the learning goals (also called "standards") that each teacher has identified for their classes - words like "developing," "proficient," and "exceeds."  See the previous post for a more detailed description of these terms.

With this system, the first assessment is only the beginning - a Developing doesn't mean, "Oh, well, I guess I'll never understand," it prompts the question, "What can I do to improve my understanding?" So if the student is not yet proficient in a given learning goal, they should talk to their teacher about what they can do to improve their understanding!

This is one of the things we like best: students are encouraged to focus on learning and keep trying until they get it! This is quite a different focus from points-based systems, which often have the effect of making students ask, "What can I do for extra credit?" rather than, "How can I understand this better?" And then, once they get it - they earn full credit! We recognize that all students learn differently - it's okay if it takes one person a little longer to learn the material than it took another.  We're all headed to the same place.