This is the struggle I’m having right now. I wrote a few posts ago about giving up math tests in my grade 9 math classroom, and switching to using a learning progression and level checks within my classroom as my main assessment tool. So far, I’m loving the change in the feeling of the room with this reframing of instruction and assessment. Reframing my assessment led to a reframing of my instructional strategies, as I knew that it was. Anyway, the challenge I’m facing is that now I’m using a learning progression (what kids CAN do, rather than language that evaluates the task , as a rubric typically does), putting a grade to it as a level of achievement is even more challenging. Now while students are working I’m looking for where they are on the progression, and I record that level of understanding and learning. But grades? Well, they don’t fit into this system. I’m now trying to mash together two different main ideas — are we looking for evidence of learning in our classrooms, or are we looking for levels of achievement in our classrooms. And are they the same thing? I used to think it was the same thing, this achievement based notion, that it was evidence of learning that I was gathering. But really, it was evidence of doing, of performing almost. Now, I feel like I’m looking at my students and what is happening in the classroom with totally different eyes — I’m looking for growth, for what they are demonstrating to me in the moment, what they are talking about, what they are questioning. (Yesterday, during our lesson about square roots someone asked me if we could take the square root of a negative number….and what the square root of -1 was…… I love these kind of questions). Is looking for these things the same thing as looking for levels of achievement?
The other thing that I’m encountering is that as I’m spiralling my way through the curriculum, I may only be asking them to meet Level 3 on the learning progression at a particular time — and so, my level of achievement needs to reflect that as well. If there are achieving at the highest level that I have asked them to, that means that they are at the highest level of achievement on our school’s achievement scale. The more I think about it, the more incompatible I’m finding grading and learning. This is simply confirming what I have known for a long time….learning and grading don’t go together. No answers to any of this as I write, in fact, I feel more icky about it now the more I think about it. I want my classroom to be about learning, that’s the call, that’s the ask. But at the end of it, I have to somehow put a number on what a student knows. Which just seems more and more absurd the longer I teach, the longer I am on this journey.