We value what we measure

I’m waiting for the tire place to finish putting new snow tires on my car. My belly is full and I am well caffeinated, and I feel like writing. The past two weeks have been really satisfying and a lot of really good stuff has happened at my school. After lot of hard work we have rolled our new revised report card formats from K to 6. My involvement has been with the grade 6 report which we started re-thinking last spring.

‘You value what you measure’ is the thought that has been bouncing around my brain for the past 6 months. We initially set out to re-design our grade 6 report card so that our reporting was more in line with our IB assessment procedures. When we first started the process my main aim was to include more information about the criteria and descriptors that we use in the classroom to assess learning. What I learned is that when you start to change what you measure, you open the proverbial ‘can of worms’.

We started the process by looking at other school’s IB report card formats and eventually settled on one that we liked. Once we created our own draft version and tried filling it out we started having other conversations. We realised that we could do better than a 5 point effort scale. Using the IB’s excellent Approaches to Learning articulation as a guide we parsed ‘effort’ into three more specific and measurable attributes: approach to learning, organisation (self and time management) and engagement in learning activities. With that done we realised that we needed words to describe student progress in these areas that emphasized progress and room for growth, not the impression of a static judgement. We borrowed the words extending, applying, developing and emerging from our school’s IB Primary Years Program.

Next we revisited our descriptors for each of the Approaches to Learning. I was amazed at how many iterations of this process it took to really drill down to useful descriptors that could be used to give students and parents useful information to act on. I am quite proud of what we produced, but also know that as we start to use it in the classroom it will end up undergoing more modifications. Which is as it should be.

Probably the most important and exciting part of our new report card is that we are moving away from an emphasis on cruching all the nuanced complexity of learning down into a single letter or number. Instead each teacher is reporting out on student’s progress as measured against the variety of IB criteria that we use in our classrooms. Initially my enthusiasm for this initiative was all about getting away from our student’s obsession with the magical cut off mark that defines them as either an A or B student. As we progressed with our report redesign however, I started to realise something more magical. By reporting using criteria and descriptors we were shifting the report card from a box that we were putting our students into, towards being a tool for describing the process of their learning; a guide to help them (and their parents) understand where they are now, and where they need to go next with their learning.

Changing what we are measuring is also changing the conversations we are having. The conversations are now about the criteria and indicators that we are using to describe learning. Are they clear? Do they describe what we want them to describe? Do the students understand them? How do we collect good evidence to use for making judgements about student learning? How can we craft learning experiences that allow students to demonstrate sophisticated levels of understanding?

So we now have an exciting new report and a very useful set of modified criteria to inform our student’s learning and our conversations with parents. But more importantly, we are having all the difficult, challenging and exciting conversations that we need to have to meet the needs of our students in this constantly changing and evolving time that we live in.

Photo by Ben(Falcifer) on Flickr


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