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Archive for December, 2019

Change is inevitable and with the influence of technology it happens faster today than ever before in history. The first mobile phone call was made 45 years ago April 3, 1973, but the first true smartphone actually made its debut in 1992. In less than three decades we have redefined the purpose of a phone to be a mobile computer and camera with phone capabilities as one of its many functions. Beyond the communications industry technology-influenced changes have had a great effect on the film industry, the record industry, the typewriter industry, the media industry, the photography industry, and many, many more. In every case a reevaluation took place to assess what each industry had to offer and how technology could improve their product. Some industries benefitted greatly by the change. Unfortunately, many others were deemed obsolete in our technology-driven culture, causing their demise rather than their transformation.

The influence of technology has been slow in changing the industry of education. The idea of reassessing and reevaluating the product of education is difficult when the product is not something that is tangible. The other complication is the many facets of the education industry that need to be affected in order for the slightest change to take place in the final product that might be described as an individual’s education. There is no one silver bullet that will fix or evolve the education system. It will take many advances in many areas to improve the overall outcome of an individual’s education. The big question is: If we can’t do all the needed changes at once, where do we begin in order to start the changes?

Why not consider using technology to make an innovative change in the way we report on student assessment? We need to look at how we do it now and then see if technology can improve things. Of course it might be beneficial enough just to reassess the method that we have been using for centuries, whether or not technology may improve it. There are two things that schools do that cause unwanted stress in a family for many. The first is homework, often a struggle to get kids to complete. The second is the report card. I have often said that report cards are only provided for some parents to have bragging rights. Of the two, reexamining the why and the how of report cards might be an easier task.

Generally speaking, most schools work off of four grading periods of eight to ten weeks each for the year. At the end of each quarter a report card is sent home with the quarterly grade and the final grade is provided on the final report card. Many schools have some form of interim progress reports that teachers can send home between report cards. In addition to the grade there is usually a set of comments teachers choose from to report on a student’s behavior, attitude, work ethic, and if he or she plays well with others. All of this is a subjective assessment and rarely gives an accurate description based on the limited choices of the pre-determined comment list. A common comment is “Doing Satisfactory Work”. The question is does “Satisfactory” mean the same to the teacher as it does to the parent?

Everyone who is familiar with this system is also aware that there are some teachers who are easy graders, and some who are hard graders. If that is true, we have to wonder, if there are three teachers teaching the same courses on the same grade level with two of them easy graders and one a hard grader, are all students being assessed equally? Should teachers be identified as such to give parents a choice in scheduling their kid?

I also wonder if report cards were devised to assess the marking period, or was the marking period devised to accommodate the report card? Eight to ten weeks is a short period of time for an educator with a student load of 150+ to learn, and accurately understand, and assess each student to meet the demands of the required report card grade and comments? Most quarterly grades are based on averages of test grades. Are there a required, or minimum number of grades that teachers adhere to in order to determine that quarterly grade? Of course the biggest question is how much of any grade is objective?

All of these should be considerations before reporting a student’s progress in learning to his or her parents. After all, that is the purpose of the report card. I question whether the report card in its current form using the current procedures accurately reflects a student’s learning?

We have technology that can record and communicate any file including text, audio, and video. This enables teachers to not only report on their observations, but they can include the actual work that led to those observations. This may take longer than ten weeks to develop, but schedules can be changed. Developing portfolios are far better indicators of a student’s learning than subjective assessments from teachers with limited time and prescribed assessment choices.

Portfolios also provide for self-assessment giving great insight to a student’s learning to the teacher and parents. Grades are a promise of potential, while portfolios are proof of accomplishment.

Technology can be very useful in communicating great amounts of feedback to parents in a timely fashion. It also simplifies the task of developing an individualized learning plan for each student. Simplify does not mean it makes it simple. It is a complex plan that addresses strengths and weaknesses of each student and provides a path to use the strengths to overcome the weaknesses. Again this is not accomplished in a ten-week period.

Just because we have done the same thing since the 1800’s, doesn’t mean it is still the best way to do it. We have different tools today than were available in the 1800’s. We have different needs as a society than we did in the 1800’s. We live in a tech-driven world that affects our perspective and our culture. Employing nineteenth Century solutions in a Twenty-first Century world doesn’t make sense for an industry that deals with learning and relevance. Let’s reexamine quarterly grading periods, as well as the way we observe and report student learning to parents.

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