Notes from the LSi Formative Assessment Conference – Day 1

Well. I took about 17 pages of notes from day 1 about the action-packed day 1 of the LSi Formative Assessment conference, so this summary is going to be a bit… challenging, I think. Here we go:

Day 1 was technically a “pre-conference” event, but it felt like most of the folks attending the conference (about 300?) are here already. Tom Guskey led a day-long talk/discussion about grading practices, and it was wide-ranging and useful. I like Dr. Guskey’s writing and thinking, and his 5 hour presentation addressed many of the tricky topics involved in classroom grading.

(note: these are slides from Dr. Guskey’s website – I don’t think they are exactly the slides he used, but they are close)

Grading and Reporting Effective Policies and Practices
Developing Standards-based Grading & Reporting Systems

I liked Dr. Guskey’s realistic emphasis on the complexity of discussions about grading practices. He emphasized that these discussions are personal, important, emotional, and touch on many aspects of school and district “systems.” He recommended that schools/districts start by discussing the purpose of grades, and think about the various ways we communicate that purpose: as you discuss purpose(s), think about how you communicate this in the gradebook, the report card, and the transcript. He didn’t say this, but it feels to me like we need to be honest with ourselves about how much “courage” (or “capital?”) we have at every level. If we want to talk about changes in grading, we need to ask ourselves if we have the will and autonomy to implement changes in our online gradebook system? In our report card? In student transcripts? If so, cool (maybe). If not, maybe we should wait until we have the will and autonomy to do so.

At every stage in the discussion, Dr. Guskey emphasized that we need to start with the PURPOSE of grades. There are several possible purposes:

  1. Communicate to parents
  2. Provide info to students about proficiency
  3. Select groups of students for instruction
  4. Provide incentives for students
  5. Evaluate effectiveness of programs
  6. Document effort or responsibility 

Grades can’t do meet all these purposes! There are trade-offs: if you want grades to accurately communicate about proficiency, your grades may not be able to evaluate the effectiveness of programs (you may not have the range/variability you need for that purpose), or document effort or responsibility. He recommended that we pick a few purposes, and be honest about the trade-offs.

Dr. Guskey then led us through some of the advice in his excellent book On Your Mark. Short summary: percentage or points grade based systems (the most commonly used systems in secondary schools) are… limited. This one hits pretty close to home for me: our district uses a percentage based system, and we’re not changing any time soon for various reasons. His arguments are compelling and well supported. I think his recommendation – changing report cards to allow teachers to assign separate grades/marks for Academic Proficiency, Process (work/study habits), and Progress (growth over time) – make a LOT of sense. And I don’t think my district will be able to do this any time soon. He ended this section of the talk with some great examples of how districts in Kentucky have been able to change their report cards to be more standards based and “humanized.” I admire their work. Example:

Here are T. Guskey’s 15 steps for developing a standards based reporting system. Good advice, I say:

  1. What is the purpose of the report card?
  2. How often will the report card be completed? (parents want it more often, teachers want it less often)
  3. Will the report card include individual standards for each grade level, or strands applicable across grade levels? (recommendation: put strands on report card, and standards in the gradebook) 
  4. How many standards/strands will be included for each subject area or course?
  5. Will they be end of year or benchmark standards? (if you choose end of year, student performance won’t look good at the end of 1st quarter) 
  6. What product strands will be reported? (when you are developing rubrics, don’t worry about proficient – tell me what you expect at the top Rob – whoa!) 
  7. What process strands will be reported? 
  8. Will progress be reported?
  9. How many perf levels will be reported per standard?
  10. How will levels be labeled?
  11. Will teachers comments be included? Class and student?
  12. How will information be arranged on the report?
  13. What are parents expected to do with the info? 
  14. What policies need to be revised in order to support the new report card? 
  15. How will parents/families be involved in revisiting the report card?

The day ended with a fabulous “dream team” panel: T. Guskey, D. Wiliam, S. Brookhart, and J. McTighe. Their discussion was wide ranging, fascinating, and too complex to summarize here, so I’ll just list some of my favorite ideas:

  • D. Wiliam: It’s easy to be critical of grading systems, but if you look at them from the inside, you understand why.
  • J. McTighe: Think about means and ends – practice is a means to an end. You need to be really clear about the end, and even if the practice is different than the end (e.g. running through tires) You give them feedback that relates to the eventual goal, not that specific practice. Don’t give them feedback on how well they run through the tires, give them feedback that will help them run better in the game based on what you saw after they run through the tires
  • D. Wiliam: When teachers observe other teachers, the 1st question is “how’d I do?” The best administrators respond “How well did you think you did?” If they know that, your job is done. The goal if feedback is to make itself redundant.
  • T. Guskey: be careful with the word potential. You don’t know what a student’s potential is. D. Wiliam: why be limited by your potential?
  • S. Brookhart: I would be happy if districts just took the current system and made grades more reflective of learning. If you can’t do SBG, just do what you can do well.
  • J. McTighe: what is WRONG with SBG? They are still based on grade level standards, and those grade level standards are norm referenced. Let’s do what they do in athletics or music – some up with a learning progression 

There’s a lot more to say, but I don’t think I’ll say it here. I’m excited for day 2!

2 thoughts on “Notes from the LSi Formative Assessment Conference – Day 1

    1. Thanks Matt! I’m challenging myself to summarize each day of the conference – we’ll see how it goes 🙂 By the way, I think you would dig this conference.

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