Grade [Spin]Doctors: Playing by our School’s Rules

A colleague (let’s just say that there are some who call him……Tim?) asked about using my Grading & Assessment materials and how to make them work for him. I’ve written about a complete overhaul, as well as what to do when you have certain grading categories imposed, but Tim’s situation was different. He was prepared to go full-MagisterP-Grading of only Proficiency and DEA, but had a grading weight scheme imposed upon him of 70/30 (i.e. 70% Summative, and 30% Formative). I won’t discuss how arbitrary these numbers are, or even use the word asinine to criticize such a policy (especially when it comes to language acquisition), but it is what it is for Tim. Let’s look at an option I presented to him…

Summative Proficiency = 70%
Formative Proficiency   = 20%
Formative DEA                = 10%

What’s The Difference?

Numbers and words, that’s all. This, essentially, gave back 20% of the grade to Proficiency working under the school’s imposed scheme and their labels. A scam? We’re just playing by their rules using their terms, and can back it all up.

The best analogy of Formative vs. Summative assessments that I’ve heard is that tasting the soup while cooking is Formative, and your guests tasting the soup once it’s served is Summative; it’s still soup. While cooking, you can add spices and adjust as needed (i.e. when teaching provide remediation, reteach a concept, retest, etc.). Soup is soup and Proficiency is Proficiency. This analogy through the lense of language acquisition means that we can make minor adjustments (e.g. provide more input, etc.), but Proficiency is not gonna change much throughout the year, especially at higher levels (which is why I have the same Proficiency goal of Intermediate Low for years 3 and 4). There is actually waaaaay less that we can do (as language teachers or acquisition facilitators) other than make class more compelling, and provide lots of material for students to listen to and read. So, for language acquisition, the distinction between Formative and Summative is moot at this stage of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research. We have very little control.

Besides, the Proficiency rubrics are designed realistically so students focus more on a language experience and less on a grade. Students won’t acquire more language just because we’ve switched grading systems, but the conditions and environment in which to do so certainly are affected. In the scheme above, Summative Proficiency is whatever you must call it and whatever assignment(s) you must create in the gradebook. I just read that some schools require NO FEWER than 3 summative assessments per grading term. Averaging in education is bad, and very very bad when it comes to Proficiency, so people…ssssssssssSTOP it! Formative Proficiency is what you were doing before…one assignment in the grade book updated when a student has given you enough evidence of improvement. It’s possible that we’ve assigned the rubric level to the language course so realistically that students are meeting the goal and getting 95s and 100s anyway, which means we’re not updating much at all. It’s also possible that we’ve identified a student who is processing much more slowly, and are using a lower Proficiency rubric in his/her case, so they are probably getting a 95, too. No one said that learners learn at the same rate, and the same goes for the rate of language acquisition. It’s about time grades reflect individual progress.

What does all this mean for Tim?

At the end of the grading term, Tim just copies the scores from the Formative Proficiency assignment column over to the Summative Proficiency one. **Updated 8.19.17** More specifically, the process is quite simple; there is a single assignment in the gradebook with the category names dated at the end of the term. Periodically, students will self-assess using the rubric, which will go into the 20% “Formative Proficiency” category. You can do this many times throughout the quarter, and just update the score (rather than create a new assignment that will average with the old one). At the end of the term, the students will self-assess again, but this time the score goes into the 80% “Summative Proficiency” category. This, essentially, gets the classroom back to being graded 100% on Proficiency, which is the most-realistic and least-restrictive way to represent language acquisition.

1) Why?
It’s the current measure of where a student is at the moment the Summative grades are due.
2) How to justify?
Evidence from each student’s portfolio is used to determine a grade; Tim should have plenty of physical examples to look at and produce if necessary.
3) What makes it different from the Formative Proficiency score?
Not much other than it’s awarded at the end of the instructional period [or insert your school’s working definition of “Summative”]. This should resemble the Formative Proficiency grade anyway since we constantly update that one throughout the grading term.

These systems are all designed so you spend time on what researchers have found to have the number one highest impact on student learning…YOUR TEACHING. So go to a conference to hone your CI skills, read blogs, join Ben Slavic’s PLC, ask questions and rattle cages on moreTPRS (oh wait, that might just be me), and focus on creating a great language experience for your students. Don’t let grading get in the way.

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One thought on “Grade [Spin]Doctors: Playing by our School’s Rules

  1. Pingback: Grading & Reporting Schemes | Magister P.

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