I’ve been writing lately about collecting student work in regards to our TPEP Student Growth Goals. Actually, of course, assessing student growth is a worthy endeavor in its own right, Student Growth Goals or not, but it’s nice to have two reasons to do something important.
In my first post I cautioned against the idea of using teacher-assessed writing scores, mostly because it’s so darned tempting to show growth that “might not be there.” My second post was an academic argument against relying on multiple-choice tests, basically because of our old friend regression, which can easily cloud analysis.
So what to do?
Might I suggest triangulation. It’s an old term that comes to us from navigation. As in ships. What they would do is use radar to measure the distance from their ship to three different points on land. Using those measurements, along with the known distances between those three points, they could figure out exactly where they were in the world. This picture might help, if you imagine a ship at the top of the two triangles:
Or maybe not. But don’t worry if geometry wasn’t your thing. It wasn’t mine either. But the analogy works like this: the best way to figure out where a student is and how much growth she’s made is by using multiple points of reference. In fact, our TPEP documentation even tells us to use multiple forms of data. But which ones?
For me, the big three are daily work, major assessments and projects.
Daily work is important. It shows how well a student can grind things out on schedule, which is an extremely important life skill. That doesn’t mean I necessarily grade all homework or in-class assignments, but I do keep track of who is and who isn’t getting them done as well as the degree to which they can consistently do them correctly. In math, this might consist of practice problems, exit slips or homework. In writing, this might be daily formative data or short assignments.
Major assessments are even more important. Generally speaking, this is pure individual work, usually of a summative nature, like a math test or a reading comprehension assessment. My personal rule of thumb is to make sure this isn’t a homework assignment, as you never know how much help a student might get.
Then there are projects. The messier the better. These come in all shapes and sizes: reports, stories, performance tasks, STEM posters, etc. With these things, the biggest challenge – at least for me – is to ascertain the degree to which a student completed the work independently, since projects can frequently find their way home. Or they can become a group effort.
But that’s the beauty of triangulation! You don’t have to rely solely on one project; trusting that it represents a student’s independent effort. You don’t have to count on a multiple-choice test and worry that a kid guessed his way to a good score. And you don’t have to worry about correcting every worksheet every assigned.
Everything counts. To a point. And when everything counts you’ll know where those kiddos really are.