- Lea's Blog

Excerpts from an article by Linda Flanagan

As most parents know, kids respond emotionally to the grades they receive — and well beyond the jubilation that goes with an A+ or the despair that accompanies a D. When Jessie, an eighth-grader, got an uncharacteristically low score on a Spanish test, she felt not only embarrassed — “because I’d never done that badly before” — but lousy as well: “I didn’t feel as good about myself,” she said.

A more typical teenage response to grades, especially bad ones? Fear. “My friends get so caught up in grades,” Jessie said. When they underperform, their first reaction is: “My parents are going to kill me!”

The trouble with these extreme emotional reactions to grades is that students’ knowledge of a subject is tied to their experience of the grade, says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, associate professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. Powerful emotions attached to grades drown children’s inherent interest in any given subject. When kids care mainly about grades, they’re devoting more mental resources to the assessment than to the actual subject matter.

If grades were a pure reflection of learning, students wouldn’t be graded on whether they did their homework. For example, in classes where homework makes up 20 percent of a student’s grades, even achieving 100 percent on every test — and so demonstrating complete understanding of a subject — won’t guarantee an A.

Starr Sackstein, a veteran teacher in Flushing, New York, and author of Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School, realized that she had started to use grades as a tool to control her students: For every day a paper came in past the deadline, for example, she’d deduct five points. She also started to recoil when she noticed students flipping to the back of papers she’d spent hours marking up, just to see their score. Sackstein understood how powerful grades could be to students. A self-described grade-grubber, she decided to change the way she evaluated students to maximize their learning by giving up grades.

Sackstein started slowly and worked to get student buy-in. She advised her students that they were going to figure out together how to improve their learning and evaluation, and told everyone they could get an A as far as she was concerned. She dropped cumulative assessments entirely — “because we have so much access to information all the time, it’s not a skill we need to test” — and invited students to set their own goals and develop their own standards. Sackstein then used everything the students did in class to measure them against their own goals. “I’m not determining what they need; they are. I’m just a reader giving feedback,” she said. Students have responded to her methods, because assessments are more personal and she provides abundant opportunities for them to express themselves.

“Grades have the ability to make kids feel stupid or smart, and that’s a huge power,” she said. Teachers are human, she added, and will respond emotionally and sometimes arbitrarily to different kids and various types of work. When students define themselves positively or negatively by those judgments, they cede control over their well-being to someone — a teacher — who may not understand them.

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Lea's Learning Analytics Blog

Learning analytics, educational data mining, formative assessment - all recent buzz words in educational research. In principle, the idea is to find theoretical frameworks, models, procedures, and smart tools to collect, aggregate, analyze, reason on and visualize large scale educational data. LEA’s BOX is a research and development project funded by the European Commission. The project aims at (a) making educational assessment and appraisal more goal-oriented, proactive, and beneficial for students, and (b) at enabling formative support of teachers and other educational stakeholders on a solid basis of a wide range of information about learners. That means, LEA’s BOX is a learning analytics toolbox that is intended to enable educators to perform competence-centered, multi-source learning analytics. More info at http://www.leas-box.eu!


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