Linking Assessment with Reporting to Parents

A recent staff meeting discussion got me thinking about how teachers link their assessment to their formal reports.

With a mind to reporting time, staff were questioning the current Department of Education guidelines regarding the allocation of A to E grades. There were quite a range of opinions floated:
[quote]…an A is given to students who are working two years above current year level.

…an A is given to students who are working one year above current year level.

…an A is given to students who are achieving well above their current year level[/quote] It really hit home a couple of points for me: firstly, teachers really should be all on the same page with reporting, and have a clear understanding of what each of the A to E grades looks like; secondly, thanks to the numerous exemplars and descriptors about what a “C Grade descriptor” looks like, there is little in the way of what a B or an A looks like (discounting isolated exemplars, which while extremely useful for quantifying grades, only give you very small snapshots of the curricula).

Outcomes for Assessment (2006)

One of my first Assessment Profiles – based on the levelled Outcomes and Standards Framework from 2006

Academic Profile (2009)

Outcomes for Assessment Map 2009

For me, it’s really important that there is a seamless transition from my assessment to my records and then on to my grade allocation.  I want to be able to sit down already knowing where my students sit, and have the evidence to back it up without having to explain complex marking systems or the like to parents who enquire.  Being a primary teacher, I use a criteria-based assessment to judge my students.  I have tried adapting criteria-based assessment to numerical methods in the past (mainly to force my square-peg method into the round-hole solutions of Edmodo or spreadsheet record-keeping), but always end up drifting back to what works best for me – a document for each student which lists the outcomes, and allows me to record when and how often they demonstrate their understanding of these outcomes.

Getting back to the staff meeting conversation… I began to reflect on my understanding of grade allocation.  Three years ago, when I was team-teaching with a colleague in a Year 6/7 class, I redeveloped my assessment techniques to produce an “Outcomes for Assessment” document so we were both on the same page with assessment.  It followed the reporting guidelines at the time – students working AT their year level were a “C”, students working in aspects of the year above were a “B”, students demonstrating success in all (or most) of the year above were an “A”.  My document outlined the outcomes necessary for each student both above and beyond their year level (eg a Year 7 student would have Year 6, 7 and 8 outcomes listed), so I could record achievement of At, Above and if necessary, below so I could demonstrate where a student was sitting and what they needed to do to move forward.

It worked, and I was happy.  Come reporting time, my document showed very clearly which students were at a Year 7 level, and which students were above and below.  And I hadn’t really changed in in three years except to re-create it to reflect the Australian Curriculum outcomes for English, Maths, Science and History.  I even adapted one for the draft Geography outcomes just to see how it fit.

So, heading to the DOE Curriculum Support page, I was a little shocked to see that I sat in the “wrong” corner of my grade allocation thinking.  I felt a little cheated… why hadn’t anyone told me!!! More to to point, why hadn’t I kept abreast with things and checked more regularly to see if what I was doing was correct? My bad.  This document was updated in May 2012, so I actually missed the boat for last semester’s reports…

Department of Education Grade Descriptors

A  – Excellent
The student demonstrates achievement that has greatly exceeded the expected standard. Their achievement is well beyond what is expected at this year level.

B – Good
The student demonstrates achievement that exceeds the expected standard.

C – Satisfactory
The student demonstrates achievement at the expected standard. The student is able to progress to the next level of learning.

D – Limited
The student demonstrates achievement below the expected standard. The student demonstrates a quality of learning that is adequate for progression but will still need additional support or assistance to progress.

E – Very Low
The student demonstrates achievement below the minimum acceptable for this year level.

And more to the point, this extract from the Frequently Asked Questions section:

Assessment Overview (2011)

Electronic Outcomes for Assessment Overview, based on Australian Curriculum – 2011

[quote]In order to gain an understanding of what constitutes an A or B in a year level, should I refer to the C Grade Descriptors and A-E Exemplars in the year above the one I teach?
No. The award of a final grade in each learning area is dependent on content knowledge and an understanding of the concepts, and competence in processes and skills relevant to that particular year level. For example, a student does not need to be achieving at a year 7 level to be awarded a grade of A in year 6. A grade A (excellent) in year 6 should be determined by the work done in that particular year only. The awarding of an A or B does not necessarily indicate that a student is working at the year level above, rather it indicates that they are exceeding the standard set for the year level they are in.[/quote]
Outcomes for Assessment (2011)

Electronic Outcomes for Assessment input sheet, 2011

These are very different interpretations, and require different thinking about assessment and reporting.  My first thoughts were that it doesn’t change my classroom teaching methodology at all – I’m still scaffolding my students like I always do – but what I’m measuring and the feedback I’m providing to my students and parents is going to need to change.

I began researching.  I found very, very little on-line conversations from West Australian teachers about their interpretations.  Victorian teachers from my understanding were making the same transition. My big question still remained however: What measures can I use to indicate my student is exceeding the standard set for the year level?

The Department only puts out C Grade Descriptors. Am I again to be left to my own judgement to decide what constitutes an A or a B?  I think my answer has come from (somewhat remarkably), a parent forum at essentialkids.com.au, by the user HOWDO (09/06/12 12:12pm):

essentialkids
In all cases a grade is given against the year level they are working at. As are given for higher knowledge and understanding and application to the learning in new contexts.

For example completing a sheet of multiplication algorithms is not a new context. It is showing that the students can repeat the same operation in the same way and perform multiplication. Using multiplication to solve a problem involving a new situation/s and scenarios enables the child to show higher order thinking skills and *that* is actually what is expected at grade level. The more you show you understand this grade level expectation and in more complex ways the more likely you are to move to As and Bs.

The General Capabilities are what students are required to demonstrate understanding and a high level of competence in to receive an A grade. So in mathematics, to get an A, students will be able to compare, contrast, evaluate and so on and demonstrate that understanding in new contexts. It will still be at year level however in that if the requirement at year level is to work up to 10 (Foundation) then the child doesn’t get an A simple because they can count to 100. Getting a A involves being able to work with the numerals 0-9 and count correctly, subitise, connect them to the names in words and use the numbers in increasingly complex ways and in new situations. For example if a child can count to ten and point to each numeral and word as you ask them they are working at D level. There is no new application there. If they can talk about, explain and apply their number knowledge to a new situation, for example count the number of spots on a ladybug out in the garden, then they are beginning to work at C level. When they start to talk about how many is in one group and how that differs to how many is in another group and find number in the world, subitise in real life situations then they are beginning to work above C level. They are still working with the same set of numbers and skills but applying them in increasingly different ways and in new situations.

This appears to me to link closely to what the WA Department documents are stating, and give me some direction for not only how to incorporate the General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum into my planning and assessment.  It is time to change rewrite my “Outcomes for Assessment” document to reflect this thinking, and this could well be the direction to take.

In Year 6, students MUST BE ABLE TO:  achieve this aspect
In Year 6, students MIGHT BE ABLE TO: apply it to these contexts
If students apply this aspect to some of the contexts, they are exceeding the expected standard.  If they can apply it to all or most of the contexts, their achievement is well beyond what is expected at that year level. A diagnostic plotting map like this would allow me to identify where my students need improvement, and target students’ next progression.
Questions that arise from this reflection:
  1. Am I on the right track?  Will this allow me to correctly assess and report on my students according to the West Australian Department of Education guidelines?
  2. The General Capabilities are organised into bi-yearly statements – does this affect how I should view Year 5 or 7 achievements?
  3. Is this a valid use of the General Capabilities?
  4. Is there a concern that this style of assessment “caps” the learning of students?  Will teachers stop teaching gifted students content from above their year level because they look to find more and more contexts for the students to demonstrate achievement in?

feature image source: wikimedia

6 Comments

  1. …and the more I explore the General Capabilities, the less I am convinced that they can be tied neatly into an assessment context. The purpose of them was to deliver continuity to the writing of the different learning areas in literacy, numeracy etc…

    Further reading on the NSW Ed site defines a “B” as being able to transfer to other contexts, and an “A” as being able to transfer to NEW contexts.

    The main message I think is for each piece of assessment – can they demonstrate achievement? At level. Can they demonstrate transfer of skill to another context? Beyond level.

    My task will be to build an assessment method that allows me to build a picture of student achievement based on these understandings.

    Reply

  2. Just stumbled across your website – brilliant!
    Some very interesting points on grading. We are in the same boat in the secondary phase. Having had extensive interaction with ACARA over the maths syllabus and assessment and failing to get anybody to clarify the grading system, I know exactly where you are coming from.
    I can’t even get any experts in WA to provide exemplars of assessments at grade boundaries – the onus is reflected back to us. I’ll be off to the Maths convention next week – maybe somebody there will know…..

    Reply

    1. Thanks for visiting Geoff. Our staff are going down the road of developing our own exemplars so we are confident with our consistency at a school level, but that certainly doesn’t help with consistency at a state or national level.

      My principal did return from a meeting last week with news that there was something coming out from the Department “very soon” in regards to clarifying A and B grades… let’s hope so!

      Reply

  3. Wow! As a newly graduated teacher about to embark on my first teaching appointment I am both impressed and daunted by your website. You provide lots of really useful and interesting information, thank you.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Kerry – glad you found it useful!

      Reply

  4. Amazing – I’ve finally found your website and you’ve helped me gain a better understanding of an ‘A’ and ‘B’. I love the checklists you made aligned to the Australian Curriculum for grade 5/6 and would love this for year 1/2. I’ve made documents like this in the past to help me when assessing/reporting but they are not Australian Curriculum aligned so here I go again, fourth time in as many years. Thanks so much – I believe there are still many confused teachers!

    Reply

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