I’m going to outline what I see as a reasonable assessment plan for a high school.
Disclaimer: I have never been an administrator in a high school. I’m only a teacher. This post is not a critique of the work of any principal who has done this differently. I have seen something very similar to this work well. I have to give credit for it working well to the administration at the school in which it was implemented. I was a teacher there at the time, and one administrator in particular made this work to the best of his ability.
I don’t have a title for my plan. I absolutely would not call it a No Zero Plan. Eventually I’ll come up with a fancy sounding name for my plan. My working title is: An Assessment Plan That Makes Sure the Kids Do Their Darn Work and That the Darn Work the Teachers Are Making the Kids Do Is Worth Chasing Them To Do. It’s unwieldy, even when we use its acronym – AAPTMSKDTDWTDWTAMKDIWCTD. I’ll have to come up with something better.
Support from Administration
Done. That’s it. That’s all it takes. In order for my “AAPTMSKDTDWTDWTAMKDIWCTD” plan to work in a school, you need an administration that is fully behind it and prepared to work extra hard for their students. You can stop reading now. That’s the whole plan.
If you’re still reading, you must want more detail. Here it is.
Grades must reflect student learning compared to defined curricular outcomes. How this evidence is collected will depend on the subject and teacher. I would encourage teachers to use a variety of summative assessments to meet the needs of their students. I would encourage teachers to reduce the number of summative assessments they are giving. We don’t need 48 things in the grade book to get an idea of what the students know. In most courses, 5-10 summative assessments is sufficient. We need to ensure that the students complete all the summative assessments we give. We also need to ensure that the summative assessments we are giving are well-constructed and that they assess curricular objectives.
It is important to communicate to our parents what behaviours we observe in their children. I want to know if my daughter is polite, respectful, and hard-working or not. This information can be communicated to the parents in the form of comments. I also want to know if my daughter is understanding the material that is being taught. This information can be communicated to parents in the form of comments and grades. We cannot grade things that aren’t in our curriculum. Behaviour is not in most of our curricula.
How do we get all the summative assessments done?
The responsibility for this completion lies with the teacher initially, but once the teacher decides he has chased students enough, then that responsibility shifts to the administration. Different teachers will reach that point at different times. When the teacher feels like he needs help, administration needs to fully back up the teacher and take over the process of chasing down the student and getting the summative assessment done. Administration needs to do this even if they feel the teacher hasn’t made much of an effort to track down the student. To make this plan work, it has to be of foremost importance to the school leaders, and it can’t feel like more work for the teachers.
One person in the school should be in charge of tracking down these kids. It should be someone who doesn’t teach a full load. It should be an administrator, counsellor or other teacher who is given time to handle the work involved. We implemented this plan in a large, urban high school. We had several resources at our disposal. We had a full-time teacher in a distance learning room. If a student missed an exam, all I had to do was take that exam to the distance learning room and give it to the teacher there. When the student came down, the distance learning teacher would give and supervise the exam in his room. When it was done, I just had to go pick it up to mark it. It was very little work for me.
We also implemented a process where teachers could send missed work to the office. Once a week, students who had missed work were sent to the cafeteria after school and were supervised there while they completed that work. Students who skipped that cafeteria session were given an in-school suspension (which they absolutely hate). The first week we ran this program, we had hundreds of kids in the cafeteria. A couple of weeks later, we only had a handful. Students were coming to their teachers and asking their teachers what work they were missing. The responsibility for missed work shifted from the teacher to the student.
This plan is scalable to smaller schools. Because in a rural high school of 200 students there will be fewer kids to chase, fewer staff members need to be involved in something like this. Perhaps the principal can handle it all herself.
If the administration isn’t fully committed to making this work, it will fail. Teachers work hard. They are exhausted. The notion of chasing kids for months and then getting all the work turned in on the last day of class is painful. Administrators have to take over the job of chasing kids with missed assessments.
Kids Need Our Support
The message we are sending our kids here is that they must complete what they start. Our top students have it figured out. They get how school works, and they will be fine in this system. We are not hurting them in any way at all.
Our weakest kids need to be retained. We need to stop them from dropping out. We need to teach them that their work is important and that responsibility means doing your work. These are the kids who always try to opt out. If their average is over 50%, they are content. They would prefer to absorb a few zeros, as long as their average remains over 50%. It’s easier than doing the work. They want to do the absolute minimum they can get away with and still pass the course. Letting them take a 0 and opt out lets them off the hook for that work. We will support those kids by ensuring that they get their work done. This lesson will serve them well in life.
A few years ago, I had a student who had missed one of my key assessments (a unit test), despite my best efforts to get her to write it. We were getting near the end of the course and I had to get a mark to Alberta Education. Our assistant principal came and got the test from me. He brought the girl into his office and made her write the test there, after school on a Friday, so I didn’t have to stay late to supervise her. That’s the kind of support you need.
A local principal tells his teachers that if they ever get to the point where they feel they need to give a student a zero, he has failed them (the teachers). He promises the teachers that he will take over the chasing early on in the process, and he does.