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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What is Grade Fog

I met with a school staff the other day to facilitate learning and reflection about grading and assessment practices. We started with a sample of student work. The geography assignment asked that students be able to name the Mid-Atlantic states (US).

The student's score was 80%.

I asked the staff, "What does the 80% tell you about the student's knowledge of the Mid-Atlantic states?"

The responses captured were that the student pretty much knew the states with some errors in knowledge of all the states in the category: Mid-Atlantic. This seemed reasonable given the score. I then asked them to look closer at the assignment, review the correction marks where points were taken off, and see if the assessment of the student's knowledge held.

The directions asked students to take the list of states, capitals, and bodies of water and do two tasks.

  1. Label the outlines of states and bodies of water with the correct names, and include the capitals in their corresponding state. All names had a specific color to be written (students used colored pencils).
  2. Shade in each state with an assigned color.
On closer inspection, the staff discovered that the student made all labels correctly. Each state had the correct name, with its capital. The bodies of water were also listed correctly.

While the states were shaded in with the correct color, the labels were all in black pencil, not the assigned colors. Points were taken off for each of the labels that did not have the correct color.

Final score: 80%

If the focus was on students' understanding of the Mid-Atlantic states, this student demonstrated 100% proficiency. If the outcome addressed following directions with color coding, this student showed 80% proficiency. Might have potential confusion been eliminated by listing two assessment scores?

Knowledge of Mid-Atlantic States: 100%
Following Directions regarding color coding: 80% 

Grade Fog is when an assessment becomes unclear due to unclear learning targets. Or when several targets are combined into a single assessment score. It's like taking a grilled glazed salmon, roasted herbed chicken, and a seasoned steak, and mash them together, then conduct a taste test to determine the cook's quality for each of the proteins. 

Classroom assessments are valuable to how a teacher can track learning progress. Clear data allows for strategic interventions where needed. Foggy data conceals who needs help, and in what fashion of intervention or challenge should be provided.

In another instance, a student had on the report card a failing mark for Reading. The exam asked students to complete short answer essay questions based on a novel the class read. Based on the student's written responses, the assessment results appeared accurate. The teacher took the student aside and through an interview, asked the student questions about the novel. The student spoke on the questions with far greater depth than the written responses.

The teacher had realized that for the student, poor writing skills impeded demonstration of understanding. The assessment was on Reading, but writing skills became an obstacle to accuracy of the learning targets.

What grade fog might you find in your work or realm of influence?