January 15, 2021

Using Your Evaluation Time Productively (Part 1 of 3)

The Teachers’ Corner:

Today’s blog is entitled:  “Taking Up the Tests/Assignments and Reporting Out the Results:  Contextual Considerations”.  It is the first of three blog entries on “Using Your Evaluation Time Productively.”

Just think of the time you as a classroom teacher spend on setting tests and assignments, marking, recording the marks in the various categories as required by provincial and state guidelines and taking up the tests and assignments with the class.  The time commitment is enormous on your part and the tasks can be tedious.

Then think about handing these materials back to students and taking up the test.  That’s when it’s pretty discouraging!  You have just distributed the marked assignments or tests and you start taking up the questions.  Then you notice that no one is listening yet.  First, they look at their final mark. Then the kids are busy trying to find out how their best friends did on the test.  Once they get the information from their friends, competitors and anyone else, there may a reaction of gloating or pouting – and they never really look at the written comments you made so thoughtfully or carefully. It is not unnatural for you to be discouraged.

Here’s the first suggestion.  At the end of the two minutes, the teacher makes the legitimate demand that the chatter stops and now it’s the teacher’s time to talk about the test – and how the students performed – as a class.  What I am advocating here is a strategy “to take the buzz out of the room” before you, as the teacher, begin the review of the test or assignment with them.  Make the time your own by giving them their brief time first.

The second suggestion comes from my experience many years ago as a young department head.  I got my hands on a publication from the Ontario Ministry of Education called “Evaluation of Student Achievement:  A Resource Guide”.   It was one of the most helpful documents I read at the time.  I used its contents to fashion the department’s student evaluation policy.  Among other pronouncements, it made a broad case for one of the most over-arching statements of the purposes of student evaluation – beyond reporting, measuring student achievement and making changes to the program or to instructional methods.  I cannot remember the exact wording but it was something like this:  “The ultimate purpose of student evaluation is to help students become better decision-makers.”  It was an arresting pronouncement for me!   It went on to say that if students receive a grade, they must be able to assess that grade in terms of what effort they put into it, where they excelled or struggled and what else needs to be done in the future as a result of that feedback.

That’s a fairly important aspect of human development.  If performance even at the level of a single assignment can help a student begin to think about that, then evaluation has just added another arrow to its quiver of purposes.

One of the ways to do that is to allow students to see how they have done in comparison to others.  Let’s face it.  Most evaluation is normative in form.  It compares performance to others in a group.  It is no accident that when students report a grade to a parent or to another teacher, the first question is: “How did the other kids do?”  That’s not an inappropriate question unless one sees this as a way of putting students into competition with each other (which is strongly condemned here) but the answer to the question provides a very important context.  If the marks are all low, for instance, a teacher should understand that there was a problem in the teaching of the unit or the test and the unit were not aligned or a host of all other possibilities.  But if the distribution of the marks is suggestive of a normal bell curve, then we go back to the original question the student, if dissatisfied, must ask himself/herself:  “What do I need to do next time?”

So how do you give students the information?  Here’s one practice I tried to follow in all my classes (Grades 9-12) over the years and when I was teaching at university.  Once “the buzz” was over, I put the following information on the board:              

Class Results as a Whole on (Test or Assignment) (N=28)

Maximum:  50

Range:        22-48

Mean:         38.6

Median:      30.5

Mode:         37

A’s:   40-50    6

B’s:   35-39    7

C’s:   30-34    8

D’s:   25-29    5

F’s:    24 <     2

Then I went over the numbers carefully with the students and, as the case arose, discussed any anomalies, the meaning of the data and, if appropriate, the comparison of these data to, perhaps, the last test or assignment or some other form of evaluation results over the course or year. 

The essential purpose of this exercise was to give students as much information as I could about everyone’s performance so that all students could look back on their efforts and their results and then make some decisions about what they have to do next time to improve.

Many years later, when I was a visiting professor in a faculty of education, I used the same practice. I was roundly criticized for doing so by my students because they felt I was giving out information and “my marks are no one else’s concern.”  I didn’t see it the same way because I was not, nor ever would, report the mark of one student to another.  I didn’t understand it the way they did then and frankly I still don’t – but I may be missing something here.  To me, it’s just another example of giving people all the information they need and can have.  They can choose to use that information as they see fit – or choose to ignore it.  But I believe it is very important information for them to consider.

In summary, these are two of the four practices I used to maximize the results of my marking time on student learning.  It also fits into one of the core beliefs I had as a teacher, administrator and owner of Bendel Services Inc. –  the principle of full disclosure (i.e. Everyone is entitled to get as much information as he/she can about a process in which he/she is involved.).  The students deserve no less than giving them as much information as you can.  Who knows?  You just may be initiating an important life-long skill.

Stay tuned for the next two blogs in this series:  “The Error Ladder:  A Phased In Approach to Correcting Common Errors” and “The Use of Test/Assignment Folders in the Classroom.” 

Dr. Dan

If you are looking for more resources on this topic, a short eBook on these techniques (and individualized coaching if you wish) can be purchased from our website.