Ep. 10 | “Assessment: What’s Hope Got To Do With it?”
Welcome to the Growth Over Grades Podcast where we talk about education ideas and topics that matter most to our SpacesEDU Educator Community.
At the beginning of each episode, I like to feature an amazing educator in our community. This week, I want to give a shoutout to educator and speaker Stefanie Crawford. She is an educator who is also a sketchnoting artist. She regularly shares her work through social media and that is why I began to follow her! She's also an advocate for Autistic people and students and is a person who regularly shares what she learns. Thank you for being part of our SpacesEDU community, Stefanie. Stefanie is someone who learns from our podcast guest for this episode, Tom Schimmer.
Tom Schimmer is a recognized voice when it comes to learning about assessment and grading. He’s an award-winning author and has at least 8 published books and I know more are coming. He’s been an educator for over 30 years. I was blessed to meet him this past fall at the TeachBEtter Conference in Ohio and he is down to earth.
Schimmer advocates for change in both assessment and grading but he does it in a humane way. He is not out to make anyone feel dumb. Tom believes in teachers and knows they are doing their absolute best for their students. His mission is to help change the system in a way that honors our humanity and when I say “our”, I mean teachers, students, family, administrators and all those in our school communities.. Everything he does and teaches adults is an example of how we can relate that back to the young people we serve.
Humanity is Greater Than Systems
We, teachers, have our systems for everything, even in how we grade our students’ work. Schimmer shares that he was traditional in his systems until his own daughter was born. He examined how he was communicating with his students in a way that made him question, “What if someone said this to my daughter?” He said he felt knots in his stomach when he thought about it.
He also examined how student “failure” was communicated to students, and how it affected their motivation to improve or even attend school. A continuous cycle of failure does not motivate most students to do better. It’s quite the opposite.
But what does one do when they want to change their traditional practices and have no idea where and how to move forward?
Schimmer was on a path to improve grading and assessment. He has spent years learning, growing, and sharing with other educators all that he is learning. We talked about how going completely “gradeless” isn’t always realistic. At the end of the day, there is accountability that has to be considered and communicated.
To support those who are going gradeless (or moving towards that direction) and those who are using grades, he offers this bit of advice, “Grade less and emphasize feedback.”
What Does Hope Have to Do With It?
For the last decade, Schimmer and his colleagues, Cassandra Erkens and Nicole Dimich have been working on what makes assessment successful. They settled on these six tenets: assessment purpose, architecture, interpreting results, communicating results, instructional agility, and student investment. But they also don’t want educators to stop in the structures of assessment.
One of the most profound moments in our conversations was when Schimmer said, “What often gets lost in this assessment conversation, which can feel very clinical, and be discussed very clinically, right, is that there is a human being on the other end on every assessment decision you make… And they are going to have an emotional reaction to the prospect of being assessed.”
Why are emotions so important? Schimmer follows up by saying that students’ emotions will influence how they see assessment as something to be feared or productive.
Students can feel hopeful about assessment when they feel like it is leading them to where they want to go, and the opposite is it can also diminish hope when they don’t see it as helpful or themselves as successful. He describes it as being able to see, or not to see, the light at the end of the tunnel. That also ties directly into self-efficacy and if students believe that what they achieve can get them to that light, or in the direction they want to go.
It all ties back to those six tenets. Schimmer and his colleagues’ work focuses on the lives being impacted. How do the decisions we make as educators advance or hinder what students believe they can do through the power of grading and assessment?
That is why standardized testing or one-size-fits-all testing can’t properly show each student’s capability, gifts, or story. It may seem like it’s holding teachers accountable from a political perspective…but does it do anything to further the dreams and hopes of our students individually? Do these kinds of assessments, or really any kind of assessment we implement, help our students feel hopeful and ready to keep moving on and achieving their goals?
These are big questions and with mass testing and grading, it’s no wonder so much gets lost in the process. We might not be able to stop standardized testing (for now), but it also made me realize how important our grading and assessment practices, as individual teachers, are when we think about those students whose lives will be affected. We can do better and so many of us are on the path to continuous learning in this area.
I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with Tom Schimmer and hope you will check it out in its entirety. He regularly shares what he is learning in his books, professional development, and podcast. If you aren’t already following him, I hope you will now.