Reflection on Assessment Conferences

First quarter ends Friday for our school, so this week for the first time I began conferences with students to decide their grades for the quarter. Before you keep reading, if you haven’t read the post where I outlined our assessment criteria for first quarter, you can find it here.

The process began last week for students. I gave each of them a copy of this planning sheet, and they filled it out Thursday (reading) and Friday (writing). Over the weekend, then, I read through them to check for students who seemed to be lacking evidence or whose responses didn’t seem logical (such as the student whose overall grade was higher than what he gave himself in any of the individual criteria). I wrote questions or comments on Post-Its so students could revisit those areas before we met.

On Monday, I handed the sheets back to students and then started reading conferences while students finished their planning sheets, filled out self-evaluation questionnaires for reading and writing, and gathered the contents of their portfolios.

If I had it to do over again, I would have made a couple changes to the planning sheet. Since this whole process is brand new for students, I wish I had added things with some of the different criteria to scaffold them in gathering evidence. For example, one area in which a lot of students were lacking was examples of places where they had used techniques from our writing mini-lessons in their own writing. I should have added a list of mini-lesson titles to the planning sheet so that students just had to list the piece of writing where they found an example of it.

As far as the actual conferences, though, so far they have gone pretty well. They’ve taken a little longer than I’d hoped, but I was able to finish all the reading conferences in two days. Tomorrow, we’ll start writing conferences, and then after those are over, I’ll still need to meet with students to talk about reading and writing goals for the upcoming quarter.

It’s been interesting to navigate these conversations. As I expected, there were many students whose assessments of themselves aligned closely to my assessment of them; a few who graded themselves harshly, lowering their grades for anything that wasn’t perfect; and then a few who pointed out many aspects of our criteria they hadn’t met yet wanted to give themselves A’s anyway, maybe because they had “worked hard.” It was a challenge to figure out how best to respond in some of those situations. Do I let students give themselves grades that are lower than I think they should be? How much do I bring others’ grades down to make them more in line with what I think? And how best do I approach these types of conversations? Fortunately, in most cases, students and I have pretty much agreed once we examined their work closely, so there have only been a few times when I’ve had to make decisions of how to respond.

All in all, it’s been a positive experience, and I definitely prefer this to the old way of calculating grades based on whatever the percentages happened to say at the end. My biggest regret is that we have to talk about their grades at all. There are so many things I’ve wanted to discuss with kids, but I didn’t think there was time to talk about some of them and still get through everyone. One nice thing, though, is that once our conversation is over, I’m done grading (and we won’t have to talk about grades for another nine weeks). Instead, I can focus on filling out the teacher-report that I’ll share with each student and their parents, while dreaming of a day when we won’t have to use grades at all.

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