Micro and Macro Approaches
Finally, we get to the heart of my assessment system. You can look at one assignment and use a quantitative rubric (micro), but you can also pull the lens back and look at all the assignments for the course together as one big quantitative rubric (macro).
When I teach a course, my gradebook fills up with lots of assignments (frequent assessment). Many of these assignments are completion grades (fast assessment). Perhaps I had an activity and students turn in the results. They earn points for that. We went on a field trip, and the students that participated earned points for that. I gave two quizzes and had a series of challenges, etc. After ten weeks, I have maybe 30 grades in my gradebook. Students that came to class, and complete the assignments and did the homework earned the points. The students that do not do the assignments do not earn the points. Occasionally, I give out half points for students that partially completed a given assignment.
I think of my entire gradebook as one big quantitative rubric for the whole course.
Just as it is valuable to look at an essay and see if all the pieces have been properly included, I can pull the lens back and look at a whole course and see what pieces have been completed. That is just as valuable. Since I have faith that the activities and assignments students completed will provide them with the experiences they need to be successful, then it follows that completion of all of those activities will lead to competency with those skills. I think of my entire gradebook as one big quantitative rubric for the whole course.
This approach can feel awkward at first. I have learned to trust it. Over time, the grades that accumulate are surprisingly accurate and frequently reflect the same grade I would give a student if I just went with my “gut”, as long as there are enough of them.
But what about quality? How do I evaluate the quality of the work? Usually, I will include one or two projects that are graded with a qualitative rubric. These projects are larger, require the use of techniques learned in earlier assignments, and are worth a specific percentage of the course.
Usually I break up the grading of a course into four segments. Classwork and homework might be worth 50% of the course and consist of mostly completion grades. I often have some sort of mid-term evaluation, which might be worth 15% of the total course grade and might consist of quizzes or challenge assignments, or perhaps a combination of the two. Then the final project is 25% of the grade and is assessed using a qualitative rubric, giving me an opportunity to push students hard for quality. The final 10% is occupied by a participation grade. This rarely makes much of a difference in the end, but can give me a way a way of nudging a grade up or down to deal with the 89.49% final grade problem, and can also provide some flexibility.
When a course is set up this way, assessment and grading largely take care of themselves. I can follow the principle of the three Fs, and make frequent, fast, fair grades that students cannot easily argue about. Students can also see where they stand at any given point in the course. There are no surprises.
This is the heart of my assessment system, although I will adjust it considerably depending on the type of course I am teaching. For some courses, I will make the classwork/homework segment worth more, and for others, it will be a smaller portion of the grade. For senior level classes I will rely much more on process grades, and qualitative rubrics and far less on completion grades.
While this is the heart of my system, there is still far more to discuss, so more to come in the following posts!
Check out the other posts in this series
Introduction and Setting the Stage
The 3 F’s of Assessment & Meeting Students Where They Are
The Tools for Assessment
Part 4 < You are here
Micro and Macro Approaches
The Heart of My Assessment System
Gaming the System and Fair != Same
Real Deadlines & Extra Credit