Assessment and Grading Study

Matthew Haas, Ed.D.Greetings Colleagues:

Thank you for an excellent opening to the school year. Your students and families appreciate you, and so do I!

Whether you are just starting out as a teacher in Albemarle County Public Schools or you have been with the system for decades, you probably recognize that you work in a progressive school division aiming to provide the highest quality learning experiences for all students. Our mission “to establish a community of learners and learning, through relationships, relevance and rigor, one student at a time” is your mission, as we cannot accomplish it without you.

Simply put, school learning is a function of curriculum (what is to be learned), instruction (how we learn), and assessment (practice with what is learned and feedback on the extent to which it is learned). It is safe to say that we focus quite a bit on curriculum and instruction; however, assessment is an area where we could use more emphasis, for at least the following reasons:

  • Schools of the past were designed to sort and select students for future opportunities. Contemporary schools seek success for all students. Our assessment system should reflect this change in mission.
  • We need to clearly define academic success in alignment with standards.
  • We need to make sure that all students have access to accurate, dependable, high-quality assessments and assessment procedures.
  • Assessment results should be useful and clearly communicated with students.
  • Students should not be penalized for making mistakes. Errors are opportunities and should be treated as such.

In other words, if we get assessment (and grading) right, all the excellent work that teachers and schools do with curriculum and instruction will lead to success with our mission. If we get it wrong, we will fail. By many aggregate measures, ACPS is a highly successful school division. When we dig deeper, however, we can see that there are gaps in opportunity and achievement that match up to students’ backgrounds (socioeconomic status and demographics). This issue is not unique to our school division; nonetheless, we owe it to our students to address the problem. For more information, please read the Equity of Access Budget Initiative Proposal for the ACPS School Board.

On a different level, our highest achieving students are not immune to the impacts of assessment practices. We recently completed a program evaluation of our AP and Dual Enrollment programs and found that students taking honors and AP courses are subject to a great deal of stress related to the ambiguity of the goals and feedback they often receive and the culture that has developed to focus on a singular, summative test.

There are factors outside our control that contribute to these issues, but one area with which we have total control is the quality of assessments we provide our students in the classroom. Indeed, of all places students experience assessment and feedback, the classroom level is the most important.

In ACPS, we have set the stage for what quality assessment should look like in the classroom with the Framework for Quality Learning (FQL). If you are not familiar with the FQL, please take time to read it; it is the ACPS primer for educators. While the document could use an update, the section devoted to assessment is completely apropos to our current needs. With regard to teaching approaches to promote learning, the ACPS Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) offers standards and indicators of quality teaching, including assessment. Please use the following link to review this material: TPA Rubrics.

During this school year, we want to take time to ask you about your philosophy and practices related to assessment and feedback. Through conversations; surveys; and reviews of school, PLC and teacher practices, we will establish our current state for assessment. From there, we can think about and take actions to continue to get better.

In the next few weeks, most likely as a part of your goal-setting conversation with your principal, we’ve asked principals to take time to ask you the four questions found in the FQL regarding balanced assessment:

  • Why Assess? (What’s the purpose and who will use the results?)
  • Assess What? (What are the learning targets? Are they clear? Are they good?)
  • Assess How? (What method? Sampled how? Avoid bias how? Written well?)
  • Communicate/Provide Feedback How? (How do we manage the information? How do we report?)

Based on this conversation, principals will record their assessment of how tightly your philosophy aligns with the FQL. Information entered is anonymous and will be aggregated at the division and school level for analysis. Most importantly, however, I think you and your principal may have a critical discussion around your philosophy about balanced assessment.

On another note, I want to give all teachers a heads up that, through Powerschool Gradebook Pro, principals now have read-only access to view teacher gradebooks as a way to study grading practices in light of their alignment to the FQL and the current draft ACPS operating principles for secondary grading:

We will develop equitable grading practices that clearly identify student achievement of content knowledge, processes, and skills. The primary purpose of the grading system is for educators to clearly, accurately, consistently, and fairly communicate learning progress and achievement.

A.  Similar content areas should operate under a shared understanding of grading systems and processes, striving to achieve a level of fairness between classes.
B.  Academic progress and achievement will be evaluated separately from work habits, character traits, and behaviors.
C.  Students will be evaluated with diverse assessment practices.

These operating principles are found in the High School 2022 Draft Program Guide.

Thank you for your attention to this lengthy communication. I want to be sure you have had notice in advance of these two developments, as well as the larger picture of the work we are doing to study the state of assessment and feedback here in ACPS. I believe that we have top-notch educators using their best practices. All of us can always get better at what we do for children, and that’s the spirit of this work.

Thank you,

Matt Haas
Deputy Superintendent