A Repair Kit for Grading? Looking to Ken O’Connor for Inspiration

Each and every year my school takes it upon itself to focus on one particular concept that will make the school a better place for students. For example, last year our focus was on implementing the “Tuning Protocol” to make our units of instruction better. This year we have decided to focus on assessment. As part of this focus we have decided to conduct  a study of Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades (2nd Edition, 2011).

This year is really a self-study with regard to assessment practices, and two weeks in I have come to the conclusion that (deep breath) many of our grades are broken. Now, the degree of damage varies greatly, and has yet to be quantified, but there is little doubt in my mind that they are indeed broken.

The good news is they can be fixed!

Ken O’Connor writes about 15 straight forward strategies that can be implemented to mend our current situation. They are as follows.

  1. Don’t include student behaviours in grades.
    • Do include only achievement in grades.
  2. Don’t reduce marks on work submitted late.
    • Do provide support for the learner.
  3. Don’t give marks for extra credit or use bonus points.
    • Do seek evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement.
  4. Don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades.
    • Do apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement.
  5. Don’t consider attendance in grade determination.

    A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor

    • Do report absences separately.
  6. Don’t include group scores in grades.
    • Do use only individual achievement evidence.
  7. Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment methods or simply summarize into a single grade.
    • Do organize and report evidence by standards/learning goals.
  8. Don’t assign grades using inappropriate or unclear performance standards
    • Do provide clear descriptions of achievement expectations.
  9. Don’t assign grades based on a student’s achievement compared to other students.
    • Do compare each student’s performance to preset standards.
  10. Don’t rely on evidence gathered using assessments that fail to meet standards of quality.
    • Do rely on quality assessments.
  11. Don’t rely on the mean.
    • Do consider other measures of central tendency and use professional judgement.
  12. Don’t include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment.
    • Do use alternatives, such as reassessing to determine real achievement, or use “I” for Incomplete or Insufficient Evidence.
  13. Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades.
    • Do use only summative evidence.
  14. Don’t summarize evidence accumulated over time when learning is developmental and will grow with time and repeated opportunities.
    • Do, in those instances, emphasize more recent achievement.
  15. Don’t leave students out of the grading process.
    • Do allow students to play key roles in assessment and grading that promote achievement.

Ken O’Connor elaborates on, and gives examples of, the above fixes quite nicely in his book A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades. He even provides policy examples that have been taken from various schools in the United States, and mostly Canada.

The questions we are faced with now revolve around determining the state of our current situation. Do all of the fixes need to be implemented? Are there certain fixes that should take priority over the others? Which fixes will take more time than others. All of these questions, and many others, will be asked and hopefully answered over the semester.

I am certain that there will be resistance to change, as there always is, but what Ken O’Connor suggests makes educational sense! The questions we should really be asking ourselves as educators is, how best can we prepare our students for the future? Effective assessment practices that accurately reflect student learning should be one of the answers to this question.

The next year and a half will be a challenge, but I am confident that our efforts will make our school a better place to learn, and will bolster the credibility of our educational institution.

Please let me know if you have undergone such a self-study, focused on assessment practices. I would be very interested to hear about some your trails, tribulations, and moments of glory!

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“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”

- John Maxwell

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