“I’m just so afraid to take that leap,” a veteran English teacher said, to the understanding nods of others in the room.
It is a sunny Saturday and the classroom where I am presenting to a group of educators pursuing their Masters looks out onto the shining waters of False Creek. The leap the English teacher refers to is the leap I took about 5 years ago when I stopped giving my students marks and started giving them feedback instead. I have paused in my Prezi after the bit about my assessment practices so we can discuss the ideas I have just shared. I understand her fear. So do others in the group, as evidenced by the wringing of hands and pursed lips.
Many teachers still fear challenging the status quo when it comes to assessment. Sometimes a school’s leadership lacks the strength to speak against the traditional system of ranking that we now know does nothing for learning. Sometimes a community of powerful parents clings vociferously to this ranking system simply because it is familiar – after all, that’s how it was when they went to school. But here’s the rub: since they went to school, the world – the context in which we work and play – has changed in drastic and meaningful ways.
In the past couple of decades, brain research and education research has transformed our understanding of learning. If we want to offer the opportunity for success to everyone then all learners must be offered the benefits of a learning system not the damage of a ranking system. A learning system will ensure that all learners “cross the stage with dignity and options.” Our future deserves that reality, and so do the students in our classrooms right now.
Educators using assessment for learning are changing the status quo and anytime we change the status quo we face conflict. Conflict can be frightening but it doesn’t have to be paralyzing, especially with so much evidence to support us.
All of this is on the tip of my tongue as I turn to the teacher who spoke of her fear, but before I respond another teacher pipes in: “Why not compromise and use rubrics but keep numbers? I mean, we can always go halfway, right? Just give those intimidating parents what they want, but use feedback too. We don’t have to do the whole thing right off. Why not ease people into it?”
Here’s the thing. The research has been firm on the damage that marks-based systems do to learning. Once we know this, it is our moral imperative to do better. Assessment for and as learning is better.
The English teacher who spoke of her fear at shifting her assessment practice stands in the same place as many others all over the country, but the gap over which she must leap is getting smaller. More research, more practitioners’ experience, more success and more understanding make that gap smaller every day. I understand that the gap exists. But it is time to jump.
Here is an article published by Education Canada that discusses how I first jumped. Dan Meyers, an educator in California, has a presentation about how he jumped. If you’re ready to talk the logistics of your jump, please comment below! Ready… set …