Descriptive assessment that helps learners and their parents understand what they can do and what they are aspiring to be able to do is a powerful lever for learning.
In British Columbia, teacher-developed tools that serve just this purpose are available from the Ministry for optional use in reading, writing, numeracy, social responsibility, ICT integration and Healthy Living (http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/perf_stands/) and an ad hoc task force formed by a consortium of school districts is in the late stages of developing similar standards for science (). (If you know of other similar resources that are available to teachers in Canada, I would love to hear about them.)
These standards are descriptions of the stages of intended learning outcomes that have been developed so that teachers do not each have to develop assessment criteria themselves. They are most effective when shared with students and parents as the basis for assessment and reporting, which improves communication and enables self-assessment.
Criterion-referenced assessment, as it is called, measures student learning against expectations rather than by comparing students to each other (which is known as norm-referenced assessment, or ‘grading on the curve’). Explicit expectations stated in advance make learning goals clear and assessment more transparent and understandable.
If resources such as those I have mentioned do not pertain to the specific learning activities being undertaken, teachers can develop criteria themselves, or collaboratively with their class, in advance. This helps students know what they are trying to achieve and ensures that they will understand the assessment provided by the teacher during and after the activity. It also helps them to take more responsibility for and assess their own learning.
Criterion-referenced assessment does not eliminate the subjectivity that is inherent in all grading (including those with the illusion of objectivity like math and science exams), but it goes a long way towards making assessment consistent, transparent and meaningful for students and parents.
And it certainly makes more sense that just totaling up the quiz scores and turning them into a percentage. This produces a grade alright but it doesn’t help the student know what they are doing well or where they are expected to improve – which is the primary purpose of assessment.