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My Top 10 Take-Aways from the Solution Tree Standards & Assessment Conference

Last week, I attended the Solution Tree Standards & Assessment Conference in Phoenix. As I reflect back on the three days of learning, I decided to put together my top 10 take-aways. Here they are:

10. On Retakes-Do you want to be a school that picks the winners, or one that creates the winners? Tim Brown

 In her talk, Cassie Erkins echoed the theme stating:
 We have a moral obligation to set students up for success!

9. "Grading is not essential to the instructional process. Teachers can teach and students can learn without grades!" -Thomas Guskey

Guskey identified three keys to moving toward standards based assessment:

  1. Begin with a clear statement of purpose.
  2. Provide accurate and meaningful descriptions of student learning.
  3. Use grading and reporting to enhance teaching and learning. Get rid of % grading and you get rid of problem w/ 0's!!

8. Phases of Professional Development from Eric Twadell

Twadell, the Superintendent at Adlai Stevenson High School in Illinois uses these phases to talk about where staff are at in the assessment process. He gave us examples of assessments teachers in his building have used, and had us rank them as to which phase the assessment represented. Very helpful. Examples can be found here.
  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Insight
  4. Evaluation
  5. Elaboration
These phases come from the book, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

7. Where ever you are in the process is where you need to be-Angela Freese

This quote was very helpful, as it recognizes that we are all at different places in the process of assessment, and focuses on the idea that where you are at is ok, as long as you have a "growth mindset."

6. Most Common Grading Errors-Eric Twadell

  • Use of 0's
  • Use of Average
  • Use of punishment/reward
  • Use of weighting
What would it look like if grades were based on learning rather than teaching? Twadell challenged the audience to defend these "errors" that many of us have incorporated in our careers.
Twadell also showed this video of "Mr. D," and his grading practices as an example of what NOT to do!

5. Ranking and explaining Drills Deeper than Recall-Twadell

Twadell gave a great example of an AP Economics teacher, who was very knowledge based, and hand created questions like:
List the four factors of production and give examples of each.
Moving to more proficiency based assessment, the teacher modified the question to the following:
Rank the four factors of production, (Land, Labor, Entrepreneurship, Capital) in order of their importance in an economy. Provide a short explanation for your ranking.
What they found, was that by giving the original "answers," and having the students rank them, the students actually "learned" the material at a deeper level, and did better on the AP exam!


There were several times at the conference that the audience was put into a state of cognitive dissonance, where we really were forced to question our beliefs and defend our practices. This is a good thing! Look at your own policies and ask, "What research supports this?"

3. Thomas Guskey-Professional judgement is better than mathematical algorithms.

To prove this, Guskey showed this example:

                            Learning Target
Student Name    E 1    E 2    E 3    E 4    E 5    E 6    Summary Score
Greg                     1        1       1        1        4        4

What is Greg's level of proficiency for that learning target? In the hall of 500 teachers, there was a unanimous answer of "4," as Greg had shown in his last two assessments that he understood the material at that level.
If the scores were averaged, the answer would be 2. Both the Median and Mode would be a 1. Professional Judgement seems to trump mathematical algorithm's. Guskey showed several other examples that proved this point.

2. #1 Behavior Strategy: Knowing Your Students-Doug Fisher

Have a 2 minute conversation each day for 10 days on a topic other than school to foster positive relationship. If you or the student misses a day, start over! John Hattie's research shows a .72 effect size across a year based on the teacher-student relationship!

Fisher also showed this great video on feedback that showed not all feedback is good! 

 1. Tom Schimmer's Keynote

Schimmer, an educator from Vancouver, British Columbia and author of Grading From the Inside Out, was the keynote on Wednesday morning of the conference, and it really struck a chord with me.

"True North" 

He uses these two guiding questions as his compass in regards to assessing students:

  1. Do my assessments accurately reflect student learning?
  2. Does my grading practice increase or decrease student confidence?

Standards-Based Mindset

Schimmer also noted that students don't come to school with a "point accumulation" mindset. They learn that after entering the system. It reminds me that some of our practices "suck the love of learning" out of our students. I can see a change of mindset around assessment as a way to bring that love back.

By changing mindset in these three areas, a teacher can still use a traditional grade-book, but they will be setting themselves up to transition to assessment by standards, once the department, school or district is ready.

I was inspired by my three days in Phoenix, and it will be interesting to see how these principles resonate in Edina and if/how they get implemented.


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