Mathematics Topics

Assessment Practices

I feel the same as a teacher that I do as an employee (or just a person, for that matter), people want to be rewarded for their efforts.  That recognition may be in the form of money, but more often it comes in other forms.  My students have the right to expect me to recognize them for their efforts, and I try.  The bell-shaped curve we are all familiar with and have seen for years is not sufficient to accomplish this, in my opinion.  I cannot  imagine a successful employer firing the same number of employees as are promoted, or reprimanding the same of number of employees as are given positive evaluations and raises.  This simply would not appear to me to be a successful strategy for maintaining a conducive environment for running a business.  It is not conducive, in my view, to the learning environment either.  My normal grade distribution graph looks more like a staircase than a bell.
As you can see from this typical grade distribution from one quarter last year, my students earn B's more often than any other letter grade.  My strategies result in about the same number of C's as A's, and D's and F's are rare.  In fact, I can tell you that those lower letter grades are basically earned by students who either rarely attend school, rarely do homework, or both.  I have made a conscious effort as a classroom teacher to see that students who come to school on a regular basis and do most of the work I require will earn a letter grade of at least a C.  If the combined percentage of A's, B's, and C's falls below 85% of my students, I take a long, hard look at my instructional strategies and assessment practices.  I strongly feel that for students to give their maximum effort they must be convinced that a teacher intends to reward their efforts.  I do not want to play the game of "Gotcha" in regard to student evaluations.
The instructional and assessment practices which produce the grade distribution illustrated in this table did not come easily.  It has taken me years to get to where I am.  It took a great deal of training, paid for mostly by the District School Board of Pasco County, and it took a great deal of soul searching to let go of outdated and counter-productive practices which were engrained in my teaching philosophy.  My methods do not require as much monitoring as they once did, but they do require monitoring.  When I come across a new idea, I am willing to try it, but many are discarded for various reasons.

There may be parents and educators out there who might assume that I have simply inflated student achievements or decreased expectations to get these results.  I once would have responded this way when looking at results like this.  I can only say that I believe the academic standards in my classroom are quite rigorous, and that my students perform quite well in comparison to school, district, and state performance on every standardized test now used in our district in the area of mathematics application, the area my instruction is most concerned with.

I would be happy to share more specifically with anyone who is interested exactly how I weight the different forms of assessment to produce these results, but I will limit myself here to saying that I use a combination of traditional written tests, both individual and cooperative, alternate forms of assessment, like projects and activities, writing assignments, portfolio assessment, traditional homework credit, and attendance incentives.  In addition to these, I have an ongoing Bonus System where students can earn extra credit by successfully accomplishing challenging tasks and problem solving.  This last category probably has more to do with my students' enhanced performance on application sections of standardized tests than any other single instructional strategy I employ.  I got the idea from a Colorado teacher several years ago.  I wish I could remember her name, so that I could give her credit here, but I can't.  Anyway, my students attempt to solve a challenging problem at the beginning of almost every class period.  This is done in a low-risk environment for them.  They don't stand to lose anything if they get the problem wrong.  They do stand to earn extra credit for getting it right.  It's an opportune place for me to accomplish several aims outside the established content guidelines, whether it be a review of skills or strategies, shortcuts, theorems, formulas, problem-solving techniques, mathematical history, high-interest topics, puzzles, or just about anything else you might think of.  The most important thing in problem solving is practice.  In order to practice problem solving, students must work on problems which they do not already know how to solve.  This needs to be accomplished in a low-risk environment to be effective, and that's why this works, in my opinion.

Key Topics

Calculator Use
Cooperative Learning
Student Progression
Assessment Practices
Higher Standards