Tag Archives: assessment

A Successful Assessment pt 3: how to take a test (or, reading instructions & not running out of time)

Test Prep help from the A+ ClubWhen a parent of a middle or high school teen worries that “my student doesn’t test” well, what’s missing is a combination of goal setting, preparation and execution.

As discussed in the previous posts on “Successful Assessments,” testing success consists of:

  • Identifying teacher/ test expectations (“no surprises”)
  • Preparing effectively (learning v. cramming)
  • Executing on test day (test taking strategies)

Test prep above all else

“Easy” tests are those students have or are effectively prepared for: if the student knows what to expect and prepares for it, the results will be strong.

That said, there are still a few things a student can do to better results on the test day.

A couple do-nots on test day include: Continue reading

A Successful Assessment pt 2: how to prepare for a test (or learning all along not just cramming)

Successful Test Prep from the A+ ClubParents concerned about their teen’s middle and high school exam and test prep might consider that studying isn’t just a matter of reviewing notes and study guides. Successful testing requires ongoing learning.

Here are some strategies for parents to empower their student’s exam prep and overall academic success.

In our series on  Successful Assessment: how to prepare for a test (or why doesn’t my child test well?), we are reviewing the essential parts of successful testing:

  1. No Surprises (identified teacher expectations)
  2. Student Prepared (successful learning)
  3. Student had time to finish (successful test execution)

This post regards student preparation. It’s one thing to know what will be on a test (see Part 1: Identifying Expectations) and also to understand it . But can you perform it yourself? Continue reading

A Successful Assessment pt 1: how to know what will be on the test (or identifying teacher expectations)

Successful Testing from the A+ ClubFor successful testing, students need to know what will be on the test. Sounds obvious, but parents don’t want to hear from their teens that there were “surprises” on a test or that they studied for the wrong thing.

This edition of the Successful Assessment will review how to help your teenage student identify what will be on a test.

As outlined in the introductory post, How to approach a test (or why doesn’t my child test well?), at the A+ Club, we help middle, high school and college students succeed on formal assessments, what we usually call “quizzes” and “tests.”  Our quick measure of a successful assessment means:

  1. No Surprises (identified teacher expectations)
  2. Student Prepared (successful learning)
  3. Student had time to finish (successful test execution)

No surprises!

“No Surprises” on a test means the student knew what to expect, knew what to study, and was familiar with every part or aspect of the test. Continue reading

A Successful Assessment: how to approach a test (or why doesn’t my child test well?)

We often hear from parents that “my child doesn’t test well.”

Teens have lots of excuses for their grades, and blaming it on the test is one that parents fall for all the time.

In the A+ Club, we measure middle, high school and college student success on a test or major assessment in terms of 1) identifying teacher expectations; 2) student preparation;  and 3) successful execution on the test day. Continue reading

What do grades measure, anyway? How to make sense of grades and student learning

Student-Performance_Process-flow-chart_noheaderParents! If schools were meant for learning, why do we have grades?

In other words, if learning were the goal, wouldn’t every student have to get an A+ before moving on to the next level?

If, when a student gets a D, and it indicates the student met 64% of expectations, is there learning going on at that school? Wouldn’t a 100% grade represent true learning?

As long as there are grades less than an A, the point of schools, then, is not learning.

Worse, not all grades are equal. Does an A in PE represent learning as much as an A in math? They both count the same towards your GPA and both are required. Clearly, learning is not the only thing being measured here.

Grades as thresholds of… of something

So, the student got a B- or a C+, or an F. What does that mean, anyway? The F might be a zero –no work was done at all, or maybe it was 59% and just shy of a D. That’s quite a leap, but that F is still an F.

Or, maybe that C+ was because, even though the student aced the tests, he didn’t do any homework and got nailed for it on the overall grade.

Ask my son, as that was his strategy for high school. He learned everything asked of him, but he only showed it on tests. He learned, but that’s not what school is about.

Well… It worked for him, as he’s a successful musician who dedicates himself to perfecting his craft and learning everything he possibly can about it.

What’s going on here is that grades measure lots of things, just not always – or even mostly – learning.

School is about process

A student like my son learned everything required of the test but skipped on the rest of the process required by the teachers.

Here are some of the things students get measured on that have nothing to do with the generic “Learning”  but everything to do with “grades” and doing what’s asked of them. Some of the things by which students are measured include:

  • showing up
  • writing name on papers
  • sitting down for long periods of time.
  • lifting one’s arm in the air before speaking
  • remembering locker combinations

Okay, so sometimes students are measured on figuring out math formulas or reading literature. But it seems to me that a student could get a much higher grade in high school doing all the other things than strict “learning” that my son did, by actually learning, and never proving it on tests.

School is about figuring out what’s expected and then getting it done, learning or not. My advice to parents, however, is not to get to worked up over a student’s ability to follow process. It doesn’t measure worth, it measures… process.

Of course we want our kids to get good grades, the best grades, and the best way to get there is to follow teacher and school processes. So let’s understand “studying” as not just learning but also following all the little steps that students are being graded upon in addition to “learning.”

See what inspires your child, encourage it, and then encourage her to engage in grade-accumulation as well as learning.

The Secret Life of a teacher gradebook

At the A+ Club, we often hear from parents and students that the student got a B-, or whatever, and can’t say why. The teacher didn’t explain it, the student doesn’t understand it, and the parent is helpless to figure out why.

I just had a conversation with a very bright student who was disappointed in a B+, as her goal was an A. She says that her grade dropped because of a single quiz — which is possible. I suspect, though, that there was something else that knocked her off, and it was very likely manipulated by the teacher. I’m guessing that as a brilliant thinker, quick learner, and full of impatience with process, that quiz grade was the excuse the teacher needed to reflect an overall B+ — smart, got it down but didn’t do everything I asked.

That’s a guess, but I know it happens all the time, especially as an excuse to lift grades — “Oh, well, he did all his homework, so I’ll just pass him even though he failed all his quizzes.”

I’m hearing disgust from all the high-minded teachers out there who believe that standards are standards and the grade book speaks for itself. I’m sorry, but that’s impossible. You will always, necessarily, judge kids holistically, no matter how hard you try to be objective.

Let’s say a student has an A in homework, which is 25% of the grade, an F on tests, which is another 20% of the grade and a D in quizzes (with corrections)  and an A+ in classwork, each 20% of the grade. That adds up to a 77%, or a C+. (Try it here: Mercer Univ Weighted Average Grade Calculator).

Now, the teacher also has a 15% “participation” grade, and whatever the teacher assigns here will decide that overall, final grade:

  • a C in participation will yield 76%, or a C
  • a B in participation will yield  78%, or a C+
  • an A+ in participation will yield an 80% or a B

Assuming there’s no real metric for “participation,” the teacher is justified in assigning this grade based upon pure observation, which will then impact the overall outcome of a C, C+ or a B.

Teachers can do the same by tweaking different grades, such as dropping the lowest grade in each category, or whatever.

From the grades profile we have created, this student is following teacher process, such as in doing homework, but is not learning what is required of the test. Many teachers would be sympathetic to the process and reward a high participation grade simply because the student ostensibly did what was asked, whether or not any learning was involved.

I’m not judging this process. I just want parents and students to be aware of it.

So what do your child’s grades actually measure?

Tests necessarily contain some learning measurement, whether or not it was taught or if it was an explicit part of the content (multiple choice measures reading and logic as much or more than content knowledge). So test scores are usually a primary indicator of your child’s learning. (It is not an indicator of a presence or absence of effective teaching!)

Other assessments such as research projects and essays yield measurable learning, although, like homework and participation grades, these are process-heavy assessments and do not necessarily reflect learning achievement (“mastery” the educators like to call it).

Look over the grade book, speak to the teacher, and discover what, really, is being measured. An A in homework does not mean learning is happening, especially in classes in which the teacher grades for compliance and not accuracy (check it off for having something written on the page — yes, this goes on every day).

Hopefully the various categories of student measurement align, such as B in Homework, B on classwork, and B on tests. I have to say that a part from A- students, that kind of overall consistency in grade results are rare.

Above all, insist upon strong feedback from your child’s teachers. Only the teacher can say what the teacher is measuring, and a good teacher will align grades with thoughtful feedback on actual student production.

Grades measure a lot of things. Make sure you and your child understand what, exactly, is going on with your child’s grades.

– Michael

Feeding back: constant, comprehensive & positive feedback

Feeding back: constant, comprehensive & positive feedback

Student Success Podcast No. 7, Nov. 6, 2013

Today’s Guest: none

Bromley discusses the essential process of feedback. Feedback is simple human interaction. And these interactions so define the teacher-student relationship.  Students will benefit from understanding their role in this relationship. And teachers, too, need to maintain positive, effective interactions with students.

Feedback, being communicating teacher expectations and assessments, is a critical part of teaching and learning, and the more constant, comprehensive, and positive it is the better students will responds. By positive we don’t mean only good news: but bad news needs to be delivered in a constructive, positive manner that engages student improvement rather than cutting it down.

Bromley reviews strategies and ideas for teacher feedback and how students and parents can engage this process.

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or find us on iTunes

Topics Discussed

  • Feedback = human interactions
    • Feedback is constant
    • Every time teachers and students see each other there is feedback
    • Students and teachers need to engage in positive relationships
    • working on saying hello in the morning
  • Goal setting as driving force for positive interactions
    • information flow important for focus on goals
    • Positive feedback drives goal-setting
        • Positive feedback not necessarily about positive things
        • student choices based on good information
        • student choices rational not emotional
    • Raising student awareness
    • Setting expectations
    • Assessments as feedback
    • Effective feedback is constant and positive
    • Assignment reporting
    • Learning Process: learning is not grades!
      • grades measure something, but not necessarily learning

Additional Resources and Links

  • Learning Process Flowchart
    • Where do grades come from?
    • Learning = teacher expectations + student internalization of new knowledge
    • Grades = a measurement of something
      • the best grading measures learning
      • grading does not always measure learning (such as putting your name on the paper, etc.)

Credits

Host: Michael L. Bromley
Original Music by Christopher Bromley (copyright 2011, 2013)
Background snoring: by Stella
Best Dogs Ever: by Puck & Stella

Puck the hunting dog!
Puck the hunting dog!

 Here for Puck & Stella slideshow

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Parents, helicopters & angry kids: how to successfully manage a teen’s academic struggles

parent-and-student_MH900399329So what is a parent supposed to do?

You get in their face too much, and it’s “Back off!” You back off, and they do everything but what you want ’em to do. There’s no better way to go crazy than to be a parent. I know, I’ve gone crazy twice. Well, make that three times, since I was a kid once, too, and the only way to go crazier than by being a parent is by being a child.

To be the perfect parent is impossible. Kids disagree, because they’re always full of advice on how we could be doing our jobs better as their parent. And, of course, the perfect child doesn’t exist either. And here is a real problem: when kids assume they can’t please us, they just drop all of our expectations. Some call it “rebellion.” When it comes to school, we call it “trouble.”

Then we get angry parents

Think about how quickly your child runs home with a good grade on a test, waving it in front of you, demanding your congratulations and praise. Of course they do, because they know you’ll be so happy with them.

Then think about how they defer, hide, and try to get away with not showing you the low grades. They do it because they think you’ll get mad at them, and they’d rather not deal with that. You know, yelling and grounding and the like. Much easier to put off your anger for later than deal with it now. Deferment of pain is a natural and rational human choice.

But what kids don’t get is that that’s not what’s really going on. Sure, you’re going to get mad, and, yes, yelling and grounding may follow. But it’s not because of the low grades. You’re angry because you’re worried. Kids don’t realize this. They just think you’re mad because you’re like that.

Kids want to please parents

Kids want to please their parents. They want to meet parent expectations and to be that perfect child they know they’re parents want them to be. Reality gets in the way, and disappointment and anger may follow. But it doesn’t have to go that way, and real trouble can result if we parents don’t handle it well ourselves.

When I work with students, I ask them why they don’t tell their parents about the bad grades at school. It’s always, “because they’ll get mad.” Okay, I say, but you know they’re going to see it eventually and then get even more angry. No answer. Now, do you show your parents the good grades? “Sure.” Why? Smiling now, “It’ll make ’em happy.”

Parents don’t get angry with the low grades. It’s the impact of those grades that scares parents into anger. And when kids bring good grades, it’s not the grades we parents applaud, it’s our joy at a bright future for our children that those grades represent that makes us happy.

Children are deathly afraid to disappoint their parents, and they will make up all kinds of excuses for negative outcomes. If you listen carefully, all of those excuses are designed to deny having disappointed parents: it’s always someone or something else’s fault. And in the face of parental anger, kids then further excuse themselves from having caused that anger by blaming it on the parents’ own anger.  Yes, there is a logic to it, however unproductive it may be.

Parents are motivated by fear

Kids readily perceive parental anger over bad news but not the love that stands behind it.

We parents are afraid for our children, and we see danger at every turn. When they were little and starting to walk, everyday objects around the house were like daggers poised to kill our precious children. So we padded the sharp corners of the table, put those stupid plastic covers into the outlets, and blocked off the stairs. As children grow older, our fears turn to new dangers, also very real, such as popular culture, the internet, drugs and alcohol, teen driving, and, of course grades.

Children don’t get that our fears are motivated by love. When I ask kids if their parents would get angry if they didn’t love them, they go blank. Of course not, since if they didn’t love they wouldn’t care. It is helpful for kids, at least conceptually, to know that parental anger over poor grades is an act of love. We parents need to remind them of it, especially when we are angry.

Helicoptering & other forms of oversight

Sometimes I hear about the old school, hard-knocks way of parenting: let ’em fall, brush off, and get back up again on their own. There’s a lot to be said for this, as it develops independence and ownership of outcomes by children. But it doesn’t always work, and how can it truly work all the time? Kids do need help sometimes.

We also hear about the “helicopter” parent who hovers over every little thing the child does, making sure it’s all perfect. The danger here, of course, is the opposite of the “hard knocks” school of parenting in that the child will never develop independence and ownership of outcomes. Plus, sometimes that helicopter runs out of gas, and then what? You can’t be on top of everything that goes on in your child’s life.

So the question is balance: what can we do for our children that is productive, healthy, and promotes the values and independence and ownership of them we want out of our children?

Honesty, Love, and Trust

But verify.

Honesty is a two-way street, and when that traffic is coming at you hard, it’s easy just do dodge it with a little lie. But we must face things as honestly as possible, for without honesty we can never fully trust. It’s most difficult for kids to be honest with their parents, because they don’t want to disappoint them. The best we can do as parents is to remind our kids what our expectations are and how they are built from love and not anger. Let our children know it’s okay not to be perfect, but remind them of the values and hopes we hold for them.

This is really hard to do, and no parent can every fully reach it. So we must also verify.

Help when needed

I can’t tell you how many times we hear from parents, “He always says he did his homework already. How am I supposed to know?”

When it comes to schoolwork and grades, schools are supposed to assist parents with timely assignment and grade notifications and communication between teachers and parents. It is impossible, of course, to know everything all the time. (My mother had me convinced that she was “the fly on the wall” in my elementary school.) Ideally, the information flow is sufficient for parents to know what teacher expectations are so as to be able to verify workflow with their child. Worse, however, in the schools we have seen in our student support service, effective teacher feedback is not the norm.

Well, when the grades come back you’ll know for sure.

Until then, the question is if the child is deferring responsibility or actually fulfilling it. In our student support service, our ideal is for students to account for themselves without parent or teacher oversight, and we provide the HomeworkTracker to our clients as an effective tool for it. But we’re not always working with kids who have that ability to be on top of everything all the time, so more tools are needed. We support parents and students by monitoring their teacher pages and progress reports and encouraging teachers to provide direct feedback for our students.

The most powerful tool we provide, however, is a simple, honest conversation. And an ongoing one. We speak with our students at least once a week in order to help them think through what’s going on in school, verify what we see, and to problem solve. The very first and the most powerful thing we can do with a student is to help them remove those self-imposed barriers that they use as easy excuses for not meeting their parents’ and their own goals. Once a student articulates a goal honestly (a goal to get all A’s is less honest than a goal to improve on existing C’s and D’s), then those self-imposed barriers becomes problems to solve rather than excuses.

It is a huge the first step for students who have been in the process of denial and deferring to be honest and realistic with themselves. When parents and students are in a cycle of denial and anger, that honesty is difficult to find. Some of the greatest successes in our service have been to restore that trust between parents and students over school work. Then they can argue over more important things, like chores and what movies they’re allowed to see. Getting there takes patience, consistency, honesty and love. We’re one tool available to parents and students to get there.

In an upcoming post, I will cover the feedback process more carefully and offer some suggestions for parents and teachers on how to up that game. Meanwhile, we wish students and parents all a happy, positive start on the new school year!

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

The Learning Process

Or, where do grades come from?

Learning-Process_flow-chart4_noheader2

Where do grades come from? Click here to view my Learning Process flow chart. Grades and learning are not necessarily related… Ideally they are, but what, really, do grades measure?

Have you ever considered what, exactly, do grades measure?

They measure something, but can they really measure everything? And of what they do measure, is it fair, is it meaningful, and does it represent what we really want students to achieve?

At the A+ Club we work with students to appreciate what grades are really about. The first thing to understand is that grades do not measure, do not indicate intelligence. Nor do grades necessarily measure learning. Whatever schools have done to lead any students or parents to believe this need to just disappear. Of course students have different intelligence. But they also have different skills Good at math, bad at drawing. Good at football, bad at reading. Good at singing, good at science, too. Whatever, these are all different types of intelligences, as intelligence is purely contextual. I do wish I was a math wizard like my astrophysicist brother. Ain’t gonna happen, so I do what I can with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a good grade in Physics. So how would I go about getting a good grade in Physics if I’m bad at math?

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

First some vocabulary:

  • Assessment: a measurement of something, such as a grade on an exam.
  • Grades: assessments of student performance based upon certain criteria, hopefully not arbitrary
  • Learning Expectation: what a teacher expects students to learn
  • Relevancy: the idea that something is important or meaningful
  • Prior Knowledge (PK): what you already know
  • New Knowledge (NK): new things you learn
  • Internalization: the process of turning NK into PK

Grades as measurements

If we consider that grades measure something but not everything, then we must first consider what it is that grades measure. If a teacher gives a grade for “participation,” what does that mean? Is it an impression? A concrete measurement. Or is it a measurement of a process, such as a requirement to show the steps taken to answer a math equation as opposed to just answering the equation. When teachers outline assessment expectations in advance, we call this a “rubric.” Ideally, every little grade has a clear rubric or clear understanding by students about its expectations.

Just about every student has a story about getting a zero on something because they forgot to put their name on an assignment. It was done. It was even done well, and the student learned. But the student got a zero. So, what’s the grade about? Well, putting your name on the page is part of the grade. (Some teachers throw out un-named assignments; I always keep them, as it killed me that a kid did the work but I can’t reward it because I don’t know who it is!).

The next lesson here is to follow instructions!!! Students who are impatient with process often skip the instructions and then miss out on important steps that lead to low scores. You may have had one of those teachers who puts a “trick question” into an exam just to see if the student read everything, such as “skip the next two questions for extra credit.” I get the idea and have tried it myself. Ultimately, though it is not fair, but the sentiment is true: “read me,” screams the test!

Grades reflect so much more than just learning. A few things that go into most school assessments that are so basic we don’t often think about them. But if we do, we are more cognizant of what it takes to get a good grade:

  • timeliness
  • completion
  • name
  • instructions

If you really consider it, there is far less “learning” in a grade than there is “process” and just meeting teacher expectations.

Student Success

At The A+ Club, we employ these ideas very simply:

  • are you aware of what is expected of you?
  • what learning is expected?
  • are you being graded on timeliness and completion?
  • what process is expected?

That last, process, is behind most low grades. Many kids believe they could just ace the test and get a good grade without having done any homework. Often enough they are correct in this. But hardly always, and it is always the case that students are graded on process as much as learning. The trick is for students to make it meaningful enough to bother to do it, or, better, to want to do it. The best teachers make everything meaningful to students, but that’s a rarity. Instead, kids have to take up relevancy upon themselves.

Our job at The A+ Club is to provide kids with the tools and strategies to make their work meaningful, if only to get a higher grade.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.