Eliminating Bias in Grading: Teachers Collaborate on Student Assessments
The work of a professional learning community team is never done. Instead, teachers continuously navigate the world of standards, assessments, interventions, and extensions, using inquiry in an informed way to improve student learning. They begin a journey that becomes more clearly defined, but encounter speed bumps and forks in the road along the way. For those not clear about the importance of looking at student learning, analyzing results, and working collaboratively, it becomes easy to say “we’re doing PLCs” just by meeting at a designated time. This minimizes the impact PLCs have on improving student performance and shifting the culture of a school. In Learning by Doing, Rick DuFour describes the difference between “doing PLCs” and “being a PLC.” By “being a PLC,” a team of teachers embraces the stamina needed for the continuous journey ahead and keep student learning at the forefront of decisions.
Schools where PLC teams seem to be stuck in a spiral of planning the next unit, lesson, or assessment without clear, direct ties to student work or interventions and extensions need to consider how the second PLC question, “How will we know students have learned?” is being answered. The automated response of many teachers is “formative and summative assessments,” but what are the criteria that prove whether or not students are proficient on each standard or learning target? Further, schools must ask how teachers communicate their expectations to students and other teachers? In other words, the critical question for schools in the process becomes, how successfully is a team working as a PLC rather than “doing PLC”?
As we began the work of PLCs at my own high school, it became apparent that although we could agree on the guaranteed and viable curriculum and could even write common assessments, measuring student learning from those assessments varied dramatically from teacher to teacher. This inconsistency stifled the efforts toward student equity, as well as the ability of teachers and students to clearly articulate what was expected. Teachers wanted to spend time planning the next unit or test but did not devote time to thinking about how an assessment should be scored to ensure the common experience of students from classroom to classroom. As a result, a student could earn a D+ to a B on a common summative assessment depending on which teacher graded the exam.
In order to navigate the path toward true common assessments to measure student learning, teams met to grade three summative student tests without teacher comments or student names. Each teacher in the PLC independently scored the student work. Before the work began, teachers assumed they would similarly assess the exams. However, once the exams were scored and the results anonymously recorded to share with the team, the teachers were surprised that the grades differed so significantly, and a new path on the PLC journey began. Discussions followed, which helped clarify the rubric that should be used to measure student learning for each question on the exam. It was important to have norms and consensus in place during this discussion because whether a teacher had taught for 1 year or 20, he/she was passionate about how student work should be scored.
Even after the initial discussion, it was important to continue examining how student learning was being measured on each exam. While scoring student work at a later date with assumed clarity about how the work should be evaluated, there were still subtle inconsistencies among the grades students earned by each teacher on the team. However, when teachers came together to discuss their scoring while looking at student samples, the PLC members began to come to true consensus regarding assessment scores. There is a need to use student work as a road map along the continuous journey for clear direction.
Feeling confident that teachers were now commonly assessing students, we met again to compare data. The PLC journey continued as we realized some teachers had put raw scores into the grade book and others percents. This intentionally or unintentionally weighted the exams during the semester. The team again came to consensus.
Once the summative exams were more closely aligned to the learning targets and scored equitably, we began to look more closely at common formative assessments. This was manageable because so much time had been spent making sure each team member understood the level at which students needed to master each target and had identified the most important learning in that process. As with the summative assessments, the teams need to revisit their scoring by looking at student work on a regular basis.
Collecting and analyzing data continues to add to the journey and help teams determine which interventions and enrichments are needed for individual students. All of this is done with continuous refinement of learning targets in each unit to better involve students in their learning and help them answer these questions: Where am I going? Where am I now? How do I close the gap?
On the road to “being a PLC,” teams must use student work as a catalyst for determining proficiency and clarifying expectations. This will lead to using data to make informed decisions and working in an inquiry based model with a constant focus on student learning. The conversations are not always easy or smooth, but they have value and through them, teachers grow in their ability to work together and have shared understanding regarding the guaranteed and viable curriculum established. Students become the focus and all members of the educational community learn.