Hacking Assessment, a Slightly Off Topic Review

While it is great to read books that help cement your beliefs about teaching, it is if anything more beneficial to read those you disagree with. I went into Hacking Assessment with that thought. I have no complaints with the Starr Sackstein or the Hacking Learning Series in general, but I went in knowing that going gradeless wouldn’t work for me and left feeling the same way.

I should backtrack. I teach 6 periods a day of 8th grade Physical Science, trust me, I am a pro at my demos by the end of the day. Those classes have between 28 to 39 students and class periods are 44 minutes long. There isn’t much time to reach each of my students every day. While I am not thrilled with the idea of just popping a “87% – B” on a project or lab that the students spent days or weeks working on, when that grade goes into the online grade book there is also a more detailed comment left for them on Google Classroom. Ultimately, there is not enough time for me to give verbal feedback to each student. From what I’d heard previously that sounded like a key aspect on going gradeless – conferences.

As I read the book the author lamented how untimely grades are with progress report and quarter grades being outdated by the time they reach home. That’s never been my issue. Sure, those are outdated, but since I began teaching my schools have used Aeries which give the parents up to date grades (or at least as up to date as the teacher’s grading).

My issue is the obsession with grades online grade systems cause. I’ve had parents and students focus only on those red boxes, the missing assignments, neglecting to focus on the progress in the class as a whole. And I get that from the parents’ side for sure, they want to do all they can to help their students’ succeed and those red boxes mark a big red issue. In there is my big problem with grades. No, not the parents’ desires to support their kids, but the focus on completion and score rather than understanding that often arises from those red boxes and online grades as a whole.

There can be this focus on finishing late work to remove that missing score over understanding of the current task. How to deal with that is what I want to change. I want to change the focus to emphasize understanding over a grade. I feel that the author has the same aim. I hoped this book would give me a fix for that, but for me it didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there were awesome thing about the book. In particular I loved the recommendations for peer evaluations. Plus, the personal accounts from teachers implementing the various practices were informative. And if you really want to go gradeless or are trying to convince your school/district to go gradeless I highly recommend the book.

Although I finished the book still determined that going gradeless would not work for me (because if nothing else I believe it is too big of a change to implement as a single teacher rather than as a school wide initiative), I also finished it full of ideas about what I do want to do differently.

It made me realize that I need to implement more student choice in assignments and ways to demonstrate their understanding. And I need to somehow reflect this in the gradebook in a way that gives appropriate information on progress to the parents.

I want to expand my use of peer evaluation.

And I do want to incorporate more face to face discussions of grades with my students, though I am unsure what that would look like logistically.

I finished the book with a lot of thoughts and questions and that is never a bad thing. Although I am not dropping grades next week or next year, the book at least made me consider it. I just wish I somehow left with more answers.


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