Thursday, October 14, 2010

Can we imagine not keeping score?

Guest Blogger Christine VanderRee is Comox Valley's District Numeracy Lead teacher, supporting classrooms from K to 7. She has always specialized in elementary mathematics education but values her kids and colleagues from Middle School and Intermediate classrooms that she had before this position. Christine is currently working on her Masters of Educational Leadership at VIU and is delighted to be back as a formal student after such a long break from it. She values her time with her family as well as time on the water with their sailboat.

Is there any difference between a rubric with a 4 point scale and percents when looking at assessment practices? Both keep score – a rubric with a clearer picture than the percent but a score nonetheless. As teachers we are obliged to report student progress to parents so we are caught in a number trap. However, typically, especially at the intermediate and then into high school level we provide feedback to students using these same numbers.

School is a constant number game, especially in subject areas such as mathematics. A child might be told that he or she has 73% of the questions correct on a paper. I am no longer sure what this tells the student? It’s a low B. That’s clear, but what can the child really do about the 27% of the missed concepts and how could he/she identify them? Did the student know how deeply he/she understood the work before it was marked? Children, especially older ones, appear to be motivated by marks but I think that we are part of a culture that values the score as we equate that with learning. However, if my goal is to help a child become a mathematical thinker, problem solver, someone who can identify where they are stuck and identify what they need to do next, a 73% is meaningless. I believe that too many of us confuse assessment with evaluation. Assessment, not evaluation should drive our practice. How can we help students achieve an optimal learning experience? By striving as teachers to help our students achieve ‘flow’, I believe that children can get to that place of learning for the sake of learning with the experience as the end in itself. We have a significant amount of learning to do as teachers if we are to ever come close to helping all of our students achieve this. Formative assessment is the key!

Interestingly, my work with the Teacher Leadership program is my first experience with receiving descriptive feedback and not scores as a student. At first I was quite taken back that I didn’t have a number attached to each of my assignments. I have always kept score and have valued those A’s. When I examined my own learning however, I realized that I did know when I understood concepts and had presented my ideas in an appropriate way. I learned to seek clarifications when I was unsure. I began to look instead for the ‘those comments’ of my instructors. They helped me to reflect further on my learning. I studied ‘those comments’ looking for opportunities to explain, expand and clarify. The experience of my learning is what mattered, not a score. I have decades of wanting that high score with me and know that I will need to keep fighting my desire for the number and instead truly acknowledge that it is the learning that really matters and a score will not assist the learning.

The task isn’t just to get something done, it’s to create an environment in which people want to do it. Clay Shirky


  1. Well said Christine.
    Here's hoping that we can bring this type of learning to our students - but first we must bring it within our own understanding.

  2. Perhaps it's always the case that when our students aren't learning, it's because we haven't.