Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Much Information Is Too Much?

We're getting near the end of the term, and there's a characteristic increase in the rate of reassessments. Some of this is just natural: there are more standards in play, and the standards introduced later in the term all must be reassessed in a shorter window than the earlier terms. Also, those standards are assessed fewer times by me, so some students that might've worked it out on another in-class assessment need to do it individually. Of course, there are also students putting things off until later in the term. Some of that, though, is also benign - there are a lot of papers/tests/projects/reports/HW due (with a capital 'D') in other classes, so, if they can still demonstrate that proficiency, but later in the term, that's just a good time-management decision. There will always be some students that procrastinate, too.

Here's a question that I've fielded a good number of times over the past three years that I've been using SBG: "will this standard be on a future assessment this term?" I've never quite known what to think about that. Several possible scenarios come to mind, some troubling and others perfectly reasonable:

  • The scariest interpretation: "Can I just ignore this now?"
  • "Should I bother to reassess this individually, or will it happen anyway without me scheduling and taking an individual reassessment?"
  • Another cynical one: "At what point should I actually try to learn this?" 
  • "I'd like to plan my limited number of reassessment days (remember that we're within a couple of weeks of the end of the term, and they can only reassess one std/day, only on M, W, F) - do I need to use those for a different standard, and pick this one up on one of yours?"
Much like Star Trek movies, two and four are good and one and three aren't. I might be overly optimistic, but I think that, for most of the kids that have asked me (thinking of the individual kids that have asked me), it really isn't a diabolical or cynical question, but one about time management.

I'd like to hear your thoughts: how much information should students have about upcoming assessments? I sometimes list the standards that will be the primary focus (no promises about anything else that might come along with those) on the calendar. Is that beneficial for time-strapped students trying to best plan how to demonstrate as many proficiencies as possible or does it support mercenary rating-collectors (points-collectors for a new age)?


  1. I feel fairly strongly about this one... time management is a big issue for many of these kids. What SBG does is to tie the grades to real learning so closely that "rating collectors" are forced to maximize their efficiency in learning. If something is going to be assessed again in class, it uses extra time that neither of us have to write and take an individual re-assessment -- and there are plenty of other objectives that will not be assessed again in class that they can be focusing on.

    On the other side of this, however, I frankly discuss with them that a significant time-lag between assessments will make the learning process not work - you will be less likely to succeed on the later assessment. With this in mind, I've recently instituted a new requirement: to be eligible for re-assessment, you have to (a) correct your work within one week of getting it back, (b) do any assigned extra practice within one week of going over the corrections with me, and (c) schedule the re-assessment within one week of that.

    1. When you say 'time management,' you're saying that they're over-scheduled, rather than that their time management skills are poor - is that correct? I pretty much agree there for the majority of kids.

      The time lag is an issue, though one of the points of SBG is to require sustained mastery, so the time lag shouldn't (theoretically) be an issue. I also require corrections and extra problems, but haven't put any time limits on it. Partly, I want a kid never to fell that it's 'too late' to improve understanding and partly it's another layer of bureaucracy for me to attend to.