Reply To: Knowing The Learner Chapter 1 Review

A Renewal of Education Forums Earlier Conversations Knowing The Learner Chapter 1 Review Reply To: Knowing The Learner Chapter 1 Review

Paul Zachos

Thank you, Patrick, for this sincere and thoughtful review of Chapter I.

Your review of the 1st chapter succeeds in bringing to the fore many of the most critical issues and persistent problems that dog the field of educational assessment and evaluation, precisely the issues and problems that Knowing the Learner (KTL) is directed to address. I believe that as you progress through the book you will be able to come up with sound and productive answers on your own, so for now I will concentrate on points you have discovered that we may not have addressed adequately or sufficiently in the text.

Accomplishment Based Grading, and its radical thesis concerning the divorce of grading from assessment dwells primarily, as you point out, in the realm of ‘can be’ rather than ‘is’ or ‘does’ although is viability can be demonstrated in practice in at least two cases — Robert Pavlica’s High School Science Research Program and our own course, EA&E online, which teaches the fundamentals of educational assessment and evaluation. The changes in thinking and practice that would be required to put accomplishment based grading into effect in conventional educational settings is formidable and that, I believe, is why we do not see more of it. However the critical point to keep in mind is that the existing grading systems are not actually productive in serving truly educational purposes and so turn out to be both ineffective and inhumane. Something else is needed. Accomplishment Based Grading points the way to the requirements for rational, efficient and humane practices in educational assessment and evaluation.

Regarding the assessment activity Cubes and Liquids, you pose the question of what happens if the student does not engage fully in the activity, or perhaps does not make any effort at all. This is as deep and far ranging a problem as one can imagine and is worth a chapter or a book in and of itself. However, if I am correct, it does not have to do specifically with Cubes and Liquids but is a question that can be posed regarding any task whatsoever assigned in an educational setting.

Regarding the application of the notion of the ‘Bell Curve ’ to understanding what is happening with teachers and students in the activity of Cubes and Liquids we must consider another central thesis of our work. This is our requirement that the use of information in educational programs be educationally productive. The nature of this requirement will be defined precisely in Chapter II. For now consider the following question — How does the application of the notion of the bell curve help us to achieve an educational purpose in the context of the Cubes and Liquids activity?

Your questions concerning the science research course, e.g. ‘How do we ensure that students are setting realistic goals that are both attainable and require effort?” and what if students are “consistently meeting goals but at the end of the semester had not completed the project due to scope of project, improper goal setting or other problems.” These would be legitimate concerns in almost any conventional instructional program. Significantly, and very much to the point, these are not problems in the science research course as designed and realized by Bob Pavlica. This is because of the intensive assessment and evaluation that characterizes the course. Student work is continually being ‘observed’ and what is observed is used as the basis for moving forward in a way that does not allow any student to ‘slip through the cracks’.

Returning to Accomplishment Based Grading, you say
“By adding some information on how this process improves student outcomes, I think it makes the information much more compelling for non-educators. At the same time, providing this information would allow educators interested in this change to more easily get parent buy-in.”

This is precisely our intention, and so the fact that you need to point it out suggests that we did not present it as clearly as was needed. So how does accomplishment based grading relate to improving student outcomes? Built into accomplishment based grading is the idea that the justification for the assignment of any instructional activity is that engaging in that activity will lead to the attainment of intended learning outcomes. This is an essential feature underlying accomplishment based grading as it relates to the improvement of student outcomes.

But in the end this is, as Jean Piaget used to say, ‘an empirical question’. We believe it ‘can’ do so, but ‘will’ accomplishment based grading actually lead to greater effectiveness and humaneness in educational programs? How do we demonstrate that accomplishment based grading can help to ‘improve student outcomes’, and have its other intended effects. Later in Knowing the Learner we address how to lay the foundations for educational research that could begin to answer just such a question.