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Re: Defining Student Success

Trying to avoid sounding trite, I would suggest that a major problem with grades,
as has been already stated, is identifying what they actually measure. After
all they are only a snapshot of certain behaviours measured at a given time.
After all, the things measured and not measured by grades are essentially fluid
anyway. Any student will change each day as they confront life. Enough however!
The problem remains, what do grades tell us and how useful are they?

This is a question which has occupied a great deal of time and thought in my
own system of schooling (The public High School System in NSW Australia). Indeed,
we have recently changed the way we assess student progress in our senior years
as a result of a long term review of the way our system works. I hope some of
"our observations" might contribute to this topic.

Firstly, before a course is even taught or any students enrol, there needs to
be a defined purpose for the course. We need to know what we are trying to measure
and why we are measuring it. Do we want students to learn a particular set of
facts, replicate a set of skills or develop a set of attitudes? We should be
able to explain the purpose of the course and how it will be measured a priori.

Next we need to explain to students the purpose of the course and how they will
be assessed. That way they know from the beginning whether they will be advantaged
or disadvantaged by the method used. Eg. If we want a demonstration of planning
skills for investigations then we may assess through the development of a portfolio.
Non-scientists entering our course may not be disadvantaged by this approach.
If we require the learning of large volumes of very specific content and assessment
is by pen and paper testing then non-scientists may struggle.

All this implies a predetermined standard against which students will be graded.
Our system has just developed a set of standards designed to inform students
of the "behaviours" they need to exhibit to gain a particular grade. All students
in particular courses are graded against well identified and explicit "outcomes".
Doing this is supposed to inform students about what they need to do to succeed.
Finally we need to develop forms of assessment appropriate to measure the behaviours
we want to grade. A difficult task which has taken many hours of training, discussion
and networking between teachers.

The idea behind all this is that students are well informed, grading is consistent
and students are able to identify what they need to do to succeed. Equally,
as students complete tasks within a course it is supposed to inform them of
what they are able to do and what they need to do to improve. The final grade
in the course, being "transparent" gives an indication to those interested of
the specific things the grade indicates. Of course such a system has problems
and fails to solve the things already debated. It is however, the way our system
tries to deal with some of the difficulties inherent with grades.
Peter Craft
Corowa High School
Ph 02 6033 1889

Corowa - The Birth Place of Federation