Having a bit of a crisis of confidence.
Canadian teacher and education reformer, Joe Bower tweeted the title of the post this morning. That’s not right I thought, I can provide formative feedback on a piece of work which helps students make progress whilst also giving them a grade as a useful signpost to measure their progress against. I took it upon myself to tell Joe as much.
He sent me a link to Education’s Rotten Apples which summarises Ruth Butler’s research which shows that the damage of giving grades trumps feedback. It says, “What happens when states offer performance-based assessments, but in the context of “accountability” systems—basically, extrinsic pressure—to improve the results? In a word, the former are destroyed by the latter.”
OK, that seems clear enough. Case closed? Well no. Andrew Chandler-Grevatt weighed in with this: Stephen Gorard did a study in Welsh classrooms – claimed the opposite to Butler… Messy. In his 2005 paper entitled ‘They don’t give us our marks’ The role of Formative Assessment in Student Progress, he claims that in the school where he conducted his research found that “the students felt that not receiving marks prevented them from discussing their progress in school with their parents” and that “any feedback that was provided was often poorly understood by the students and did little to enhance the learning process. Where comments were made, they appeared to focus upon enhancing self-esteem or self-image rather than on what needed to be done to improve and how the student might go about making any improvement.”
Clearly the problem here is woolly, meaningless ‘formative’ comments that will in no way help students to make progress. Obviously, this is to be avoided which is why I wrote about using mark schemes to make formative assessment more purposeful and rooted in something ‘real’.
So, who’s right? I think Butler would definitely be against my approach because it depends in some part on the grade bands in the mark scheme. Gorard also says that even though the students they interviewed said they would prefer to receive a mark and a comment, it doesn’t produce any clear improvement in performance: ‘when students get marks and comments, they first look at their own mark and then at their neighbour’s. They hardly ever read the comments’ (Wiliam & Black, 2002)
Should I just accept that grades are an inevitability and that it’s how they’re used that should be important? How would Mr Ofsted respond when asking a student in my class whether they’re achieving their target grade to be told that I didn’t let them know what grade they were? And, if I believe that giving grades undermines student progress should I give a monkeys what Ofsted think? The other issue is the effect grades have on mindsets. Formative assessment encourages growth mindset whereas grades (especially target grades) encourage students to have fixed view of their intelligence and potential.
Would be grateful for any advice or thoughts on this.