Enrich Assessment and Avoid The Grading Quit Point

There are moments in every day life when we feel like we have reached the lowest point and there is no point in continuing. This is called the Quit Point: the moment when an individual's productive energy toward a specific goal drops, causing withdrawal or minimized effort.

As students navigate their academic lives, they are faced with several challenges that provide so much stress and exhaustion that make them want to quit. One of the biggest Quit Points for students comes from the constant harsh judgment from grades. 

A grade on an assignment is supposed to reflect understanding based on authentic student effort, but that is rarely the case. Traditional grading limits feedback to a score or percentage that approximates the level of learning. Students use these scores to justify quitting.

When an assignment is only worth five points compared to the usual 20, the student’s thought process is to Effort Ration because “the assignment is less important.” An upcoming test worth 100 points might cause some students to quit because they “never get higher than a C on tests.”

Any valuable feedback that a teacher provides is usually ignored when students see a grade, and that alone doesn’t explain areas of strengths, what can be improved, and how to show growth. It is time to shift the conversation with students from grade to how they can grow as learners. 

Changing your approach to formative assessment allows you to communicate more about learning than a number or letter grade, and by creating a new procedure focused on providing focused feedback you can teach students the value of assignments and motivate students to strive for learning while avoiding Quit Points. 

Formative Assessment

Coaches and directors do not wait several days to communicate their evaluation to their players or performers. And yet that’s what teachers do all the time. Coaches and directors continually assess musicians and athletes and give focused feedback during practices.

We want to observe students in action, evaluate their learning in the moment, and direct their focus toward the area of greatest need. Since they use our feedback to improve their performance, this means students begin to seek out more assessment of their performance in class. Start to use this assessment as a strategy to avoid Quit Points.

Approach content, skills, and depth as a continuum rather than an average score. All students begin by learning the content for each unit. Once they can show understanding of that material, they start focusing on skills, such as communicating a more extensive range of knowledge. Finally, expect those who show a firm grasp of content and skills to work toward higher-level thinking and greater depth of understanding.

This strategy allows you to use multiple assignments over the course of a unit to evaluate the learning of each student differently, since it involves tracking progress on the continuum instead of via columns of scores on assignments.

This system helps prevent quitting, because at-risk students aren’t weighed down by low scores that make higher achievement impossible. Those at the top of the continuum also quit less because their strong performance allows them to focus on independent learning and projects instead of activities they might perceive as busywork.

Content Assessment

When you assess for content, try to focus on main ideas, vocabulary, and whether students can provide examples. Begin by ensuring that all students understand the main ideas from the unit. As they become more fluent in explaining those main ideas, introduce and connect new vocabulary. Finally, once students can use content-specific vocabulary, you can ask them to provide examples from class as support and evidence of their learning.

This progression increases your awareness of where every individual is in the learning process. It can direct your pacing through the unit and provides information to help avoid Quit Points as students study new material. Once students have gone through the process of mastering the content, you can change focusing to assessing skills. 

Skills Assessment

Students who need skills feedback are the ones whose work doesn’t consistently reflect their content learning. Their answers may be incomplete, disorganized, or lacking in clarity.

When focusing on skills, try to work to improve students' ability to organize and communicate a broader range of learning. These expectations may include the ability to group common terms, explain cause and effect relationships, or even structure their understanding in a well-crafted essay.

While these skills may extend beyond the reach of some students, feeling confident about their content knowledge makes it more likely they will persevere instead of quitting while working toward these goals. Once students reach this level, they are ready for the next level of feedback: depth.

Depth Assessment

To be able to focus your highest-skilled students on appropriate growth targets and ensure more frequent authentic engagement, assess and provide feedback to students based on their depth and complexity of learning. At this point, students should be able to link themes across units, relate learning to personal experiences, and evaluate various arguments or ideas. 

Due to their mastery of both content and skills, start to encourage students who receive depth feedback to explore areas of specific interest. Have your depth feedback be the guideline for what students should be able to achieve when they try to do better. Just rehashing the same standards over again makes quitting more likely.

These students can answer recall and memory questions so easily that we must focus on higher-complexity questions to keep them engaged. Repetitive, low-level tasks are tedious and seem like busywork, which leads these students to reach a Quit Point.

The best way to avoid this Quit Point is to personalize learning. Once students have mastered complex learning expectations, with the help of guided feedback for depth, they can explore and connect ideas that most peers, and even teachers, might not understand at first.

These students can wander down the rabbit hole of their choosing, and still find their way home. What they bring back, such as the role of refrigerated train cars during industrialization, the parallels between a Batman villain and the French Revolution, or a game like Pokémon that lets them hunt for flora and fauna, has the potential to enrich everyone’s learning.

We expect learning to be a process. Students should not fear punitive grades for the growing pains that are merely part of that process. But by focusing on learning that occurs before the Quit Point, teachers can gather more and better information about student learning. That allows educators to give focused feedback that doesn’t penalize mistakes, but provides each learner with the opportunity to improve.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Quit Point

Main post image by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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