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Jackson explains that grades have traditionally been used to measure student progress. Grades have also been used to determine graduation, promotion, eligibility for extra-curricular activities, and admission to academic programs, among many other uses.

Jackson proposes that grades be used to facilitate learning. She defines assessment as a way to provide the teacher and the student with feedback on how well the student is mastering the course material.  Grades should be an evaluation of a students’ progress, not and evaluation of the students themselves. Most importantly, the teacher is charged with clearly articulating the definition of a grade. A grade is only worth the value of the feedback it provides.

It was hard to stay seated as I read Jackson’s piece on formative assessment.  Like many teachers, I am increasingly frustrated by our reliance on “paper and pencil” assessment. If frequent, quick, and appropriate assessments are given often enough, evaluation has the potential to be timely, and economical. They can provide “real-time” feedback that give students a direct link between their efforts and their progress.

In my class, formative assessment is frequent. I am constantly checking for understanding by way of questioning or translation. As I’ve explained in previous posts, if I go beyond my students’ comprehension, I am going too fast.

This year I plan to adopt one of Jackson’s ideas: I am going to involve students in the collection and analysis of their own data. My class is a comprehension-based  foreign language program – students spend the majority of the class time listening to me or reading. I will make their role in class more active by having them tally the frequency of target vocabulary, or the times they have “drifted off”, or answered a teacher’s question correctly, or incorrectly. I will take time each week to discuss in groups and individually, the information their self-culled data tell us.

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