Measuring Student Achievement

Ryan Reed - Principal, W.G. Murdoch SchoolI am an avid sports fan. A top memory in my life occurred when Michael Jordan crossed Bryon Russell into the next state before hitting a game sealing, championship winning, legacy defining jump shot to win his sixth championship in 1998. Close behind that is Malcolm Butler’s inexplicable interception to secure the Patriots fourth Super Bowl and crush the bandwagon Seahawks fan’s dream in Super Bowl XLIX. I can remember where I was, what emotions I had, and how I reacted.

The world of sports, like education, has many traditions and measurements it holds near and dear. It’s a tough group of people to move forward. Over the past decade, the sporting world has been taken over by the analytics movement, with traditional ‘measures’ of athletic greatness being replaced by more up-to-date and meaningful statistics. If you’re a hockey fan, you might hear two die hard Oilers fans debating Kris Russel’s Corsi rating rather than his plus minus. A baseball fan might look at Anaheim Angel’s outfielder Mike Trout and use his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic to prove he is the best player in the game. Or a Raptors fan might defend the recent Kawhi Leonard trade by comparing his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) to that of DeMar DeRozan’s when extolling the virtues of the recent trade. Whatever sport you’re a fan of, there is no denying analytics have greatly impacted the game.

Education is undergoing similar change and it is hard for us to wrap our heads around sometimes. How we ‘measure’ student achievement has always been a tricky process. This is partly due to the fact that as educators, we didn’t go into the profession to get a Master’s degree in statistics. Weighting tasks, determining what should count and what shouldn’t, giving kids a chance to re-do work. All of these factors lead us to a point where a child has a final grade in the class we taught them. The validity and reliability of those grades could always be questioned though, as the math behind it isn’t always accurate.

Our school (W.G. Murdoch) is part of Rocky View Schools Real Time Reporting prototype. As part of this cohort of brave schools, we are embarking on the journey to analyze our grading practices and alter them where needed to best reflect and communicate student learning. A major side benefit is leading all of us to take a closer look at our curriculum and ensuring we are assessing students on what matters in the curriculum, not just a series of pre-determined tasks we have them complete every year. Our goal as a school is to ensure the mark we determine in June for our Gr. 6 – 8 students is more accurate than in previous years and represents that child’s learning at the end of the year.

As with any change, the process can be hard. The enjoyable aspect for me is watching teachers dig in and embrace the change. This is work many of them have been wanting to do for some time and now have the right ‘vehicle’ to take them there. And while the end of the year might not bring as vivid of a memory for me as the sporting moments earlier in my life, the satisfaction of knowing students and parents will have clearer view of their learning will be rewarding.