We’re searching for a better student information system (SIS) and reporting tool and have had over the last several weeks a number of demos none of which have been very impressive. They all reflect a number-crunching mindset and even boast how they can average and weight marks. Some will do curving, or more sophisticated manipulations, some drops, some standards-based grading. (Not to mention none really accommodate an IB school’s needs.) But all have a common problem in that they view assessment as a discrete moment, or accumulation of moments, in time–snapshots of student ability or capacity. So we see gradebooks as essesntially spreadsheets with a long row of numbers, one for each moment, for each student.
The problem with moments is that they are fleeting. Human beings don’t exist in moments; they are always becoming. The long rows of numbers only describe what was, not what is or will be.
Don’t get me wrong. I like data and to be sure there is a correlation between past scores and current and future behaviour. But that’s difficult to pull out with a quick look at a gradebook. (Teachers probably don’t really need to look–they know or ought to know what their students are doing anyway.) And practically speaking it’s impossible for a department head or head of school to get a quick look at how all the students in the school are doing.
I’d love to see a gradebook tool that ported data to a dashboard that created small graphs, like sparklines, showing student performance that would sit in a window on my laptop or maybe even become an app on my iOS or Android device. The same data/apps could be shared with parents.
From there we could aggregate data for classes, grades, gender–you name it–with yet more sparklines so department heads and upwards can get current and accurate pictures of how the whole school is performing or how a school-wide initiative, say a writing program, is working. It would be an easy thing to add in triggers so when the performance of a student or group of students starts trending downwards or spikes up the program would flash an alert.
The tiny graphs emphasize trends over moments, which I submit is a much more useful perspective. They also reinforce in a quiet but important way that learning is not about achievement, but about continuous growth. That’s what we mean when we say we are creating lifelong learners, yes?