Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Thoughts on grades, authentic assessment, and measuring learning

The Denver NBC TV affiliate carried a story last night about Golden High School, Colorado, where someone or some group (as of yet unidentified) hacked into the school’s student information system (SIS) and changed multiple student grades. (“Students hack into school system, change grades”) According to the report, students are being asked to round up old copies of their graded homework, quizzes and tests to “prove” they earned the grades the SIS contains:

Students are now being asked to go back and prove what grade they should be receiving. “The teachers don’t know what to do because they don’t keep their hard files, they just keep them on the computers,” said LaFalche. Students say teachers are asking them to bring back what they can; tests, notebooks, anything and everything. “That was a big deal, having to bring back all of your homework,” said LaFalche. (Hannah LaFalche is a sophomore at Golden High School)


This situation brings several thoughts to mind.

  1. Did the school IT department not have an effective server backup solution in place? This article makes it sound like they didn’t, but school officials are not actually quoted– just students, who obviously don’t have the whole story. Any server hosting SIS data should be scheduled for a nightly backup, so at worst only one day of new data would be lost. If students are actually being asked to bring in old assignments, it seems likely a server backup was NOT made as it should have been, or the restore that was made from the backup was incomplete.
  2. Often people (especially administrators) do not realize how important information technologies are until a data loss or server failure makes the point in a loud way that can’t be ignored. Technology leadership training for administrators is CRITICAL so they can be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to funding important needs like network security and server backups.
  3. Network administrators and advocates for educational technology use generally WANT teachers to become dependent on technology resources like servers, where they don’t feel like they have to print a hard-copy backup of grades “just in case.” Events like this are certainly counterproductive for that goal, and provide fuel for the fire for those who say “I told you so” and “We should just do grades the old paper-way.”
  4. Students would not be in the ridiculous position of being asked to bring in copies of all their old homework and other assignments if the school was using a course management solution like Moodle, AND the district’s IT managers had daily backups of server content. If assignments had been turned in digitally, they would all still be digitally accessible, at worst through a one-day old backup.

In addition to those thoughts, this news article also brings up some more philosophical and big-picture thoughts about assessment and grading in schools.

“Grades” given by teachers are generally overrated I think, and not always useful when it comes to reflecting authentic learning. I’d much rather see students creating knowledge products as the result of project-based learning and giving oral presentations for their peers and others to measure if learning took place following instruction and independent work time. Truth be told, when I was young I was obsessive about my own grades, but as I’ve grown older I have become far less enthusiastic about them. We condition children at an early age, through the grades which are handed out at school, to believe their value as people and the value of the work they do with their hands and minds is dependent on the perceptions of others. Long term, this is a damaging perception to have, and sadly our educational system makes it widespread. As a human being and a contributing member of society, I have value as does the work of my mind and hands irrespective of anyone else’s opinion.

The question of how U.S. schools can move (on a broad basis) beyond our traditional grading systems is a challenging one. We need to move towards more authentic means of assessment in many contexts, however. We need to redefine the ways learning is measured and valued, and replace our current “seat time” model of paying school districts based on the number of hours students physically occupy their seats in school buildings with a better model. Not pay school districts based on ADA? Yes. Absolutely. Snow and ice days, like we are having again in the midwest this month like we did in early December, drive this point home strongly.

Will our educational paradigm change in fundamental ways? I think so. But to avoid becoming frustrated at the slow pace of change, I think it’s important to have a long view. People change slowly, and so do the institutions they’ve built over long periods of time.






2 responses to “Thoughts on grades, authentic assessment, and measuring learning”

  1. Paul Avatar

    Wow, this really hits home. I am dealing with a very similar situation to what you describe right now!

  2. Chris Avatar

    The last paragraph really hits home with me. I have so many things I want to try and to do with kids, but it takes so much time. I am extremely frustrated with the slow pace of change. If I could just teach kids and not be constrained by the text, required tests and “covering the material” I know my class could become more exciting and engaging.