It’s simple. On any assessment that was previously individual, students are assigned to groups. Randomly at first, though it can be more strategic later. Assessments can be the same, though group assessments also create an opportunity to pose harder problems.
I imagine many folks are saying, “well I can’t do that.” Maybe. But maybe that’s just a norm that we’ve created for ourselves. Why not? What’s wrong with making every assessment a group assessment?
But the grades won’t be valid! They won’t actually communicate what each individual student knows and doesn’t know.
Why is that the point of grades? Why are we so obsessed with putting young people into silos and ranking and sorting them so that they can have access to different opportunities in the future? Our entire education system is premised on educating individuals, but humans learn best in groups, and practice mathematics with support of collaborators. Do we really have to have a system where we watch students struggle, silent and alone, to figure out what they have learned?
But you have to give a letter grade at the end of the year!
Our education system is deluding itself that grades actually say anything substantive about what a student knows or doesn’t know. Why not just end that pretense? Grades signal what we value. I value collaboration. Why shouldn’t students collaborate on assessments?
But students will fall through the cracks, depending on each other and never taking responsibility for their own learning.
I can still ask students to answer an exit ticket or similar formative assessment on their own — though not for a grade. And I can use that information to respond to what students know and don’t know. But I think that, when the stakes are high and an assignment is going into the gradebook, asking students to complete assessments alone is fundamentally dehumanizing. Think about the enormous percentage of adults who hate math and spend their lives terrified of it. What if we could change that?
Ok so there’s this thing called standards-based grading. You describe all the different skills that you want students to learn, and you report the results of assessments based on those specific skills so students know what they need to work on and grades are actually meaningful.
Eh. Not impressed. Sounds like a lot of work, and really just puts a new veneer on top of assessment without changing the student experience. I think our system is fundamentally broken, and standards-based grading seems like a change in style rather than substance.
In all seriousness, I don’t know that I will go all-in on group assessments, but I really am intrigued. Do we as teachers insist on individual assessments because they are best for student learning, or do we do it because it’s an institutional norm that is baked into some unfortunate ways we think about education? Could group assessments transform the evaluation of learning into a humanizing and affirming process, rather than a process that instills anxiety and fear? I’ve experimented with lots of assessment systems the last few years, but every time I’ve felt like I’m just tinkering around the edges, that despite grand ambitions my changes haven’t actually influenced how students experience assessment. Maybe the answer is to change something more fundamental.