grading (12)

Using AFL to Overhaul Your Grading System

Members of this AFL Network will appreciate this article (link at end of blog post) written by Laurie Amundson and published in the November 2011 edition of Ed Leadership.  


Laurie Amundson is an elementary teacher.  A majority of our members are high school educators which could mean that some tweaking of her practices would be in order.  For example, some of the assessment she does of student work could be by the students themselves in a high school setting.  That being said, I really believe the idea of using standards based grading to assess student needs and to guide instruction is a natural outgrowth of AFL.  


I'll be interested to see if anyone out there has any thoughts after reading the article.


Here's the link.


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Here is a thought-provoking blog on the idea of giving students credit for work turned in late. You can read it and other comments about it online at Teacher Magazine.

Any thoughts?

Fair and Unbalanced

A couple years ago, I gave a major assignment to all my music students. It was a culminating project--designed to incorporate bits and pieces of what we'd been learning all semester. On the due date, I had projects from about 93% of my students--all but 20-odd kids. Running down the list of these delinquents, they were pretty much the kids you'd expect to be tardy or negligent with assignments. Knowing that it would take at least two weeks to grade the projects and give written feedback, I publicly offered students who hadn't turned in their project amnesty. I said I would accept carefully done projects during the next week, with no reduction in credit.

All but two of the students turned projects in. The majority were somewhere between good and excellent in quality. I got two thank-you calls from parents, grateful for a second chance. I was careful to tell all the students that this was a one-time offer, that teachers had deadlines and homework policies for good reasons. I wasn't trying to sell out colleagues; I was simply interested in what would happen if I encouraged everyone to finish, without penalty.

My job is teaching students as much as I can about music. By making it worth their while to turn a project in, many kids chose to do just that--and deepened their music learning. For most of those kids, it was also the difference between a good final grade and a poor one. Students who fail to turn in a major assignment are often so deep in the hole, grade-wise, that they effectively stop producing in class.

I shared the story in an on-line teacher community. The reaction was surprisingly swift and virulent. Teachers thought the real lesson I was teaching was that kids could get away with not following the rules. Students need to have consequences for their actions, teachers said.

Some shared their own complex policies--30% credit here, 50% credit there, with/without doctors' excuses--as if I were a novice teacher who had been co-opted by crafty 12-year olds. What startled me most, however, was this repeated message: giving late assignments full credit is not fair to the kids who turned their work in on time.

Of all institutions on the planet--government, businesses, clubs and churches--schools are perhaps the "fairest" of them all. It is in school that we first learn to take turns, stand in line and share equally. We want that level playing field for all kids. Real life, of course, isn't fair at all.

Some kids are born with material things, others to parents who have love but not money. Some kids are talented athletes; others are always chosen last. Some go to Ivy League colleges on their parents' dime. Others make their own way, through hard work and persistence. Some start out so far behind the 8-ball that it's a miracle they survive, let alone succeed.

All our efforts to make school perfectly fair and neutral are doomed to fail. I don't buy the argument that we're preparing kids for "real life" when we dole out punishments and rewards. My experience with real life tells me that things are pretty random out there--some people get second, third and seventeenth chances to get things right and others are gone with the first mistake.

The more teachers know about their students, the better they can tailor instruction and support for students' unique needs, the further they can push them to reach their potential. Paying attention to individual kids is a better strategy than making an inflexible rule. Better, but vastly more difficult.

Offering some kids a second chance was not harmful to the students who had successfully completed the assignment on time. Granting an extension might increase the overall number of good grades, but would not decrease the achievement or recognition of those who turned their work in by the due date.

The negative reaction came from an artificial concept of success-- for some kids to shine, others must fail--and from a deep-rooted sense that school is always a competition, that letting some kids take an academic mulligan was cheating. There was also censure: admonishment for breaking ranks and re-thinking traditional teacher policies.

I thought of this when reading the recent story about Harvard dropping exams--a non-event that educational traditionalists seem to find appalling. Is the brouhaha about accurately measuring learning? Or is it about who's on top?

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Standards Based Learning and Grading

This network is dedicated to promoting outstanding assessment practices - the kind of assessment practices that help students learn as opposed to simply documenting what they do or don't know.  These types of practices are known as Assessment FOR Learning (AFL) strategies - an appropriate name since they are assessment strategies that lead to learning.

One set or type of AFL strategies are those that fall into the category of Standards Based Learning (SBL).  SBL strategies are AFL strategies that focus on specific content standards.  Students are assessed and taught based on standards.  Their learning is driven by standards mastery, and the ultimate grade they receive is a communication of how well they have mastered standards - instead of the result of averaging a bunch of numbers together in a grade book.

As SBL strategies are shared on The Assessment Network, they also will be added to this blog.  This post will become a one-stop-shop for all sorts of SBL ideas scattered throughout the Network.  If you have any ideas or suggestions, please let Scott Habeeb know.

Blog Posts:



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Members of this site will appreciate the way middle school principal, Ryan McLane, has described the importance of Mastery Grading.  Read his Education Week article at:

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New Terminology: Scoring v. Grading

After studying Assessment FOR Learning pretty intensely for the past few school years, I am now beginning to think that we might do ourselves a favor if we would change some of our terminology.  Specifically, I think it's time to stop using the words "grading" or "grade" as often as we do and replace them - at times - with "scoring" or "score".


You don't have to go very far down the AFL road to realize that traditional grading practices often get in the way of our attempts to use AFL strategies.  Traditional grade books and grading strategies typically average together all of a student's grades for the grading period to determine a final grade.  Therefore, practice assignments such as homework and classwork will have an impact on the student's grade.  Since the concept of assigning lots of practice so that students and teachers can receive the feedback necessary to increase learning is central to AFL (see Heart of AFL), averaging practice grades into a student's overall grade becomes obviously problematic.  What if the additional practice helps a student learn but also lowers the student's grade?  The natural reaction to this problem is for teachers to feel that they should not grade practice assignments.  For more on this topic see:

So the philosophy of AFL naturally leads to teachers feeling as though they should not grade practice assignments.  This is where Newton's third law of motion comes into play: "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction."  When students realize that some things are graded and some things are not, they react by asking before most assignments, "Is this going to be graded?"  Implied in their question is the idea that if the answer is "Yes" then they will work harder than if the answer is "No".  As a result, teachers are reluctant to not grade assignments - even if they agree with the philosophy of practice assignments not lowering a grade - for fear that students won't work hard and, therefore, won't learn as much. 


So we're left with a quandary.  We don't want to let practice impact the student's final grade but we want students to work on each assignment as though their final grade depended on it.  Part of this quandary is of our own making.  As explored previously in What we WANT students to do v. What we TRAIN students to do, we wish that students worked for the love of learning but we then use points and grades as a Sea World trainer uses a fish.  It's difficult to argue that students should not be motivated by grades when we, in turn, use grades as motivators.  We have to find a new way.  Perhaps our new AFL philosophy requires some new terminology.


What would happen if we started "scoring" all assignments and "grading" only a few?  The term "grading" implies the following:

  1. The teacher will assess how well the student did on the assignment.
  2. The student will receive feedback on well they have mastered the content.
  3. The grade will go into the grade book to be used to help determine the student's final grade.
In most classrooms, "grading" is the only tool the teacher has - or uses - for providing feedback.  There is an old adage that describes this problem: "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."  


"Scoring" could be the new tool needed to help us out of our quandary.  The difference between scoring and grading is in implication #3 from the list above.  Both scoring and grading provide the teacher with feedback and both provide the student with feedback.  However, a score on an assignment may or may not be used by the teacher to determine the final grade.  Here's how I envision scoring working in a typical AFL classroom:

  1. The teacher assigns practice everyday.
  2. The teacher provides feedback on all practice.  While this feedback is often provided very informally, the majority of feedback given formally is in the form of a score.
  3. The score looks very similar to a grade.
  4. The score goes into the grade book.
  5. The students understand up front that the teacher will be looking over all of a student's scores - and grades - to determine what the appropriate final grade is for the student.  While graded assignments are the few that will definitely count toward the final grade, they will be much fewer in number than the scored assignments.  Rather than being tied down to averaging all graded assignments, the teacher who uses scoring will now be able to study the evidence and arrive at the most appropriate final grade.

The point here is that every score counts toward helping the teacher determine a grade.  When students ask, "Is this graded," what they really means is, "Does this count?"  With scoring, the answer to that question is:

"Yes, it counts.  Everything counts.  As the teacher, I will be analyzing ALL the evidence - just like a good detective - before arriving at a conclusion (your grade).  How it counts could be different for each of you, depending on how you perform, but ALL assignments count."

Scoring satisfies our desire to be AFL-ish:

  • teachers receive feedback
  • students receive feedback
  • practice doesn't have to lower - or overly inflate - the final grade

At the same time, scoring doesn't entice students to fall into the trap of only working "when it counts."


What do you think?


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Grading (as it relates to AFL)

Grading and assessment are two distinct yet overlapped topics.  This site is dedicated primarily to assessment - the getting and giving of feedback that helps teachers adjust their teaching and students adjust their learning.  However, it is impossible to talk about assessment without occasionally discussing grading.  Therefore, grading posts and resources pop up on this site from time to time.  As a way to help members find these resources, this blog post has been created as to serve as a collection of grading links.  Anything posted on this site related to grading can be found on this blog.


Also, please note that as more examples are added to this site, they will also be added to this blog.



Blog Posts:


Stories in the News:

Faculty Meeting Conversations

  • 11/12/14 - Pretend You're A Grade Coach
  • 2/24/16 - Using AFL/SBL to Analyze a Common Assessment Practice: Earning Points Back on a Test
  • 1/11/17 - Applying SBL Philosophy
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Sometimes when you're learning a new skill or trying to figure out how to apply a new philosophy, it helps to watch that skill or philosophy being used or implemented in a totally different arena.  Thinking outside the box and adopting new ideas can be difficult when you're extremely familiar with your own domain.  Observing the skill or philosophy at work in someone else's domain is less threatening.  Once you are able to see the benefit of the skill or the power of the philosophy it might be easier to figure out how to include it into your personal realm of familiarity.

I think this might hold true for the application to the classroom of the philosophies of Assessment FOR Learning, Standards Based Grading, and Measuring Student Growth.

Below is a recent article Sports Illustrated article about the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant.  As I read it I was struck by just how much sense it makes to assess for the purpose of learning (not grading), to grade and assess based on standards, and to intentionally and meaningfully measure growth.  It just makes so much sense when it comes to improving in life, as evidenced by this article about Durant's attempts to improve as a basketball player.  I wonder why it doesn't always make sense in the classroom where we educators are working tirelessly to get students to improve?

Read the article below for yourself, and as you do, pay attention to the intentional steps Kevin Durant has taken to improve his shooting.

  1. He is constantly - daily - assessing himself.
  2. He has broken down shooting into "standards" based on different locations on the floor.
  3. He is using the feedback from the assessments to determine what "standards" he needs to practice and where he needs to grow.
  4. His improvement is constantly being charted so that he and his personal trainer/shot doctor/video analyst/advance scout can keep adjusting the learning plan for maximum growth.

It just makes so much sense for him to do this.  Durant wants to grow, and this is how one intentionally sets out to grow.  

Likewise, it makes sense to me that every teacher would want to:

  1. Constantly - daily - assess students.
  2. Break down learning into standards based on content knowledge and skills.
  3. Use assessment feedback to determine which standards individual students need to focus on in order to grow.
  4. Constantly chart improvement so that learning plans can be adjusted for maximum growth.

So read the article below, look for the examples of Assessment FOR Learning, Standards Based Grading, and Measuring Student Growth, and then consider how you could better apply them to your classroom.


Copied from and written by Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins)

On the day after the Heat won their 27th game in a row, Kevin Durant sat in a leather terminal chair next to a practice court and pointed toward the 90-degree angle at the upper-right corner of the key that represents the elbow. "See that spot," Durant said. "I used to shoot 38, 39 percent from there off the catch coming around pin-down screens." He paused for emphasis. "I'm up to 45, 46 percent now." Durant wore the satisfied expression of an MIT undergrad solving a partial differential equation. You could find dozens of basic or advanced statistics that attest to Durant's brilliance this season-starting with the obvious, that he became only the seventh player ever to exceed 50% shooting from the field, 40% from three-point range and 90% from the free throw line-but his preferred metric is far simpler. He wants what Miami has, and he's going to seize it one meticulously selected elbow jumper at a time.

The NBA's analytical revolution has been confined mainly to front offices. Numbers are dispensed to coaches, but rarely do they trickle down to players. Not many are interested, and of those who are, few can apply what they've learned mid-possession. Even the most stat-conscious general manager wouldn't want a point guard elevating for an open jumper on the left wing and thinking, Oh no, I only shoot 38% here. But Durant has hired his own analytics expert. He tailors workouts to remedy numerical imbalances. He harps on efficiency more than a Prius dealer. To Durant, basketball is an orchard, and every shot an apple. "Let's say you've got 40 apples on your tree," Durant explains. "I could eat about 30 of them, but I've begun limiting myself to 15 or 16. Let's take the wide-open three and the post-up at the nail. Those are good apples. Let's throw out the pull-up three in transition and the step-back fadeaway. Those are rotten apples. The three at the top of the circle-that's an in-between apple. We only want the very best on the tree."

The Thunder did not win 27 straight games. They did not compile the best record. Durant will not capture the MVP award. All he and his teammates did was amass a season that defies comparison as well as arithmetic. They scored more points per game than last season even though they traded James Harden, who finished the season fifth in the NBA in scoring, five days before the opener. They led the league in free throws even though Harden gets to the line more than anybody. They posted the top point differential since the 2007-08 Celtics, improving in virtually every relevant category, including winning percentage. Their uptick makes no sense unless Durant was afforded more shots in Harden's absence, but the opposite occurred. He attempted the fewest field goals per 36 minutes of his career. He didn't even take the most shots on his team, trailing point guard Russell Westbrook, and he seemed almost proud that his 28.1 points per game weren't enough to earn the scoring title for the fourth consecutive year. "He knows he can score," says Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "He's trying to score smarter."

Durant is lifting Oklahoma City as never before, with pocket passes instead of pull-ups, crossovers instead of fadeaways. He remains the most prolific marksman alive, unfurling his impossibly long arms to heights no perimeter defender can reach, but he has become more than a gunner. He set career marks in efficiency rating, assists and every newfangled form of shooting percentage. "Now he's helping the whole team," says 76ers point guard Royal Ivey, who spent the past two seasons with the Thunder. "Now he's a complete player." The Thunder are better because Durant is better. Of course, the Heat will be favored to repeat as champions, and deservedly so. But Oklahoma City has been undercutting conventional wisdom for six months.

NBA history is littered with stars who languish in another's shadow, notably Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller through the Michael Jordan reign. Oklahoma City lost to Miami in the Finals last June, and Durant will surely be runner-up to LeBron James in the MVP balloting again. Durant is only 24 and is as respectful of James as a rival can be, but he's nobody's bridesmaid. "I've been second my whole life," Durant says. "I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I've been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I'm tired of being second. I'm not going to settle for that. I'm done with it."

"I'm not taking it easy on [LeBron]. Don't you know I'm trying to destroy the guy every time I'm on the court?"

Justin Zormelo doesn't have a formal title. He is part personal trainer and part shot doctor, part video analyst and part advance scout. "He's a stat geek," Durant says, expanding the job description. Zormelo sits in section 104 of Oklahoma City's Chesapeake Energy Arena, with an iPad that tells him in real time what percentage Durant is shooting from the left corner and how many points per possession he is generating on post-ups. After games, he takes the iPad to Durant's house or hotel room and they watch clips of every play. Zormelo loads the footage onto Durant's computer in case he wants to see it again. "If I miss a lot of corner threes, that's what I work on the next morning before practice," Durant says. "If I'm not effective from the elbow in the post, I work on that." Zormelo keeps a journal of their sessions and has already filled two notebooks this season. Last year Zormelo noticed that Durant was more accurate from the left side of the court than the right, and they addressed the inconsistency. "Now he's actually weaker on the left," Zormelo says, "but we'll get that straightened out by the playoffs."

Zormelo, 29, was a student manager at Georgetown when Durant was a freshman at Texas, and they met during a predraft workout at Maryland that included Hoyas star Brandon Bowman. Durant embarked on his pro career and so did Zormelo, landing an internship with the Heat and a film-room job with the Bulls before launching a company called Best Ball Analytics in 2010 that has counted nearly 30 NBA players as clients. Zormelo kept in touch with Durant, occasionally e-mailing him cutups of shots. They bonded because Zormelo idolizes Larry Bird and Durant does, too.

Durant left a potential championship on the table in 2011, when Oklahoma City fell to Dallas in the Western Conference finals. About two weeks after the series, Durant scheduled his first workout with Zormelo in Washington, D.C. "I didn't sleep the night before," Zormelo remembers. "I was up until 4 a.m. asking myself, What am I going to tell the best scorer in the league that he doesn't already know?" They met at Yates Field House, where Georgetown practices, and Zormelo told Durant, "You're really good. But I think you can be the best player ever." Durant looked up. "Not the best scorer," Zormelo clarified. "The best player." It was a crucial distinction, considering Durant had just led the league in scoring for the second year in a row yet posted his lowest shooting percentage, three-point percentage and assist average since he was a rookie. He was only 22, so there was no public rebuke, but he could not stand to give away another title.

"He was getting double- and triple-teamed, and in order to win a championship, he needed to make better decisions with the ball," says former Thunder point guard Kevin Ollie, now the head coach at Connecticut. "He needed to find other things he could do besides force up shots. That was the incentive to change his pattern." Over several weeks Zormelo and Durant formulated a written plan focusing on ballhandling, passing and shot selection. They were transforming a sniper into a playmaker. Growing up, Durant dribbled down the street outside his grandmother's house in Capitol Heights, Md. He played point guard as a freshman at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington. He watched And1 DVDs to study the art of the crossover. "Where I'm from, you got to have the ball," Durant says. "That's how we do it. We streetball." But he sprouted five inches as a sophomore, from 6'3" to 6'8," and suddenly he was a forward. Though his stroke didn't suffer, his handle did. "I still had the moves," Durant insists, "but I dribbled way too high."

He could compensate in high school, and even during his one season at Texas, but the NBA was changing to a league where the transcendent are freed from traditional positions and boundaries. When Portland was deciding between Durant and Ohio State center Greg Oden before the 2007 draft, Texas coach Rick Barnes copped a line that Bobby Knight used when the Blazers were debating between Jordan and center Sam Bowie in 1984. "He can be the best guard or he can be the best center," Barnes told G.M.'s. "It doesn't matter. Whatever you need, he'll do." The Trail Blazers selected Oden and Durant was taken second by Seattle, where coach P.J. Carlesimo started him at shooting guard. "Kevin could be all things," Carlesimo says, but back then he was too gangly to hold his spot or protect his dribble. Brooks replaced Carlesimo shortly after the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City the following season and wisely returned him to forward.

In the summer of 2011, as the NBA and its union were trying to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, Durant created an endless loop of YouTube videos with his preposterous scoring binges at East Coast pickup games. What the cameras didn't show were the drills he did during daily 6 a.m. workouts at Bryant Alternative High School in Alexandria, Va., with Zormelo pushing down on his shoulders to lower his dribble. Durant even tried to rebuild his crossover, but when the ball kicked off his high tops, he hurled it away in frustration. "I'm never really going to use this!" he hollered.
But at all those pickup games, he asked to play point guard, and in downtime he watched tapes of oversized creators like Bird and Magic Johnson. "Opponents are going to do anything to get the ball out of your hands," Zormelo told him. "They're going to make you drive and pass." Durant could typically beat double teams simply by raising his arms. Even though he is listed at 6'9", he is more like 6'11", with a 7'5" wingspan and a release point over his head. The only defenders long enough to challenge his jumper aren't normally allowed outside the paint. "Most guys can't shoot over the contested hand," says Brooks. "Not only can Kevin shoot over it, he uses it as a target. If anything, it lines him up." Durant didn't distinguish between good and bad shots, because through his eyes there was no such thing as a bad one. Every look was clean. "I had to tell him, 'If you have a good shot and I have a good shot, I want you to take it,'" Brooks says. "'But if you have a good shot and I have a great shot, you have to give it to me.'"
Ballhandling drills begat passing drills. Durant saw what the Thunder could accomplish if he took two hard dribbles and found an abandoned man in the corner. With Zormelo's research as a guide, Durant identified his sweetest spots at both elbows, both corners and the top of the key. From those happy places, he is doing the Thunder a disservice if he doesn't let fly, but outside of them he prefers to probe. He moves a half step slower so he can better see the floor.

This season Durant is averaging two fewer field goals and nearly two more assists than he did in 2011, and he has practically discarded two-point shots outside 17 feet. Brooks tells him on a near nightly basis, "KD, it's time. I need you to shoot now." Says Brooks, "To extend the apple metaphor, I'm now able to put him all over and get fruit." He isolates Durant at the three-point line, posts him up and uses him as the trigger man in the pick-and-roll. When defenders creep too close, Durant freezes them with a crossover at his ankles or deploys a rip move that former Thunder forward Desmond Mason taught him four years ago to pick up fouls.

"Remember when tall guys would come into the league and people would say, 'They handle like a guard!' but they never actually did handle like a guard?" says Thunder forward Nick Collison. "Kevin really does handle like a guard." Durant has become both facilitator and finisher, shuttling between the perimeter and the paint, stretching the limits of what we believe a human being with his build can do. If his progression reminds you of someone else's, well, that's probably not an accident.

"I've given up trying to figure out how to stop him," says Rivers. "And I'm not kidding."
Durant was 17 when LeBron James invited him into the Cavaliers' locker room at Washington's Verizon Center after a playoff game against the Wizards. "That's my guy," Durant says. "I looked up to him, and now I battle him." In a sense, the 2011 lockout was a boon for the NBA because it allowed the premier performers to explore new boundaries. James fortified his dribble, and so did Durant. James developed his post skills, and so did Durant. James studied his shot charts, vowing to eliminate inefficiencies, and so did Durant. James already passed like Magic, but Durant started to pass like Bird. They hopped on parallel evolutionary tracks, advancing in the same manner at the same time. When a quote from James is relayed-"He's my inspiration. We're driving one another"-Durant nods in approval. It's as if the finest poets in the world are also each other's muses.
"I don't watch a lot of other basketball away from the gym," Durant says. "But I do look at LeBron's box score. I want to see how many points, rebounds and assists he had, and how he shot from the field. If he had 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, I can tell you exactly how he did it, what type of shots he made and who he passed to." Durant and James take flak for their friendship, but it is based on a mutual appreciation of the craft. They aren't hanging out at the club. They are feverishly one-upping each other from afar. "People see two young black basketball players at the top of their game and think we should clash," Durant says. "They want the conflict. They want the hate. They forget Bird cried for Magic. A friend was getting on me about this recently, and I said, 'Calm down. I'm not taking it easy on him. Don't you know I'm trying to destroy the guy every time I go on the court?'"
Oklahoma City beat Miami in Game 1 of last year's Finals and trailed by only two points with 10 seconds left in Game 2. Durant spun to the baseline and James appeared to hook his right arm, but no foul was called and Durant's shot bounced out. The Thunder did not win again, but Durant stood arm-in-arm with Westbrook and Harden at the end of the series, a tableau of defeat but also of a boundless future. Not one was over 23. Durant and Westbrook had already signed long-term contract extensions, and Harden was still a year from restricted free agency. But on Oct. 27, Oklahoma City had not agreed to an extension with Harden and sent him to Houston in a trade that threatened the very culture Durant built. For a player who attended four high schools, spent one year at Texas and one in Seattle, the Thunder signified the stability he lacked. "People tell you it's a business, but it's a brotherhood here," Durant says. "We draft guys and we grow together. We build a bond. When James left, we had to turn the family switch off."
In the first meeting after the deal, Brooks told his players, "We're not taking a step back." But everywhere else they heard otherwise. "My cousin texted me, 'I'm a Heat fan now, but I still hope you make it to the Finals,'" Durant recalls. "That's my family! That's my cousin!" He shakes his head at a small but lingering act of betrayal. "A lot of friends from home were talking about other teams, and I thought they were on our side. I don't want to be angry or bitter, but it started to build up, and I took it out on my teammates." Previously, if power forward Serge Ibaka blew a box-out, Durant would tell him, "It's O.K. You're going to get it next time." But the stakes had risen. "You want to get to the Finals again, and you think everything should be perfect, and it's not," Durant says. "So I'd scream at him and pump my fist."
Durant has picked up 12 technical fouls this season, more than twice as many as his previous career high, and he was ejected for the first time, in January, after arguing with referee Danny Crawford. "I'm rubbing off on him," says Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, who keeps a standing 2 a.m. phone call with Durant every night to discuss the state of the team. "He's getting a little edge on." The techs dovetailed neatly with Nike's "KD is Not Nice" marketing campaign, but they still don't fit the recipient. Even after the ejection, Durant stopped to high-five kids sitting over the tunnel. "People get it confused and think you have to be a jerk to win," he says. "But we all feed off positive energy. I'm a nice guy. I enjoy making people happy and brightening their day. If someone asks me for an autograph on the street, I don't want to wave him off and tell him, 'Hell, no.' That's not me. The last few months I've calmed down and had more fun. We can still get on each other, but there's another way."

Without Harden, Oklahoma City needed a new playmaker, and Durant had spent more than a year preparing for the role. He just didn't realize it at the time. "They were looking for somebody else to move the defense and handle the ball in pick-and-roll," says a scout. "It turned out to be him." When Durant was 20, the Thunder asked him to act 25, and now that he is nearly 25, the plan for his prime has come to fruition. He is the NBA's best and perhaps only answer for James. "I've given up trying to figure out how to stop him," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "And I'm not kidding."

On Nov. 24, four weeks after Harden left, the Thunder were a respectable but unremarkable 9-4 and nursing a five-point lead with one minute left in overtime at Philadelphia. Durant posted up on the right wing, bent at the waist, a step inside the perimeter. Dorell Wright, the unfortunate 76er assigned to him, planted one hand on Durant's rib cage and another on his back. "What do I tell a guy in that position?" asks an NBA assistant coach. "I shake his hand and say, 'Good luck.'"

Durant faced up against Wright, tucked the ball by his left hip and swung his right foot behind the arc, toe-tapping the floor like a sprinter searching for the starting block. Durant had scored 35 points, but on the previous possession he fed Westbrook for a three, and on the possession before that he set up a three by Kevin Martin, who had arrived from Houston in the Harden trade. It was time for the Durant dagger, but before he shimmied his shoulders and unfurled his arms he spotted guard Thabo Sefolosha, ignored in the left corner. Sefolosha was 1 for 6, and in the previous timeout Durant had told him, "You're going to make the next shot." Durant could have easily fired over Wright and finished the Sixers, but he let his mind wander to the ultimate destination, seven months away. I'm going to need all these guys to get to the Finals, he thought.

Durant took one dribble to his left, and center Lavoy Allen rushed up to double him at the free throw line. He dribbled twice more, to the left edge of the key, and two other Sixers slid over. Surrounded by four defenders, Durant finally shoveled to Sefolosha, so open that he feared he might hesitate. He didn't. Durant jabbed him in the chest as the ball slipped through the net.

How about them apples?

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As I have come to comprehend better what Assessment FOR Learning truly means and how its principles can be applied, I find myself regularly thinking about how I would do things differently if I were still in the classroom. After recently observing Paola Brinkley, one of our school’s Spanish teachers, I realized yet another former practice of mine that I would now change. It’s in the area of reviewing for a test or a quiz, and I think teachers of all content areas will benefit from creating their own version of Mrs. Brinkley’s practice for their classrooms. As a teacher, my methods of reviewing for quizzes and tests were fairly typical of many classrooms. I basically did one of two things: 1. Played a basketball review game: This game was always fun. The kids and I both enjoyed it. If a student paid careful attention to each question I asked then they would have heard almost every question on the upcoming test/quiz. While it definitely was possible for all students to get a decent review from this method, in hindsight it had some drawbacks: a. Because I asked one student at a time a question, there was almost never 100% participation – or anything even close to that. b. I was not able to precisely gauge who knew what or what overall problems students were having with the material. Yes, I knew that the kid who kept wanting to answer questions knew it all, and I could safely assume that certain kids knew very little. However, I would not have been able to say with certainty the areas of strengths and weaknesses that the class shared. c. The students left the room having enjoyed class, but they didn’t necessarily leave with a greater incentive to study or with a specific plan for studying. 2. Handed out a review sheet for students to complete: Some years I graded the review sheet. In hindsight I definitely would change that practice. It really doesn’t make sense now to me to grade a review sheet. I understand the point of view that says that the grade might be an incentive for doing the review, but grades should reflect mastery more than be used as incentives (or punishments for not doing work). If a student didn’t do the review that wouldn’t necessarily reflect on his or her level of mastery. These review sheets generally consisted of all the questions on the test. While some students definitely completed the review and thereby raised their test grade, I wonder how much of what I was doing was encouraging memorizing the answers to specific questions rather than truly mastering content. Also, this method of review didn’t let me know how my students were doing in time to help them prepare for the test/quiz since I collected the review on the day of the test/quiz. Finally, I wonder how many students viewed this as a study guide v. just another assignment that just has to be done. How many students simply copied answers from a book or notes rather than really tried to study? Or worse, how many students copied a friend’s review sheet? While the review game and the review sheet are practices with instructional value, I believe that their effectiveness pales in comparison to what I saw Paola Brinkley do in her Spanish 2 classroom recently. Mrs. Brinkley had a quiz coming up the next day. Her objective was to review the conjugation of certain types of verbs. Each student numbered a sheet of paper 1-25. Each student also had a small whiteboard (approx. 8” x 6”) and a dry erase marker. 25 verbs were shown 1 at a time on the overhead. The students would write their conjugation on their whiteboard and hold it up so that Mrs. Brinkley could see it. As she looked around the room she would nod to them as she saw their correct answers. Then she would go over each answer basing her explanation on the answers she had seen written on the whiteboards. Students would then write on their numbered paper the verb, whether or not they got it right, and any other information about its conjugation that they needed to remember. At the end of the class period and after having gone through all 25 verbs, Mrs. Brinkley reminded the students that their numbered sheet of paper was now their own personalized study guide for the next day’s quiz. I’m sure you can see the simplicity in this activity, and, hopefully, you can think of some ways to replicate it in your own classroom with your own content. As you do, I think it’s important that you remember the key AFL factors present in this review: 1. 100% Engagement – The students really appeared to enjoy writing on the whiteboards. This activity lends itself to a high level of engagement which means the teacher will get maximum feedback, as opposed to the one-at-a-time feedback I received during my basketball review or the not-at-all feedback I received from my review sheets. 2. Feedback for the Teacher - AFL is a process by which a teacher gains feedback that impacts his or her instruction. By seeing all of the answers at one time from each student, Paola was able to shape her review based on their needs. For example, several times throughout the class period she reminded the students that they would lose points the next day if they did not use accent marks. She knew to remind them of this from the fact that they were not using accents on their whiteboards. She also stopped several times and went into greater depth explaining verbs with which the students seemed to have the greatest difficulty. 3. Feedback for the Students - I think the most powerful aspect of AFL is when students themselves are given feedback that they can use to guide their own personal learning. Sometimes students are intimidated by the idea of studying because in their minds it means go back over every single thing they’ve learned. This seems like too large a task to complete, so many don’t even try to start it. It also wouldn’t be a very efficient way to study. After all, why spend time studying something you have truly mastered? Each student left the class that day with a personalized study guide – something that Mrs. Brinkley wisely reminded them. Whether or not the student chooses to use the study guide is one thing, but each student received the feedback they needed to know exactly how to focus their studying. Surely this will increase the odds that students will study, and most important, it should guide learning. Mrs. Brinkley's students (as the 6th of the 6 Key AFL Ideas states) knew what they needed to know so they could know if they knew it. This simple and easy-to-apply activity captured the essence of AFL – teachers and students basing teaching and learning on feedback that they are receiving from assessments. I wish I could go back and use a version of it in my World History classes. I would encourage you to consider how you might apply it to your content area. Any thoughts?
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Downloading Videos from YouTube

This doesn't directly relate to Assessment FOR Learning, but it will be helpful to teachers trying to bring different resources into the classroom. YouTube is full of wonderful video clips to use in a classroom. There are 2 problems with YouTube, though. 1. Some schools block it 2. Sometimes a slow network will make it difficult or impossible to watch a video The solution is to download the videos to your computer (this can be done at home if your school blocks YouTube) and then either show them directly from your computer and/or embed them into PowerPoints. Here is the easiest way I know to do this: 1. Go to 2. Follow the instructions to download and install the YouTube Downloader software 3. Open up YouTube Downloader once it is installed. Check the radio button next to "Download video from YouTube". You will see a bar for "Enter Video URL". 4. Go to YouTube and find a video you want. Copy the url and paste it into the "Enter Video URL" bar on YouTube Downloader window. (On YouTube you can find the url either in the url bar at the top of your browser or in the upper right-hand corner of the website just below the information about the video.) 5. Click Ok - the video will download and will save to the place you designate 6. It will be in a format that won't embed into a PowerPoint. On YouTube Downloader, click the radio button next to "Convert video (previously downloaded) from file". 7. Now you will see a bar labeled "Select video file". Click the box to the right of the bar and choose your file from where it is saved on the desktop. 8. In the "Convert to" pull down menu, choose the type of file you want. Windows Media Video (V.7 WMV) works best for PowerPoints. 9. Click Ok. This is a very simple process. In less than 10 minutes I downloaded, converted, and emailed 3 videos for a teacher in our school. Let me know if you have any questions about it.
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Does AFL lead to grade inflation?

A criticism of Assessment FOR Learning is that along with it comes pressure to make sure that students’ grades increase. In other words, some have been concernerd that AFL might lead to grade inflation. I would hope that no school would ever encourage grade inflation while it encourages its teachers to try AFL techniques. I think that that the concern over grade inflation is probably first and foremost a misunderstanding about the purpose of AFL. The primary goal of AFL is not grade inflation. I don’t know that it would ever be appropriate for educators to do things solely for the purpose of raising grades. In fact, if grade inflation was the goal then a focus on AFL wouldn’t be necessary. Many teachers already do an excellent job of grade inflation through several more traditional measures such as extra credit, dropping the lowest grade, or curving scores. These are practices that teachers have used for many years, and they all have the same outcome of inflating grades and making grades less representative of actual learning. AFL isn’t necessary for inflating grades. The primary goal of AFL is instead LEARNING INFLATION. The entire purpose of AFL is to increase learning. When teachers assess students in an ongoing manner, use that data to guide their instructional practices, and teach students how to use their own assessment data to chart their progress and to guide their studies, then it is only natural that learning will increase. Now let’s be honest, when learning increases grades tend to increase as well. That is, grades will increase if we are grading accurately while learning increases. This is why it is impossible to discuss assessing with AFL techniques without also discussing grading practices. While assessment is not the same as grading, and while not all assessments need to be graded, if teachers aren’t careful with their grading practices they can negate their assessment efforts. For example, if a teacher’s assessment practices cause a student to increase learning to a B level but the grading practices cause the student to earn a D then the incentive for learning will decrease. Once the conversation moves to grading practices it is very easy for that subject to dominate the discussion, but don’t be fooled – grading is secondary to learning. As you make plans to use AFL in your classroom, focus on this simple mantra: AFL is about how you use assessments to increase learning. Whatever types of assessments you use, use them in ongoing manner, use the data you receive to guide your instruction, and train/require your students to use their own data to guide their studies. You’ll be using AFL and learning will inflate.
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Members of this network may have noticed a video that seems out of place on an educational social network. The video is of a post-game interview with NBA player Allen Iverson. Why in the world is that on here?

Salem High School teachers on this Ning know the answer to that. When our school first started taking a serious look at AFL, we realized right away that how you chose to grade assessments could negate the learning that they generated. In other words, if you use AFL strategies well they will lead to an increase in learning. Students and teachers will be using feedback to guide learning and instruction. However, if we want the student's grade to reflect the learning that occurred, we must be very careful and deliberate about how we grade (or don't grade) the assessments we give. Allen Iverson - believe it or not - has something to say about that. Watch the video and then I'll explain.

(If the video on this post didn't load right away, try reloading the page.)

It's been awhile since I've seen that video. Could someone refresh my memory about what he was "talkin' 'bout"? Oh, that's right - PRACTICE!

First of all, my posting this video is not in ANY WAY making a point about the need to practice when you're on a team. I'm not AT ALL an Iverson fan. It's just posted because it gives us an image to which we can relate - We're Talkin' 'Bout Practice!

How does this relate to grading? Think about your grades and your assessments. How many of them are "practice"? In other words, how many of your assignments are intended to help students practice so that they can learn? I bet you that most of them are. Now let's think about grading. How many points to you assign to these assignments? What would happen to a student who mastered the content, as evidenced by your final graded assessment, but did poorly on the practice assignments?

Let's get more direct: How many students are failing your class because they either didn't do or did poorly on your practice assessments? Do you have students who can pass your tests - or whatever your final graded assessment is - but fail your class? Why is this? It's because their practice assignments - the ones that were supposed to help them learn - are counting against them. Never mind that they mastered the material - or at least learned it to a level above failing. Never mind that you taught them even though they didn't do all your assignments. Their practice is causing them to fail.

By the way - I'm not saying here that practice isn't important. I think students should practice everyday in class and every night at home. But should practice be graded in a way that allows a kid who learned the content to fail the class or receive a grade that does not represent learning?

The Winter Olympics just ended. Some gold medals were won by less than 1/10 of second. What if the practice runs were then averaged in causing the gold medal winner to get a silver? That would be ridiculous. Our goal is to get kids to be able to learn and perform. If they do this then it's because of the job we did. Why would we then take a bunch of practice assessments and average them in with the assessments that really counted?

If we use AFL to increase learning but then grade poorly, we can end up negating the achievement. Take a look at your grade book. Examine why some students are failing. Remember - WE'RE TALKIN' 'BOUT PRACTICE!
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I would imagine that many Physical Education teachers must feel as though much of the professional development activities and workshops in schools do not apply to them. Typically, discussions of state standards and NCLB expectations dominate these discussions. While these apply to PE, they apply in a different manner than they do in a core area classroom. And let’s face it, PE is a very different world from the typical classroom. PE teachers are dealing with a completely different environment than most other teachers. They are dealing with a different set of behavior issues, a different set of classroom expectations/procedures, and a different set of skills than other teachers are. One reason that I have become a big fan of Assessment FOR Learning is the fact AFL principles are universal. Even though a PE classroom differs greatly from a regular classroom, AFL ideas still apply and can still help students learn in such a setting. I have spoken with PE teachers who can see how AFL could be used in teaching and assessing certain skills in PE – such as foul shooting (I’ll share such an example in a moment). Along with AFL comes the importance of accurate grading practices – grading that reflects mastery of content and skills. However, the trend in PE these days is to move away from grading based on the mastery of skill acquisition in favor of participation and effort. Therefore, one could conclude that AFL would not be appropriate to use in the PE environment. The trick is to separate assessment from grading. The purpose of AFL is to assess in a way that helps students learn. The purpose is not to assess to get a grade. While a grade may be an outcome, it is not the primary goal. Therefore, one can assess a student (create feedback that can be used to guide learning) and still not grade based on those assessments. Let me explain. I regularly work out in our school’s weight room. When the football players are there lifting weights, they each carry around a piece of paper with a chart on it. They use this chart to keep track of their lifting. They each have goals that they would like to reach for various lifts. The coaches let them know how much they should be lifting each week if they are going to reach their goals by “max out” day. The players make sure that their progress is matching the path that leads to their goal. While perhaps no one has called it this before, I think that the weight lifters are participating in an AFL activity. They are part of a “planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by… students to adjust their current learning tactics.” (James Popham) They are taking ownership of their progress. They are aware of what they need to do to achieve a goal, they are constantly assessing how they are doing, and they are adjusting their lifting patterns to make sure they reach the goal. No one is grading them based on how much they lift. However, because of the feedback they are receiving and the way they have been trained to use that feedback they are getting stronger and stronger This is an example of how AFL can be used to teach an athletic skill. So let’s say that the skill being taught is shooting foul shots in a PE class. The students could take a pre-assessment by shooting 10 foul shots. They could then set a goal for improvement. Then the teacher could demonstrate/teach/instruct the students on the various sub-skills necessary to shoot a foul shot – proper foot placement, bending knees, holding the ball properly, where to aim, arm extension, wrist/hand motion, ball rotation, arc of the ball, and follow through. Students could learn a sub-skill, practice it, assess how well they are able to use the skill, and chart the impact that it has on their foul shooting as they repeatedly apply their new skills to the act of shooting 10 foul shots. They could work to assess/critique each other as well. As someone who has never taught PE, I’m sure that the model I just described has some flaws. I’m sure it could be tweaked to be made more practical for a PE setting. However, it is an example of AFL. AFL isn’t always teachers using assessment data. In fact, AFL is probably at its most powerful when students are using the data themselves to guide their own learning. In a skill-based class like PE this is definitely possible. Now, here’s the kicker: the result of the self-assessment – in other words, how well the student can shoot a foul shot when the unit is finished – does not have to have any impact whatsoever on the student’s grade. Instead, the grade the student earns could come from how diligently the student completed the self-assessment process. A daily grade could be earned based on how completely the chart was filled out each day. A final unit grade could be assigned based on the completed chart. This would be a more objective way to grade than a perceived level of participation or simply dressing out. It would be an accurate grade of effort and achievable for all students. (Of course, I realize that does not mean all students will decide to achieve a good grade.) But again, the point is that the Assessment FOR Learning practices are there to help the student learn the skill, and the grade does not have to be based on the mastery of the skill. Assessing and grading are two very different things. Assessment in AFL is all about getting students to learn.
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