13 February 2011

Home on the Range

The past week has been dedicated to rangefinding activities. If you haven't been to a rangefinding event, I highly recommend you apply for one in your state. It is my absolute favourite part of the assessment process, because it is where you spend time with actual student work. Rangefinding discussions are tedious, as every part of the scoring tool is picked apart and held up against how students responded to a task; but, in 20 years of education, I have never had as meaningful discussions with peers.

The discussions are always difficult to facilitate. There is a rhythm you have to find as you allow ideas to bubble up before you rein things in and nail down the perfect word or phrase. You have to learn to recognize when a group is overthinking a point and bring them back to the beginning and ask a more simple question. And while time is a precious commodity (in three days, we finalized only one scoring tool), you have to be able to read the group to know when they are too mentally spent to be productive.

The end result is always a mixed bag of emotions. There are always pieces of student work that score higher than you think is "deserved," and others you love that score far lower. It is always hard to believe that consistent scoring can be so fair and unfair at the same time. And as much value as there is in observing students and having conversations with them---with applying professional judgment to grades, rangefinding is not about grading. It is only about scoring a single piece of evidence. This vacuum has a different purpose. One that is incredibly rich all on its own.

I look forward to sharing the results of the upheaval, discussion, and resolution next month. We have picked our exemplars to share statewide, but the next two weeks will be full of work annotating them and preparing to communicate about them with a wider audience. We have learned to score the unscoreable. We have gone snipe hunting and captured the snipe. We have learned to measure what we value about students' thinking skills. I feel good about that...and am looking forward to our next round of rangefinding in May.


Tatnall Physics said...

I might be being obtuse, but... what the heck is rangefinding? I get a little bit of an idea from the post, but... I've never heard of that before. Any help?

The Science Goddess said...

Too big of an answer to put here, so I wrote a post for you.