Book Review: “Hacking Assessment”

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I recently joined the FaceBook group Teachers Throwing Out Grades and it was suggested to read the book Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School by Starr Sackstein.  So, I went to Amazon, saw that book was relatively cheap (and it does have a kindle version), and I ordered a copy.  I mean, what could it hurt?

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This isn’t the first time I have read a book on teaching practice.  But, it is the one of the rare times I read a teaching book that didn’t bore me, put me to sleep, or made me give up in the middle. Most books I read about teaching are full of wonderful ideas, but it gets lost in “grad-school paper talk”, if you know what I mean.  Hacking Assessment is written in a way that is comfortable and not off-putting.

Assessment must be a conversation, a narrative that enhances students’ understanding  of what they know, what they can do, and what needs further work…..they need to understand how to make improvements and how to recognize when legitimate growth has occurred.                               -Starr Sackstein, Hacking Assessment

Alright, let’s get to it.  Hacking Assessment is one of several books in the “Hacking” series. Starr Sackstein is a teacher who actually threw out her grade book and goes as gradeless as she can at her school–she is still required to have a grade for each semester.  So, she writes from a place of first-hand experience.  She also adds in the experiences of other teachers who have also tried to go gradeless.  One thing, for me, that was a major plus is that Sackstein is a high school teacher, and so were most of the other teachers who shared experiences.  As a high school teacher myself, it is helpful to hear from other high school teachers.  They understand the issues of GPA, college applications, and a whole “lifetime” of using grades as a measure of learning and smartness.

Sackstein breaksdown her book into 10 chapters or what she calls “hacks”.  Each addresses a different area of grading and assessment.  The different hacks include:  shifting the grades mindset, promoting buy-in, rebranding assignments as learning experiences, facilitating student partnerships, digitizing your data, maximizing time, tracking progress transparently, teaching reflection, teaching students to self-grade, and cloud-based archives.

Each hack is broken down into different parts: the problem, the hack, what you can do tomorrow, a blueprint for full implementation, overcoming pushback, and the hack in action.  It is this breakdown that makes the book so accessible.  As I read the book, I kept shaking my head in agreement and saying, yes…this makes so much sense.

As we rid ourselves of the grades, risk taking and questioning became a natural part of the process.                                              -Starr Sackstein, Hacking Assessment

As a TAB teacher, I already do some of the things she suggests, but I don’t do all of the things.  Hacking Assessment outlines how each hack is important, but as you read you understand how they all work together to create a meaningful learning experience for the students.  The addition of the hack in action section helps to put it in perspective.  You start to think, if this can be done in a math class, or an English class, of course this can be done in the art class.  I also really appreciated the pushback sections for each hack.  It gives the common arguments against that particular hack and how to combat that.  For me, having it all in one place is helpful.  I have conversations about the different aspects, but they seem to be everywhere, all over the interwebs, and it is hard to gather my thoughts easily on the matter.  It helps me to focus and have the conversation more easily.

Hacking Assessment is a quick read, but one I encourage if you have any thoughts about going gradeless, or even lessing the amount of grades in your class.  If nothing else, using some of the hacks will help your students be more reflective of their learning and gain back a little bit of the love they used have for learning.

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One response »

  1. I’m so excited for you and your students! I’ve jumped into this adventure with my last ELA class of the day at the middle school level, and we are learning a TON together. It’s been quite the experience for all of us. Enjoy jumping in, and let the #ttog group know when you need assistance! I love that we’re all there for each other.

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