Expanding our view of student achievement

I engaged in a riveting conversation with a colleague at my new workplace, Pearson Canada-School Division (an awesome place to work, btw !!!) regarding the way we measure and define student achievement. Could it be that all of this focus on grades and achievement is actually interfering with student learning?

Punctuation marks made of puzzle pieces

Horia Varlan Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

This latest a-ha moment reminded me of a fantastic infographic from the CEA website (2011)  that depicts student engagement from grades 5-12. Take a look and compare the level of student engagement at the various grades with your school environment.

  • Do these same ratios ring true where you teach or lead? Why or why not?
  • What sets your setting apart?

The “What did you do at school today?” study provides great insight into the difference between what teachers define as ‘engagement’ and ‘student success’ vs. how students define these qualities.

How can we expand our definition of student achievement to include more than just grades, aka intellectual engagement? How can these ‘other’ things be measured/monitored? Should they?


5 thoughts on “Expanding our view of student achievement

  1. Excellent questions, and not easily answered. I work at a very high needs school where “marks” provide nothing except confirmation of “I’m not cutting it.” Marks are NOT helpful in my setting.
    Thanks for taking the time to write.

    • I concur, that for some learners, grades sometimes reinforce what they can’t do instead of what they can do. To me, assessment is meant to provide opportunities for growth and build on students’ strengths. If students only ever hear what they are failing at, how is this constructive?
      Given that marks don’t help in your setting, how have you found a way around them to provide meaningful feedback/opportunities for growth?
      Looking forward to your thoughts.

      • As a staff, we are currently reading Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment. We know that formative assessment is really the only way to move our learners forward. Because we work with extremely vulnerable learners, and because each of them have such a different profile and situation (ie, in care, fetal alcohol, in poverty, etc.)–each student requires substantial positive feedback. Taking risks is difficult for them. Most don’t come close to “meeting curricular objectives.” Instead, we focus on tiny steps that help move learning along. We also spend a tremendous amount of time creating relationships.

  2. I, too have been thinking a lot about student engagement and agree with the literature that it is multi-faceted. Interestingly, what can be motivating and ‘engaging’ for some may have a negative effect (or no effect) for others. The notion of differentiated instruction and assessment is embraced, but the end product in our reporting (evaluation and report card grades) is standard and applied to all learners.
    In my role as a Student Work Study teacher, I have many hours of observing student behaviours, comments, and artifacts of learning and use these to help define student engagement. I feel mostly aligned with, Meyer and Turner (2006) as cited by Parsons, J. Taylor, L. (2011), “engaging students in learning requires positive emotional experiences, which contribute to a classroom climate that forms the foundation for teacher-student relationships and interactions necessary for motivation to learn”. As well as by, Willms, Friesen, Milton (2009) as cited by Parsons, J. Taylor, L. (2011), who discuss three different types of engagement:

    1. Social Engagement – a sense of belonging and participation in school life
    2. Academic Engagement – participation in the formal requirements of schooling (changed to “Institutional Engagement” in 2010, Dunleavy, Milton, & Crawford,)
    3. Intellectual Engagement – a serious emotional and cognitive investment in learning, using higher order thinking skills (such as analysis and evaluation), to increase understanding, solve complex problems, or construct new knowledge.
    So, Tania – Intellectual engagement – yes! But can this occur in isolation of Academic and Social Engagement? Perhaps different instructional tasks and goals require different types of engagement?
    Thanks for making me think deeper about this complex issue:)

    • Thanks for your thought provoking response Nicole, and for sharing the powerful insight you have as a result of your role in a wide range of classrooms working with students. I appreciate the references you have provided too.

      I have always enjoyed intellectual conversations with you, and even though we don’t work in the same board any more, it’s awesome to continue the dialogue here!


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