Five Questions with Chris Besse, President of FreshGrade

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Our Five Questions series with many of the top edtech, education and policy leaders continues with these great insights from Chris Besse, the President and COO of FreshGrade — an innovative way for parents, teachers and students to take a wider of view of student successes. Their portfolio approach can include video and actual student work and is part of an important, broader conversation about how we assess students.

Here are our questions and Chris Besse’s answers:

1) Many people – maybe especially parents – are coming to the conclusion that grades, as we used to know them, are imperfect ways of assessing academic performance. What’s wrong with the old grading system of A, B, C and so on?

Old grading systems tend to focus on “products of learning” and assume all learning can be quantified. They do not value progress and growth as much as they are used to label achievement. The old grading system doesn’t respect the diversity of learning paths and the personal journey that students take to reach their goals.

Grades do not provide feedback or encourage deeper learning. Most importantly they do not support the next steps in the process but simply mark an “end” to learning. For example, we take a piece of student writing and assign it a grade or a score based on criteria. What can a student do with that to improve as a writer? How motivated will they be to keep writing? We sacrifice long-term student success for short-term accountability when we rely heavily on grades to communicate progress. Learning is an important and lifelong journey for all of us. Encouraging students to understand that early on will benefit them throughout their lives.

2) Your company, FreshGrade, takes a wider, more inclusive view of student achievement. What’s included in your assessments and why is that better?

FreshGrade captures a broad range of assessments, not focusing merely on the products of learning, but on the observations and conversations that occur throughout the learning process. This approach enables educators to provide more timely individualized feedback based on the chosen approach to learning. FreshGrade supports data-informed instruction allowing students, parents, and teachers to adapt the next steps in the process based on where the student currently is.

3) Do you think we’ll get to a place – nationally – where grades and achievements are taken in this wider, more diverse view? Why or why not? What’s standing in the way?

Many teachers and leaders already believe in a more diverse approach to assessment. However, the policies and tools provided to them restrict their abilities. Understanding and policies are often at odds with one another. For example, personalization is used as a method for accommodating student diversity, but one-size-fits-all assessments are still used to measure their progress. Before FreshGrade, educators and leaders lacked alternatives to bridge the gap.

Once federal, state/provincial and local organizations start honoring alternative ways for students to show what they know and can do, we may see a shift toward a more diverse view of representing learning.

4) What does a movement to a FreshGrade approach of assessment mean for the regime of high-stakes national and statewide assessments, if anything?

The FreshGrade approach to assessment views assessment as a process. A movement towards it need not mean an immediate end to national or statewide assessments. Monitoring the health of the overall system is very high stakes. The FreshGrade approach focuses on classroom assessment for adapting instruction to the individual needs of students.

For districts, moving to a more student- and classroom-centered approach to assessment gives more credibility to the learning happening day-to-day. It can become the priority versus a test score or grade. Additionally, the learning that is captured through more authentic pieces of evidence is a much more effective approach to informing instruction.

5) What’s the response been to what you’re doing? What do teachers, especially, have to say about it? And what’s the future like for FreshGrade? What’s coming that we should know about?

Educators and leaders are making incredible positive changes for their communities with FreshGrade in many ways we did not expect or anticipate. We are currently working to develop educational tools and solutions to allow those educators to go even further with innovative assessment and reporting practices, personalized learning, and more 21st-century learning practices.

And teachers have responded very well. Here’s one example. Matthew Todd, a teacher in Illinois told us, “I found FreshGrade when looking for a means to get students to reflect upon and evaluate their work as they continually develop a capacity for self-reflection and ownership of learning and behavior. The student-created portfolios were also used to model reflections and responsibility for learning and decision making during student-led parent-teacher conferences. This change fundamentally changed the nature of conversations between the child, parent, and myself leading to meaningful partnerships and increased parent and student involvement. FreshGrade has changed student and parent engagement and my teaching practices positively.”