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Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom

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Differentiated instruction is a nice idea, but what happens when it comes to assessing and grading students? What's both fair and leads to real student learning?

Fair Isn't Always Equal answers that question and much more. Rick Wormeli offers the latest research and common sense thinking that teachers and administrators seek when it comes to assessment and grading in differentiated classes. Filled with real examples and “gray” areas that middle and high school educators will easily recognize, Rick tackles important and sometimes controversial assessment and grading issues constructively. The book covers high-level concepts, ranging from “rationale for differentiating assessment and grading” to “understanding mastery” as well as the nitty-gritty details of grading and assessment, such as:

whether to incorporate effort, attendance, and behavior into academic grades;
whether to grade homework;
setting up grade books and report cards to reflect differentiated practices;
principles of successful assessment;
how to create useful and fair test questions, including how to grade such prompts efficiently;
whether to allow students to re-do assessments for full credit.
This thorough and practical guide also includes a special section for teacher leaders that explores ways to support colleagues as they move toward successful assessment and grading practices for differentiated classrooms.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2006

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Rick Wormeli

21 books15 followers

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5 stars
239 (34%)
4 stars
271 (39%)
3 stars
142 (20%)
2 stars
24 (3%)
1 star
12 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 68 reviews
Profile Image for Jennifer Mangler.
1,395 reviews13 followers
July 4, 2012
This book contained some really great discussions that go me thinking. Most notably, Wormeli's book got me thinking about these things:
1. What is mastery? How is mastery best measured?
2. The importance of feedback (more important than a grade, which is too often our focus).
3. Creating opportunities for students to reflect on their work - and to fix their work based on their reflection and our feedback.
4. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Although Wormeli doesn't use this phrase it kept popping into my head repeatedly as I read the book. Are the learning experiences and the work I'm asking students to do worth their time (and mine)?
5. Grading systems, specifically the issue of zeroes.

While reading this book in isolation is helpful, I think it would be most helpful if teacher teams read it together and discussed the issues raised in the book. Many of the issues are a the core of what we do and don't get brought out into the open and discussed enough.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books969 followers
March 1, 2008
Wormeli wades into some hot-button topics like grading (he calls it the "elephant in the room") we don't want to discuss. In addition to issues of assessment, fairness, and mastery teaching, Wormeli brings up whether or not we should grade participation, effort, behavior, and attendance. My school has been debating this very topic of late, and Wormeli not only provides both points of view, he dives into the debate fearlessly by taking a stand and giving a well-reasoned defense of his view.

The focus of the book, then, is on leveling the playing field for students of all abilities. Sometimes our old practices bring learning to a halt simply because we think it's only "fair" that students be "punished" for their laziness. We bring up such arguments as "the real world" and "responsibility," never considering that we may be part of the problem ourselves.

Profile Image for Patrick.
783 reviews5 followers
August 5, 2014
p.2 How to get our modern classroom to reflect what has been distilled from the research.
p.8 In fact, what we teach is irrelevant. It's what our students learn after their time with us that matters.

The guru of differentiation lays out a thorough description of his ideas and methods. To certain circles, I will describe the work as Saint Wormeli at his best. There are many different aspects of the classroom covered within the text. Most importantly for this reader, ideas which can be implemented directly into the classroom are consistent within the work. Mr. Wormeli deals with the abstract concepts of differentiation, but also displays interesting ideas for the classroom.

Mr. Wormeli presents fantastic ideas for constructing for student-friendly exams are worth noting and employing. Included: Follow multiple choice questions a with short answer extension, writing out True and False so there is mistaking a circle. There are many areas of suggestions, including starting a differentiated gradebook.

If you follow Wormeli on Twitter--and you should if you do not--some of ideas are repetitive, such as the argument against zero and full credit redo's on work.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
29 reviews3 followers
November 30, 2009
The staff at my school was told to read this book, and I got absolutely nothing out of it. Perhaps he is a great public speaker that would have made the book make more sense, but for me he just seems to go around the point with education jargon and incomprehensible analogies. Even if your in education, I wouldn't recommend it.
Profile Image for Becca.
190 reviews7 followers
May 5, 2010
I found Wormeli's over all tone to be way too preachy. That compounded with the fact that I didn't find anything his arguments to be well-developed or terribly original, and I give this book a resounding "meh."
405 reviews
June 25, 2017
The upside of this book is that it has challenged my thinking and given me so many great ideas. The downside of this book is that it has challenged my thinking and given me so many great ideas, but not necessarily the time to implement all of them RIGHT NOW. Much to consider...
Profile Image for Joseph Montuori.
48 reviews7 followers
December 31, 2017
As a 25+ year classroom teacher, I had come to embrace many of the values and practices Wormeli advocates before reading Fair Isn't Always Equal. So I was already "part of the choir." For those who aren't, Wormeli's book may not be so persuasive. (I think his Stenhouse Publishing videos are much more concrete and persuasive. They're worth checking out here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa1-... )

Nevertheless, Wormeli makes a good case for providing students with grading and assessment that is fair, even if it isn't always "equal", i.e. identical to what other students are provided. As one quick example, is it fair, Wormeli asks, that one student gets to use eyeglasses to read the material and assessment, while others do not? Of course it is. Is it equal? No. So why shouldn't a dysgraphic student have a scribe to write down her response? That's fair too — even if it isn't equal for students who must write down their own responses.

The first two sections — Differentiation and Mastery; and Assessment — were somewhat tedious to read. In any case, the next section on Grading was more concrete and practical for my purposes. But I found myself wanting to shout, "Standards Based Grading! Just say it!" To my mind, Wormeli seemed to be nibbling around the edges without a full discussion of concepts and just a hint at practices. Perhaps that wasn't a popular concept in 2007? I'm not well-read enough to say. To those with much different values and practices, Wormeli's detailed discussion of these topics is certainly valuable, even if it isn't a page turner. For those who are already in agreement, it's confirmation and rational justification.

The fourth and final section, "Implementation and the Big Picture," is geared toward administrators and teachers interested in moving colleagues toward these practices. Also worth a quick read for anyone, and especially those in a hostile-to-change school environment. If you find yourself alone and battling the common wisdom of colleagues, the honest and open stance Wormeli recommends is wise counsel.

I picked up this book largely because I'm in my first year teaching in a differentiated, inclusive classroom, with a full embrace of standards based grading. Wormeli didn't disappoint; I took away several ideas and practices that I'll be putting into use right away. Fair Isn't Always Equal also helped me to clarify my thinking about my current practices in differentiating, assessing, and feedback. For all of these benefits, I highly recommend the book for teachers and administrators, new and seasoned.
Profile Image for Dave Moyer.
598 reviews5 followers
July 17, 2021
Perhaps the best composite source of info. on assessment practices that actually promote, rather than inhibit, student learning that I have read. Wormeli references most of the top thinkers on this topic, including Reeves, Stiggins, Marzano, and O'Connor, and adeptly integrates assessment and instruction in a manner that is accessible to teachers. My personal caveat is that I consider differentiation what teachers do, and so I prefer the term personalized learning. Teachers seem somewhat overwhelmed with the term differentiation, and that may be my personal bent, but that distinction aside, the book is excellent. The entire future of this country would be transformed if all teachers followed the assessment guidelines outlined in this book.
Profile Image for Mark Valentine.
1,854 reviews22 followers
July 12, 2017
It's now called Wormeli's Standard and it requires reader's to read his book without preconceived ideas, to shed outdated practices, to encounter his book that has practical, real-time solutions inside the covers, a genuine go-to book, and know this book as one that preaches fairness, honor, and high standards.

I am still striving to migrate away from percentage marking to standards-based scoring so I have placed Wormeli's book nearby me for quick access.
Profile Image for Kim.
202 reviews6 followers
July 7, 2018
For a teacher who has some understanding of differentiation and wants to dig deeper into what that means for assessment and grading. My favorite chapters, right now, were on feedback, tiering, and rubrics--lots of good data, explanation, and examples. I'm sure other chapters will be significant as my own readiness changes. For more, see my blog http://kimessenburg.blogspot.com/2018...
Profile Image for Ross.
338 reviews
April 16, 2019
What a valuable resource. I learned a lot about assessment, grading, projects, scales. There were many practical ideas and examples that I can implement in my classroom tomorrow. Teacher's read this book!
Profile Image for Adrianna Covert.
136 reviews20 followers
October 17, 2021
Definitely a thought-provoking book that discusses differentiated instruction. After discussion with classmates it seems like much of the book is idealistic. Yes, we would love to follow this texts’ tenets in real life, but, unfortunately, sometimes sacrifices have to be made in the classroom.
Profile Image for Jonathan Lothspeich.
111 reviews2 followers
May 10, 2022
Man, this book was a slog. It had some great ideas and came out swinging, but the latter half of the book was tedious and overexplained, in my opinion. I'll definitely be applying some strategies in my classroom next year, but this book could have been 100 pages instead of 300.
13 reviews
July 13, 2018
Mostly geared towards standards-based classroom practices, but introduces practical guidance and for more equitable practices within those parameters.
Profile Image for Michael Romick.
114 reviews
July 31, 2020
Some really good thinking and well-supported new ideas. I am reading this with a group of high school teachers and we meet online to discuss it.
Profile Image for Virginia.
587 reviews17 followers
June 30, 2012
Rick Wormeli presents his ideas and beliefs about grading and reporting in such a sensible and reasonable way. This book focuses on identifying and defining assessment, grading, rating, and reporting--how they are similar, and yet how they serve very different purposes. It makes the reader consider what grades really mean and what they should reflect. The book makes perfect sense to me and to many of my elementary level colleagues. I find, however, that many middle and high school teachers argue with the ideas in the book- primarily because they are still very vested in the idea of grades being the way they control students, and they rule their roost with the almighty ZERO. Hopefully readers of this book will realize that grades need to be reflections of what students know and can do. Behavior and compliance to deadlines, etc. must be handled in some other way than grades.

Profile Image for jacky.
3,496 reviews85 followers
August 1, 2022
2009: I signed up to read this with my school for a book club. The trouble was that the last meeting was the last week of school. I, of course, am too busy with grading to read the second half of the book, even though I'd very much like to. I'll have to come back to it some time. If figures, too, because I am far more interested in the second half on grading than I was on the first half.

2015: Stated again front the beginning. I find that the whole thing fit well with my current thinking on teaching and assessment. A good mix of theory and practical example and implementation strategies. Highly recommended. I expect to return to this when I am teaching and creating assessments for hands on work.
Profile Image for Jenny O.
26 reviews2 followers
March 26, 2011
This book affected a lot of my ideas about how to grade, particularly how I handle late assignments. I appreciate it because it made a lot of vague thoughts I had more concrete. The theory part of it was amazing--it really changed the way I think about grading to a more student-centered philosophy. I only gave it 3 stars, however, because I find it challenging to apply a lot of it. With 100 students to keep track of and administration who expect things to be done a certain way, it's difficult to incorporate some of the big ideas. I found the best template for a rubric I've ever seen in this book, though. I've changed my rubrics, and they're so much easier for students to use now.
Profile Image for Lynn.
325 reviews2 followers
May 28, 2009
I read this book during silent reading for my "professional" book club. It was a little like reading a textbook & I'm glad I'm done :) Worthwhile book for teachers who do more grading & assessment then I have to as a library teacher - especially if you have a Standards Based Report Card in your future!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
709 reviews12 followers
September 18, 2015
I'm not sure how much of this will be entirely useful and valid in my future classroom- in theory it all sounds great (though like a lot of work on the part of the teacher). Valid work, sure, but I think I need classroom experience to make it feel more explicitly relevant.

Very interesting thoughts on how to structure and do assessments, and some great assignment tips as well.
Profile Image for Tobey.
110 reviews2 followers
December 15, 2007
Although it is dorky to read books on how to teach I really like this book and I don't deny the dorkiness. Good valid ideas that I philosophically agree with and I would like to see implimented at AHS.
1 review
July 24, 2010
What I learned from this book:
*An operational definition for what a grade represents.
*Six reasons for grading cited by most teachers (3 of them "cross the line" by diluting the grade's accuracy)
*Late work
*10 approaches to avoid when grading & assessing
*Homework definition/purpose
Profile Image for Awagner.
14 reviews1 follower
July 26, 2011
This book addresses alot of the questions that I've been asking myself regarding assessments. I have a list of key points that I took away from it and still have lots of questions about what my peers feel are some good responses to those key issues.
Profile Image for Leanna Aker.
436 reviews11 followers
July 28, 2011
A great book if you are interested in reevaluating the equity, fairness, and differentiation of your grading system. Prepare to have your paradigms rocked! This is my bible in changing to standards-based grading next year.
Profile Image for Joy Kirr.
1,056 reviews131 followers
December 27, 2015
Finished this one a year or two ago... GREAT book for explaining WHY I'm trying to do what I'm trying to do. Sad that even though our entire staff (supposedly) read it, only a few buy in. Turning the big ship, I suppose...
Profile Image for Abbie.
256 reviews14 followers
August 19, 2013
Having taken a class in DI and a good friend who lives and breathes these philosophies, I feel like large sections were reviews rather than new ideas. Great reference. I wish there was more cited research to support the ideas.
Profile Image for Natalie Cardon.
207 reviews17 followers
October 3, 2014
This is a fantastic book for teachers of all kinds on differentiation, especially how to differentiate grading and assessments, and why it's fair to do so. Very realistic and practical, while at the same time, suggesting a huge leap forward in our educational system.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 68 reviews

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