The “Rule of FIVE” is a revision of the Rule of TEN approach to assessment that I originally published on Newlearner.com back in 2008. Essentially, the Rule of TEN was an approach wherein the final mark for a senior school course would be based on exactly ten pieces of assessment. No more… no less. I believed that the Rule of Ten promoted assessment that was Timely, Engaging, and Necessary.
However, given the degree to which many teachers, including myself, are taking personalized learning these days, even ten assessments may become overwhelming for both students and teachers. This is because developing, managing, and assessing a variety of different assessments for each student will invariably take more time than would developing, managing, and assessing the same assessment for all students within a given course. For this reason, I have revised my original number of assessments down to FIVE, thus creating a pedagogy that views the four pillars of assessment as being: Fun, Inspiration, Validity, and Engagement.
A Caveat… Summative vs. Formative
Under the Rule of FIVE, students will invariably complete more than just five assessments over the duration of a course. However, those other assessments will not count towards the student’s final grade. Rather, the other non-rule assessments will be designed to be formative in nature, occurring within a unit of study (or learning module) in order to provide feedback to the student and the teacher about the student’s progress. Only the five official “rule” assessments employed under the Rule of FIVE will be summative in nature and therefore count towards the student’s final grade. As is always the case, formative assessment will provide feedback on how a student is learning, while summative assessment will provide feedback on how a student has learned. (Note: In this regard, formative assessments can include index assessments, which are essentially mastery formative opportunities provided during a unit of study, which then become summative at the conclusion of a unit of study. Thus, students continue to work at these assessments until they achieve the mark they desire, knowing that the highest mark they achieve will become summative at a later point in time.)
While this rule may seem radical to those teachers who have traditionally focused on providing numerous assessments in their courses, other teachers have been employing a similar approach for decades. It goes without saying that teachers new to this approach can certainly expect to experience what might be described as a classroom cultural shift when implementing the Rule of FIVE.
The Rationale… in the form of a mnemonic
Under the Rule of FIVE, the final mark for a senior school course is based on exactly five pieces of assessment, thus encouraging assessment that is:
i) Fun: Where possible, assessment should be designed to be both enjoyable and exciting for the student. Fewer assessments should provide both teachers and students the time required to tailor assessments to individual students in an effort to activate and integrate individual student passions, strengths, and interests.
ii) Inspiring: A general trend seen in education today is assessments that are being designed in an effort to inspire deeper learning as opposed to evaluating what the student has already learned. Invariably, this is a shift away from assessment "of" learning and towards assessment "as" learning. Thus, having fewer overall assessments, each that are designed to be richer, deeper, and more personalized will, hopefully, inspire greater curiosity, passion, and deeper learning in each and every student.
ii) Valid: In general, the term valid describes something that indicates what it is intended to indicate. Applied to assessment, this would mean that the assessment really does assess the knowledge and skills associated with a given unit of study. Obviously, this means that the assessment should assess knowledge and skills associated with specific curriculum content. However, there is an added aspect of validity that is created when we assess students using a smaller number of assessments. This is addressed in the next pillar in the Rule of Five: student engagement.
i) Engaging: A smaller number of assessments should allow the student to provide his full attention and best effort toward each and every assessment. After all, marks are collected and recorded under the assumption that they reflect the student’s best - that is to say, “true” - ability. However, large numbers of lower-value assessments can force students to make economic trade-offs between assessments that receive their full commitment versus assessments that receive less than their best effort. In such cases, it is invariably the lower-value assessments that will tend to receive a compromised effort. Sadly, the aggregate effect of numerous lower-value assessments can nonetheless have an impact on a student’s overall grade, and, in cases where numerous smaller assignments did in fact receive less than the student’s best effort, the final grade in the course may not necessarily reflect the student’s true ability.
ONLY five marks?!
Only five marks for a secondary school course sounds a bit crazy. After all, if only five marks were collected, then each assessment would be worth, on average, 20% of the student's overall grade. In the interest of full transparency, my application of the Rule of FIVE refers to major assignments that have due dates, and thus vie for the student's time and attention outside of class. I collect many other marks in class by way of my Classwork Portfolio and my Mastery Learning Lab. In total, I actually collect 15 marks for each student throughout the year, including five RULE marks, five Mastery Learning Lab marks, and five Classwork Portfolio marks. When those marks are broken down into their KICA categories, I actually end up recording 40 marks for each student. Now that's nothing to sneeze at.
In the final analysis, the Rule of FIVE is intended to address one of the most incontrovertible issues impacting on student assessment: time. FIVE pieces of major assessment will essentially ensure that the effort students direct towards these assessments is more reflective of their true ability and less reflective of the economic choices that students invariably make when confronting an overwhelming number of assessments.
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