Changes for 2015-16

Beginning in 2015-16, LCPS no longer requires teachers to give mid-term or final exams. Additionally, there is no longer a required Reflective Writing Essay as major assignment of the Honors English curriculum. Therefore, the student-generated Big Question Assessment has been moved from the 4th to the 3rd quarter. This has been done, as well, in response to teacher observations that the former structure of the Big Question Assessment was not working well for students. Teachers reported that students often became bored with their Big Questions as the year progressed, or that they had difficulty selecting Big Questions that were truly meaningful to them, or that they put-off tackling the Big Question inquiry until the end of the year. Many students saw the assignment as an item to be checked-off for a grade, not as an invitation to engage in genuine inquiry.

Despite LCPS’s dropping the requirement for mid-term and final exams, the Virginia Department of Education still requires that any course receiving a GPA bump have a common, defined assessment. More to the point, we want and expect students in Honors English to exercise curiosity and depth of thinking. To meet both goals, a panel of teachers that met in the summer of 2015 decided to re-structure the Big Question assignment so that it would be more engaging and more manageable for students while still meeting the VDOE requirement for a common assessment.

  1. The Big Question Assessment will be counted as a major grade for the 3rd quarter. Each school may define what is meant by a “major grade,” but all teachers at a given school must count the assessment the same way for grading purposes.
  2. By framing the Big Question Investigation as a 3rd quarter learning experience, it is hoped that students will remain enthusiastically engaged with their chosen questions
  3. To help students select personally meaningful Big Questions to investigate, teachers should introduce the selection process early in the year and provide students with multiple opportunities to try-out possible questions.
  4. Teachers may, if they wish, use the Big Question Assessment as one of the required formal written research papers.
  5. The option remains for allowing students to report on their Big Question Investigation in a non-traditional form, such as a structured portfolio or an audio-visual presentation.However, such options must include a formal written component, and they must be approved by the department chair.
  6. Teachers who require that students submit their Big Question assessments as formal essays or research papers must use the grading rubrics provided in the curriculum guide. Teachers who allow students to submit their Big Question assessments in a non-traditional way must devise a scoring rubric that is available to the student. A sample non-traditional assessment rubric is provided in the curriculum guide, and it may be used or adapted by the teacher. Teachers are strongly encouraged to discuss the scoring rubric for non-traditional assessments with individual students, so that the rubric reflects an authentic guide for that specific product.
  7. Schools should continue to collect or archive a sample of written and non-traditional Big Question Assessments so that all English educators may continue to learn from and refine their practice.