For some competitions one selects a bunch of smart people, hands them a rubric and says “have at it. Be fair.” Honestly though is that really the way to do things? Generally not. When running a serious competition you want good judges, smart people who know their stuff – that’s a given. But you also want equality of evaluation, transparency, fairness and the knowledge that judges have a common understanding of what is expected. That doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just happen in school – grading papers or tests – either though all too often we take the same cavalier attitude about preparing teachers to grade as we do judges to judge. I’ve one a lot of grading in my time and a fair amount of competition judging as well. This week though I am a judge for the US Innovative Education Forum in Redmond Washington. There are 20 something judges to judge 70+ teacher submitted projects. One of the required items for judges was a four hour workshop to be held today, the day before the judging starts for real. I had no idea what to expect when I walked past this welcoming banner.

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What I got was some serious training. A little over eight years ago I was a reader (grader) for the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam. Training for that was intense and a wonderful learning experience for me. Today was a bit of déjà vu. It wasn’t exactly the same of course but it was remarkably similar. In both trainings we started with the rubric – what does it say, what does it mean, how are points allocated. Then we took a look at samples and did a sort of mock grading. The mock grading was followed by an in depth discussion (and a lot of questions) about why a certain mark was or was not given. How did what was on the paper relate to what was in the rubric? What sort of thing did some people miss that we should all be on the look out for? What are the nuances that show up when a theoretical rubric meets up with an actual paper that is to be evaluated based on the rubric? Let me tell you that we had some intense (though always collegial) discussions about things today.

We took the whole four hours with one short break. Was it worth it? I think so. I learned a lot and several others said the same thing. We go into tomorrow’s judging with a common rubric with a pretty close common understanding of that rubric. Judging will be careful, thoughtful and I have no doubt at times difficult – there are some great projects to look at. But most importantly it will be done by judges who are not only well qualified but well trained for this particular event. I’m proud to be a part of it.

BTW Rob Bayuk lists all of the IEF judges on the Teacher Tech blog.  It’s an impressive list of judges so check it out.