If student learning is the goal, doesn’t reporting and evaluation imply an arbitrary time frame in which students ought to have learned?
Let's face it, school isn't structured to accommodate widely individual rates and ways of learning. This is the bald truth of it, and all teachers bump up against this reality sooner or later. To add to the complications, a great deal of public funding (and confidence) goes into schools based on our mandate to educate children. As a system we need to be accountable for this and report out on how students are doing at times. On top of that, we need to credential their learning. A Dogwood Diploma certifies that certain things have been learned during a certain span of time, which is why the diploma has been given to the graduating student in the first place.
So how can we reconcile that "arbitrary time frame" with what we know about individual rates and ways of learning? The short answer is that we can't. The more reflective answer is that we'll always have due dates, final tests and assignments and report cards, but they don't have to define and limit the process of learning for us the way they do now. Instead of being an excuse for not considering other ways of doing things, report cards and deadlines need to serve learning The journey along the way can be defined differently if we choose to do so. Of course, realistically, time is up eventually. Deadlines are a part of life, and classroom instruction isn't individual tutoring.
However, as adults in the real world, time lines are often negotiable. Do we make them hard and fast for students to prepare them for a "real" world of hard and fast deadlines or because it makes our work as teachers more manageable? Hard to say, but something to think about.
I've added a poll for response on this question along with a link to an interesting article on formative assessment in the Resource sidebar.
Speaking of articles, check out another interesting article on assessment by Bruce Beairsto at http://www.cea-ace.ca/blog/bruce-beairsto/2011/04/2/necessary-disruption-part-6-assessment-and-evaluation.