Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grading and Reporting at ACS

I have included a podcast of the presentation that we had at our parent coffee earlier this week outlining some of the discussions that our faculty has had about our grading practices at ACS and the impact that these discussions have had on our reporting procedures. Although, it would be great if everyone could watch the presentation, it ended up being a lot longer that I had initially hoped so I will provide a brief written synopsis of the podcast below.

First of all, our faculty has had some extensive discussions about our grading practices over the past couple of years and this has had a profoundly positive impact on our assessment practices in middle school. These discussions began when we began to look at the purpose of grading in our middle school. Our guide through many of these discussions is a book entitled, "A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 fixes for Broken Grades," written by a professor at the University of Toronto named Ken O'Connor. Mr. O'Connor has argued that schools have used grades for a variety of purposes which prevents grades from effectively communicating performance to parents and students. For example, if a teacher has grades for behavior, participation and academic achievement, a grade of "B" does not communicate what specifically that student is having issues with; is it behavior, participation or academics? In order to be more clear, we have identified a central purpose for our grades at ACS - to communicate a students achievement measured against our school's standards and benchmarks. This fundamental purpose has lead to many discussions within our school about changes to our practice that would be needed in order for us to attain our goal.

Effects on Grading Practice

In order to ensure we aligned with our central grading purpose, our staff identified some important issues that we needed to find solutions for.

1) Student Behavior - teachers would not give grades for student behavior in class. These behaviors will be reported separately from grades (Progress Report)
2) Late Work - Students would not be academically penalized for late work. Teachers would engage students to identify why a student's work is late and work with the student to complete the work
3) Extra Credit - although extension activities may be given to students who achieve standards early, a student will still be assessed on the standards of our school curriculum
4) Academic Dishonesty - there will not be academic penalites for cheating or plagiarism. A student must redo the work and behavioral consequences will be applied for repeat offenders
5) Group Work - group work is used to build knowledge and skills. Although group work will be used extensively in classes, a student should be individually assessed
6) Formative & Summative Assessments - Summative assessments (assessments of learning) will be the majority of the overall grade. This will allow for students to use their formative assessments (assessments for learning) to improve their knowledge and skills
7) Grading Descriptors - detailed descriptions of academic achievement will be developed

Effects of Reporting Practice

The changes that were made in our grading practices have allowed teachers to collect more data that we would like to communicate to both students and parents. In order to provide everyone with this detailed information, we would like to make the following changes to our reporting practices.

1) Move from a quarter based grading period to a semester based grading period - this would allow teachers to include more summative assessments in their overall grade during a grading period. Each summative assessment then becomes less "high stakes" for students
2) Include separate assessments of behaviors and academic achievement on each report - we would like to combine our progress report (behavior focus) with our report card (academic focus)
3) Communicate the achievement for each standard within an academic subject rather than just an overall subject grade (on semester reports) - teachers will provide information to parents and students about their achievement of individual standards in their classes rather than an overall grade.
4) Improve the quality of information on each report which will necessitate fewer reports per school year - instead of providing 8 reports per year, the school will distribute reports at the end of each quarter, 4 times per year
5) Take advantage of technology to facilitate distribution of reports - report cards will be distributed by email rather than hard copy. Official transcripts of grades will be provided for students withdrawing from the school, and at the end of each academic year

This process has been very fulfilling and it has been amazing to hear some of the discussions that are taking place as our students become better and better at using their formative assessments to improve their learning. This has been a paradigm shift for many of us, but the results that we have seen in student motivation and performance have been astounding! We are hopeful that the changes to our reporting procedures will also have a profound effect on improving the communication between home and school and enable us to work as partners in the education and development of our students.

Please feel free to leave comments here on the blog or contact me in the office if you have any questions or concerns.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What adults can learn from kids

This is a very impressive video. At ACS, we are currently going through our middle states accreditation process. One of the foundational documents that is required by their new Excellence by Design protocol is a school profile of graduate. Recently, I saw this video by a very bright young lady who is currently working as a educational consultant and keynote speaker. I believe that she is an excellent example of the type of graduate we should be striving for in our schools today.
At the NESA Leadership conference past fall, I had the opportunity to listen to Grant Wiggins deliver a keynote address. During his presentation, he talked a lot about his book "Schooling by Design" and the central premise of developing a mission based on what we want our students to be able to do when they leave our schools and the implications that that would have on the way our schools functioned as a result. This video is a great example of how that philosophy might work if we want our students to be able to create a presentation like Adora Svitak. What skills would our students need to have to deliver this type of presentation? What knowledge would they need to have to be so persuasive? I believe it is these types of questions that schools need to begin answering in order to prepare our students for the world that awaits them.

The Last Lecture

This is a condensed version of the inspirational video by Randy Pausch, who was a college professor at Carnegie Mellon before his untimely passing. Professor Pausch's last lecture is a testament to the human spirit and a great way to talk to kids about the important things in life. I have had great success sharing this video with middle school students and have found that they have been deeply and positively impacted by the words of this great professor.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mandate for change

"One of the participants in my morning session said that I didn’t appreciate how far along you all are and that you are way above average when it comes to integrating technology into your instruction. And yet, from my conversations with many of you over the past few days, it’s very clear to me that there still are many things you’re not doing. For example, most of you have yet to put a computer in every kid’s hands; that’s why you’re here at this 1:1 conference. Most of you have yet to incorporate online courses into your curricula in any kind of substantive way. Few of you are teaching students to be empowered – not just responsible – digital citizens in our new information landscape. Few of you have a staff full of educators that are modeling active participation in that landscape. As far as I can tell, none of you has robust student assessments at every grade level that target higher-level, more cognitively-complex thinking and doing and being. None of you has moved to a truly personalized learning environment for every student, one in which students’ progress is facilitated and perhaps assessed by technology and is organized around student competence and completion rather than age and grade level. So some of you are sitting there in the audience feeling pretty good about yourselves. And you should. You’re blessed with wonderful financial resources, fantastic facilities, and amazing faculty. But for those of you who think I don’t appreciate how far along you are, all I can say is that I’m not sure you appreciate how far you still have to go."

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that I stole this quote and video from a blog called Sentiments on Common Sense which is written by Andy Torris who is the Deputy Head at Shanghai American School. I loved this quote and thought that the video of Scott McLeod's presentation is right on the money.

I had the privilege of attending the American School of Bombay's first 1:1 conference a couple of years ago and I remember meeting Scott McLeod at the conference. At the time, his keynotes were awesome and really pushed me to think about what kind of skills we are teaching our students in our schools at the present time. I have to admit, that I left that conference over two years ago inspired to change my personal practice as well as advocate for change within my own school to help our students acquire these essential skills. Upon reflection, I think that we have made some great stride exposing our kids to some of the skills that Scott is talking about in his keynote, but I agree that we have a long way to go to ensure that our students are prepared for the world that will await them when they enter the "real world" in just a few short years.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Principals of the Future - A collaborative effort for change

Principals of the Future - Principals of The Future

This is a great site and a wonderful idea! The site was created by Blair Peterson who is the author of a great blog, "Creative Tension." This site is a wiki for educational leaders to share information about current leadership practice with a specific focus on the use of technology and 1:1 laptop programs.