The Response from Parents in October

This photo shows where this group of Graded parents stands on university for their children. As you can see, the standards are high.

This photo shows where this group of Graded parents stands on university for their children. As you can see, the standards are high.

School started at the end of July and by October students and parents were questioning our implementation of the new changes. A group of parents presented us with the following list of questions.

Questions from Parents

  • Why the implementation did not consider a pilot to test and debug the system before implementing it to the whole high-school?
  • Which are the reasons to change a grade system in the middle of the high school (changing rules in the middle of the game)?
  • One of the consequences of the new system is a considerable increase in workload for teachers. What is the approach used in the new system to overcome this challenge? How was the training process for the teachers with regard to the new system? How long were they trained?
  • Is the system fully implemented according to the original plan? Has anything gone wrong with the implementation? What are the difficulties encountered in the implementation process?
  • Does the school have any plans to approach colleges aiming to explain the system so the students have the same opportunities in the application when compared with other students with a different grading system?
  • Does the school have any plans to approach colleges aiming to explain the system so the students have the same opportunities in the application when compared with other students with a different grading system?
  • The general perception is that the new system will result in lower grades for students. While this issue can be adjusted over time it is not clear how long this will take and more than one class may be severely impacted by its adoption in the way it was implemented.

Our team quickly moved to meet with parents and I still remember facing a somewhat hostile audience of parents. While we humbly defended our work, we knew that there was a sense of urgency to improve.

HS Parent Meeting Grading.100614

Out of this experience I learned the following:

  • This was the first time that we had standardized grading and reporting practices throughout the high school and this was not an easy task. In the past each department has a certain level of autonomy which meant that we were frequently on different pages. Making this change was easier said then done. We had to constantly define our policy language and unpack the details. We encouraged everyone to ask questions so that we could find out what was not understood. We were revisiting policy at every faculty meeting.
  • Making these changes put all of us under the microscope. I realized that poor practices that went unnoticed in the past were now being commented on by students and parents. For example, if the formative assessments did not align with the summative assessments, students noticed. If the classroom activities did not align, the students noticed.
  • While we had piloted certain aspects, it may have helped to do more prior to the full rollout.
  • The parents were right, these changes did mean much more work for teachers. Our teachers were having to work much harder and the pressure was on for them to improve their assessment practices.

Stay tuned for what we learned at the end of the first semester.

Did we really expect to escape the critics?

By October, we started hearing grumblings from students and parents. Below is a copy of the petition from some members of the Class of 2015. In the midst of the college application season, our seniors were nervous.

2014 Senior Petition

We immediately shared this information with our faculty and scheduled meetings with the seniors and then grade level groups with the 9 – 11th graders. We also surveyed the entire student body to find out more about their understanding of the new policies and how the implementation was going.

We had a tremendous amount of faith in the students’ abilities to adapt and be successful under these new conditions. While some students were signing the petition, there was a large group of seniors who saw the value of the changes. Unfortunately these students were less vocal than their peers. We had also solicited information from university admission representatives and we believed that our students would not be negatively affected during the college admission process.

We explained to the students that we would continue working with them on their adjustment and that we believed that, in the long run, they would benefit. We were determine to move forward and find ways to improve the implementation and on our grading practices.

Wait until you see what we learned after semester 1.

 

People Get Emotional When you Talk about Changing Grading Practices

Over the years I have followed newspaper articles from communities where grading and reporting changes have taken place and quite often the conversations lead to heated arguments, animosity, teachers getting suspended and/or fired, principals getting losing their jobs and court cases.

Possibly the most controversial change that really gets tempers flaring is when schools decide to not assign zeros to missing student work. While the two sides don’t usually get physical, the battle can be nasty.

"Untitled" by RyanMcGuire is licensed under CC0 Public Domain

“Untitled” by RyanMcGuire is licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under these circumstances it’s very difficult to change overall practices. Instead of the focus being on changing assessment practices to improve learning, individuals take a myopic approach and the two sides get bogged down in the single issue. The fear of having to face upset parents, students and teachers typically leads to continuing the status quo. The status quo, even though flawed, is just easier to continue.

Fortunately, the Graded community was appreciative to discuss assessment practices that improves learning. Our teachers, parents and students saw the value of being able to give feedback to students on academic performance and separate feedback on learning habits. There wasn’t a battle around the typical divisive issues (i.e. zeros, extra credit, participation, group grades, homework grades). The only issue that created a stir throughout the year was reassessments (more on this in another post).

These are the responses from the high school faculty at our opening faculty meeting for the 2014 – 15 school year.

From the start of the year we were continuously learning in these four areas (and others).

What did I learn?

  • That it is never too soon to prepare for rolling out these changes. Ask teachers to respond to these prompts as early as possible.
  • Having a community that supports the concepts and initiative makes the rollout easier.
  • Even when you have the support of the community, there will be disagreements and critics.

What’s it like to change grading and reporting practices that have been around for over 100 years?

1923 Gradebook Page 1

At Graded, In 2012 we started working on plans to redesign our assessment practices to better meet the needs of our students. The most difficult work happened during the 2014 – 15 school year and everyone in our community was on a steep learning journey.I am so proud of our faculty for taking the risks by stepping out of their comfort zones by trying something new. For me, it was probably the most challenging year of my career. I have been wanting to document this journey since last August and with so many educators embarking on these types of changes, now is the time to share. My story of our work is probably much like that of others who have decided to break the cycle of the use of grading practices that don’t promote learning and a growth mindset. Jeff Lippman shared the story of our middle school in this November post, Gathering Feedback For Growth: Grading and Reporting Changes.

Teachers have been assigning grades to students, based on averages, since at least 1870 (Guskey) and most of us have only experienced a system where final grades determined by averaging all marks. We attended school where teachers used this system and then, as educators, we adopted these practices when we started teaching. And, most of us have been in systems where the grades included scores that reflect learning habits. This means that the final grade is not truly indicative of the student’s knowledge and skills.

This is an example of how we used to handle students turning in work late. This practice factors learning habits into the grade.

This is an example of how we used to handle students turning in work late. This practice factors learning habits into the grade.

So, after two years of prep work we decided on the following.

Purpose

All grading and reporting, as part of the school’s overarching assessment philosophy, strives to be comprehensive, equitable, and transparent in the spirit of continuous improvement. The purpose of grading is to communicate achievement of academic standards and habits of learning to all stakeholders.

The impetus for change:

  • In the 2012-13 school year we adopted new Achievement Descriptors. It is impossible to fully implement those descriptors without separating academic achievement from learning habits.

  • The schoolwide focus on assessment over the last three years has led us to question the current Grading and Reporting paradigm.  In order to align our work with our philosophy, changes are necessary.

  • Feedback from teachers, parents and students in addition to Challenge Success data in both the MS and HS suggest that the focus of our students is often on the “grade” rather than on the “learning”.

  • Our current system of grading does not encourage a growth mindset amongst our students as it punishes risk taking and failure.

  • Our current system of grading does not clearly help students gather information about their strengths, weaknesses and areas of potential growth.

Academic achievement grades will not include:

  1. Grade penalties for late work.  Teachers do not reduce grades or give zeroes as a consequence.  Instead, there will be a non-academic consequence which will be reported in the learning habits assessment and supported by the procedure described below.

  2. Group scores: While teachers are encouraged to design tasks that involve collaboration, those projects should be assessed individually for each student.

  3. Grade penalties for academic dishonesty: This will be treated as a disciplinary matter. Teachers will not reduce grades or give zeroes as a consequence. Graded’s policy is designed to ensure that academic work is completed with integrity.  When students do not demonstrate academic integrity, the Policy on Academic Dishonesty will be applied.

  4. Extra credit or bonus points: There will be no “enrichment assignments” that are meant only as a means to “raise the grade”.

  5. Overall participation grades: Unless participation is a part of the academic standard that is being measured, students should not be given a “catch all” participation grade.  Examples of appropriate participation grades: Oral participation in a socratic seminar in relation to a reading (speaking and listening standards). Oral Participation in a science debate.

  6. Homework grades where the purpose is practice or reinforcement, should not be included in the academic achievement grade.  Teachers should keep a record of these formative assessments and provide feedback on progress in Veracross.

  7. Zeroes when evidence is missing or as consequence;  teachers will use IE for Insufficient Evidence and students will be subject to the late work policy as described below.

As a faculty, we struggled with really difficult decisions and the we were learning throughout the experience. While there were times when the work was difficult and challenging, I always believed that it was the best for our students. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing more of the story, including a post entitled “Revolt and Regroup” and information on how grades will be determined by teachers this coming year without using an average.

Do parents really want schools with innovative learning environments?

Defining what it means to create a culture of innovation and especially a culture that cultivates innovators has been on my mind for some time now. I wrote, Jumping on the Innovation BandwagonInspired by Passionate Students and The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study which all included views of innovation. I know that innovation is a hot buzzword these days and I’m hearing it more and more from parents. Questions like, “How can we make the school more innovative?”, “What innovative ideas do you have for our children?”, and “What will innovation look like in our school the future?”. I’ve also noticed that when pressed to describe what they mean by innovation the answers are shallow. There seems to be little understanding of what innovation in education looks like. Lately, I’ve been wondering if parents do really want their children studying in an innovative environment. Why? Because for this to happen the current system will have to change.

I’m a big fan of Tony Wagner’s work on this subject and he lists the 5 contradictions between current school culture and a culture that cultivate innovators.

Wagner points out that innovative cultures of learning have the following characteristics.

1. A high level of team work  where accountability is built into every single project. Most school systems promotes individual performance where students may work collaboratively at very low levels. The level of cooperation is typically superficial. This requires less time spent on content and more time on developing collaboration skills. It will also lead to highly sophisticated projects that require high functioning teams.

2. Interdisciplinary study of complex problems and solutions. Much of our curriculum today is designed by subject matter and there is little room for diverting from this course. Standardized state mandated tests are created by subject matter, AP and IB exams are also for subject matter courses.  Wagner states, “innovation happens at the margins of academic disciplines…” Will parents support schools who create trans-disciplinary courses that will look very different than what they had in school?

3. Active and engaging classroom cultures where there is no one expert that the students rely on for gaining knowledge. Traditionally the teacher has been the only expert in the classroom and the students are lulled into passivity. Students can be the consumers instead of creators. Often when teachers do take on a role as a facilitator or coach students and parents question why the student has to make sense of the learning on their own. There is an expectation that the teacher will spoon feed the students.

4. Promoting failure that leads to learning. A focus on grades and earning high grade point averages to get into colleges can easily lead to risk aversion. This is a fixed mindset where the grade is the end of the learning process and the results better be good. Innovators understand that there will be trial and error in the learning process and that without failures, the learning will not be as deep and the challenges not as great.

5. Intrinsic motivation that leads to passion and purpose. Again, many of our students are driven to success that is measured by grades and grade point averages. As educators, we constantly talk about how many of our students spend way too much time checking their grades online. Innovative learning cultures are filled with learners who are passionate about learning because they can see the current and future applications. They see how the learning can help them make a difference. This means finding ways to take the emphasis off grades and to put it on the deeper feedback that teachers can provide students with.

Are parents really willing to have their children’s schools make these types of changes? First of all I believe that very few understand what innovation in education really looks like. My hope is that by educating students and parents we can help them to better understand what changes will need to occur and what the benefits will be for students.

There are already educators, students and parents who are latching on to these ideas and taking steps to create innovative learning cultures. My hope is that, in time, we will see a new type of fish bowl with teachers and students engaged in practices that cultivate innovators.

fishbowl jump

“Fishbowl Jump” by Kay Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Inspired by Passionate Students

Presenting with Two Young Visionaries

Me with Two Young Visionaries

For the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with Gabi Campos and Nik Hildebrandt, two Graded students who are passionate about what the future of education can look like. So passionate that they took the initiative yesterday to present at the 2014 School Leadership Summit.

Gabi and Nik are currently 11th graders who have developed bold ideas on education that are based on their experiences and research.  Several weeks ago they presented these ideas to their IB English teacher with a proposal to present at the AASSA Conference that Graded hosted. While it was too late to present at AASSA they were determined to share their message with a wider audience. The School Leadership Summit now provides them with a global audience.

Gabi and Nik shared a story about “Caroline” a high school student who is very good at “doing school”. Their ideas for the perfect school include:

  • Promoting Creativity and Real-life Projects
  • Abolishing Grades
  • Providing Opportunities for Failure
  • Focus on the Future
  • Developing Life Skills

They have even bought into Tony Wagner’s model of learning environments that cultivate innovators that include Play, Passion and Purpose. Gabi and Nik were so excited after the presentation that the first words out of the mouths were, “What’s next?” I encourage you to spend 45 minutes listening to their presentation. The recording is available here.

Whether you agree with their ideas or not you have to admire their enthusiasm and desire to make a difference. I know that I have truly enjoyed partnering with them and I look forward to supporting their work in the coming months. There may be a new club on campus for student innovators that needs an advisor.

 

Organizational Inertia -Does it make you uncomfortable?

As we deeply think about innovation and what it takes to create an innovative culture we’re seeing the real challenges and barriers that organizations face. In February 2013 Graded hosted the Innovate 2013 Conference and Fabio Gandour, IBM Brasil Chief Scientist, was one of our panelists. He presented a wonderful metaphor for what inertia looks like. He says that this metaphor can make people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Organizational inertia is the tendency of a mature organization to continue on its current trajectory. This inertia can be described as being made up of two elements — resource rigidity and routine rigidity. Resource rigidity stems from an unwillingness to invest, while routine rigidity stems from an inability to change the patterns and logic that underlie those investments. Resource rigidity relates to the motivation to respond, routine rigidity to the structure of that response.

In the face of rapid or discontinuous external change, it is the organizational inertia that must be overcome if a firm is to survive. In a competitive situation where new players are entering the industry, it is the incumbents that are particularly susceptible to the downside of this inertia. In this case it is often referred to as incumbent inertia.

Overcoming organizational inertia —
Threat perception in organizations experiencing discontinuous change is often thought to be the impetus necessary to prompt organizational change, a change in inertia, by decreasing the current inertia through changes in resources and routines. While threat perception is a response catalyst, it has been found to decrease inertia in some cases, a good thing, but increase inertia in other cases.

Source: http://www.createadvantage.com/glossary/organizational-inertia

What is your organization doing to overcome inertia?