Post Semester One: What the students told us

My quest to tell my story of our transformation of grading and reporting practices at Graded School in Sao Paulo, Brazil has been delayed during the past two months. As a refresher, here are my past posts.

At the end of the first semester of the 2014 – 15 school year I wrote several articles for the Graded community that appeared in the Gazette. This one is one that I’ve adapted for this series of posts on our journey to improve grading and reporting practices.

The members of our Math department surveyed students and below are a few of the comments, related to re-assessments.

These comments show students are understanding how the process of re-assessments impacts their learning. Notice that the focus is not on grades but on learning. These types of comments are representative of a growth mindset, where the focus is on the progress instead of the product. We hope over time this mentality will spread and become part of the Graded culture.

  • “My biggest success was to be able to find my area of weakness in the summatives and be able to improve on them.”
  • “I was able to learn from my mistakes and re-assess myself to know if I really understood the content.”
  • “I am able to learn the material. With the retake, maybe I thought I understood the content but actually didn’t.”
  • “The re-taking system has helped me. Not only has it decreased the pressure of tests but I felt that I always understood the content more in the re-take.”
  • “To review the knowledge more than once helps me truly learn the material rather than learn it for one test.”

Change can be difficult, and deep and lasting change does not happen in the short term. Here are some challenges:

  • “Trying to fit in time for studying for retakes, while also doing the work for other classes.”
  • “If you do bad on a summative, there is no way to bring [your grade] up unless you do well on the retake. You can’t bring up your grade with homework.”
  • “Since I don’t have to do homework, I don’t learn the content as much, and therefore I don’t do as well in the summatives.”
  • “My biggest struggle is being able to show all of my knowledge on tests, because when I get nervous I tend to forget some information.”
  • “That homework doesn’t count. This is a struggle because I do homework almost all the time and it would help boost my grades up.”
  • “If I want to increase my grade, there is a much lower chance if I didn’t do as well in the re-take. I don’t have homework grades that count on my grade.”

The results below show students’ views on homework, satisfaction with grades and understanding of content, and effort and preparation.

  • What do you see?

  • What do you think about that?

  • What does it make you wonder?

Homework Satisfaction Grades Effort and Preparation

Throughout the entire semester we wondered if there would be dramatic changes in students’ grades. In the next post we’ll look at 1st semester grades.

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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.