Showing posts with label grading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grading. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grade Change: Moving a School Culture Forward

Recently Jeff Fiscina, one of my math teachers, submitted a guest post on my blog that emphasized some of his grading practices that best support and promote student learning.  That post got me thinking about the process we went through to assist Jeff in developing and embracing his current grading practices as well as that of other teachers.  It was about a year ago that I decided to tackle the grading culture here at New Milford High School, which wasn't much different than the majority of schools across this country.  Any administrator that has moved to change long embedded grading philosophies and practices knows full well how difficult this change process is. However, it was apparent that current behaviors and actions had to be changed based upon the latest research and what was best for our students.  

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When I initially broke the news to my staff about the journey we were about to take to change the grading culture it was met with a great deal of skepticism, questions, and resentment.  Like I said earlier, change in this area is extremely difficult.  During the initial conversations I presented the work of Douglas Reeves, Rick Wormelli, and others to serve as a foundation for this systematic change.  The conversation focused on some difficult questions such as what does a letter grade actually mean and how do you measure student learning.  After some initial focus on where we currently were as a school and where we really needed to begin moving towards I asked for volunteers to sit on a committee to help establish new grading guidelines and support structures that focused on student learning. It should be noted, however, that some components of this new philosophy were non-negotiable because if everything was then the change we were looking to implement and desperately needed would never occur. This was probably the most difficult part of the change process in terms of staff embracement. 

The purpose of this post is not get get into the nitty gritty about grading reform as this has been well chronicled by practitioners that I greatly admire such as Joe Bower.  My purpose here is to illustrate how my staff and I addressed a broken component of our school culture and improved it.  Is our current philosophy and associated grading practices perfect? Of course not, but the change that was initiated is much more aligned with the learning needs of our students.  The new philosophy is now an expectation for all. Below is the grading philosophy that was created and adopted at the end of last year.  I encourage and look forward to any comments or reflective feedback that you might have.

Grading Philosophy

No zeros: Students should not be assigned a grade of zero (0).  This not only reflects grading as punishment, but also creates a hole that students cannot dig out of (Gusskey, 2000, Reeves, 2004, Reeves, 2008, O’Conner and Wormeli, 2011).  This includes HW, quizzes, tests, projects, etc.  An exception to this would be cases that involved cheating, plagiarism, or a midterm/final exams no show.

Multiple forms of formal assessment: Marking period grades have to be comprised of multiple forms of assessment.  We need to avoid the “marking period killer” assignment, which is one project, test, or other assignment that will make or break a student’s grade (Reeves, 2008).

Failure floor:  As per HS grading practices detailed in the current student handbook, a 64 or below is failing.  As a result, all failing grades should be entered between the ranges of 50 – 64 in PowerSchool.  Any grade 64 or below is a variation of an “F”, which indicates that the student has not met basic standards for learning (O’Conner & Wormeli, 2011). A failure floor of 50 has been established (lowest score inputted into PowerSchool for quarter, midterm, and final exam grades).  This allows students to recover from a poor quarter and/or midterm exam grade and gives him/her the appropriate motivation to complete the course successfully.  If a student fails your class you will be asked to provide the following:

  • Evidence that is appropriately documented on the progress report.
  • Documented contact (email, phone) with the parent/guardian no later than midway through the marking period. If contact cannot be made (disconnected phone, no answer/response) notify main office so we can update information in PowerSchool.
  • Extra help (sign-in sheet) attendance logs.  This should contain dates, printed student names, and actual student signatures.
  • Evidence of a face-to-face meeting with the parents/guardians and guidance counselor. The teacher and guidance counselor must schedule this.
  • Evidence of an improvement plan (re-takes, alternate assignments, other indicators that measure learning).
  • Determination of whether or not the student(s) is in crisis and using this information to work with him/her in a different way.  If this is the case submit a referral to the I&RS team.
  • Documented use of the Change in Progress form if a student begins to struggle academically after progress reports.

Retests: Student success in that they have mastered the concepts and are able to apply what they have learned is of utmost importance.  Giving students a second chance on a test provides them with yet another opportunity to demonstrate learning.   It is up to the teacher to determine if a student warrants a retest.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Second Chances

The following is a guest post from Jeff Fiscina, one of my math teachers at New Milford High School.

Today is the day after a test.  I walk around to hand back tests to the students. Students, who did well, put a smile on their faces.  Students, who did poorly, sink into their chairs in displeasure.   I come back to the board to review the problems which created the most difficulty.  The students who did well are so excited they don’t want to listen.  The students who did poorly are so upset with themselves they can not concentrate.  So, what am I doing?  I’m pretty much talking to no one.  I’m not helping those students who received a bad grade and the students who were successful are now bored.

Image credit: Steven Depolo

After about two and a half years of doing this in my classes, I realized something must change.  Some students were not successful on a test.  The only way they can help their grade is to do better on the next test.  But they need the material from the previous test to help them.  So what service am I providing to my failing students?  How am I motivating them to do better?  I used to say, “You are going to need to learn this to do well on the midterm.  Don’t just put the test away and not look at it.  Study it and learn from it.”  After thinking about how I would take that statement as a student, I realized how little impact it actually has.  Something needed to change in my grading philosophy, and change fast.

Everyone deserves a second chance, right?  You fail your driver’s test; don’t you get another shot at it?  You do poorly on the SAT’s; you can take them again right?  So for a test in class, why are students only getting one chance?  After much questioning, research, and consideration, I decided to implement a re-take policy for my classes.

After students receive their test and are not happy with the score, they can come to me and inquire about a re-take.  I give the student a contract that lists the steps they must follow in order for the opportunity for a retake.  The contract must be signed by the student and their parent/guardian.  The steps are as follows:
  1. Get the test paper signed by a parent/guardian
  2. Attend extra help session for corrections on the test
  3. Complete given assignment on your own (if necessary)
  4. Make an appointment after/before school to take your re-take
(You can see my full written policy and contract HERE)

Once students take the re-take, I look at how much knowledge they have gained, and use my professional judgment to assign a new grade.  Students are appreciative of the second chance and are taking full advantage of it. Students are recognizing how much more work they need to put in if they are unsuccessful.  This gives them some motivation to do well the first time.  And it also gives them an opportunity to right the wrong.

What is our goal as educators?  My goal is for every student to have the best opportunity at succeeding in my class.  If my students have only one chance at every test, then they really don’t have the best opportunity at succeeding.  I want my students to learn and one of the best ways to learn is from your mistakes.  I have a little saying I like to use:  “Failure is not an ending, it’s a beginning.”