Friday, October 16, 2015

Shifting Our Grading & Reporting Practices

First, it is important to emphasize that this is not easy and it takes time.  At Hazen, across our supervisory union, and throughout the state of Vermont, schools are transitioning away from traditional grading practices.  As the inside of our classrooms change, so must our ways of communicating learning.

In terms of our grading practices, we have frequently used the metaphor of taking an old pick-up truck and replacing the engine with an efficient, bio-diesel model.  Until we are able to purchase a new slick ride, we must make work what we have, add and remove parts, and be flexible.  Over the summer a number of Hazen teachers were able to sit down and work with Rick Wormeli, a nationally renowned teacher specializing in proficiency-based learning.  In the video below, Wormeli talks about these challenges:



Last week at our faculty meeting, we presented to our teachers The Case Against the Zero by Douglas Reeves.  After reading the article, our teachers participated in a 4 "A"s Text Protocol to reflect on this idea and their own practices.  Here are some samples of responses we received in the exit ticket:
"Giving 0's is punitive and places students in a no win situation with their own learning. I like a minimum of 50% on all assignments and the punishment for not doing the assignment is that they NEED TO DO THE ASSIGNMENT!"  
"In true proficiency based grading, should the types of assignments students typically neglect to turn in "count" at all toward a student's summative grade in a class?" 
"I was impressed by the section that discussed the punishment for not doing the work would be to do the work. I think that the idea of having the student complete work during time that they would have relatively unscheduled is a fitting consequence for those reluctant students. I've had working lunch sessions in the past for students who needed to complete an assignment for a class."
"I think the article helped me understand why I like lower point numbers for my assignments. I had started my grading with total points and that's what felt natural for me, and now that we're using percentages, I'm sticking with it because I've heard students complain about assignments with larger numbers. More often it's about how much they are penalized when they do not complete something than how much they earn when they do complete it."
As part of our 3-year implementation plan for Proficiency-based Learning, our supervisory union has outlined the initial step in separating grades for acquisition of content/skills and work habits.  At Hazen, we have instituted a school-wide grading and reporting practice; beginning in 2015-2016, grades for each academic quarter must be calculated on a 60/20/20 basis, emphasizing standards based Essential Learning Outcomes:
60% - Summative Assessments: cumulative projects and/or exams that assess a student’s understanding of the Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs) of a particular unit or learning cycle. 
20% - Process: formative assessments, homework, practice working towards proficiency of ELOs. 
20% - Academic Habits: participation, preparation, collaboration, perseverance, and adherence to the class’ social contract.
Throughout the beginning of the school year, our teachers have been experimenting with different ways to report learning using this shared grading practice.  Teachers are beginning to think in fours on summative and formative assessments, separating academic habits from skill acquisition, and using PowerSchool and grades to better communicate learning.

Grades are communication, not compensation. In a proficiency-based system, students don't "earn" grades. Teachers do not use grades to reward or punish. Grades are simply the symbols we apply to communicate achievement of a target (or in our case, a set of targets). Yes, this is a significant mindset shift, but it's a vital one as long as we continue to use grades. Changing practices and gaining new knowledge takes time, collaboration, and reflection.  The instructional leadership team and staff of HUS are committed to supporting assessment practices that support student learning and that accurately report student progress in meeting the standards and mastering competency for college and career success.

As the quarter comes to close, we encourage you to contact your child's teacher with any questions or comments you may have.  And as always, thank you for your patience and support as we continue to transform learning at Hazen!