Parents and standards-based grading

report20cardOur district is rolling out standards-based grading this school year, moving away from the traditional report card. As this piece in the Washington Post stated:

“In the old system, students received a single letter grade in a subject area, such as math, social studies or reading. On the standards-based report card, each subject area is broken down into several categories. For example, social studies is divided into ‘measurement topics’ of civics, culture, economics, geography and history.

“Teachers mark students with an ES, P, I or N in each category to indicate how close students are to mastering what they should know by the end of the school year. ES means ‘exceptional,’ P means ‘demonstrating proficiency,’ I means ‘in progress,’ and N means ‘not yet making progress or making minimal progress’ toward meeting standards.”

The district has also created an info page about the change here, complete with a video.

I think the movement to this kind of system is better for all involved, given the quality and specificity of information that can now appear on a report card, and the below blog post on this subject intrigued me, and I asked the folks at JumpRope if I could re-post it. You can find the original blog post here.

It’s written by Sara Needleman, who’s a mom of elementary and middle school students, an educator, and a former middle school teacher. Sara also works with grad students in the University of Southern Maine‚Äôs teacher education department and consults for JumpRope.

So, here goes:

We have been reporting grades for as long as we have sent kids to school. Grades have always told parents where their kids land along a certain spectrum. Why change that?

Traditional grading systems fail to tell parents, students and teachers what the students have actually learned. Rather, they show us, according to any specific teacher’s system, how our kids measure up to one another. Parents have seen report cards with As and have praised their kids for those high marks, but with little understanding of what those marks mean. Similarly, other parents have held their heads in their hands as they look at a column of Ds or worse and ask, “What now?”

Standards-based teaching, learning and assessment systems empower parents and students because they encourage teachers to be very explicit about what a student needs to learn in order to earn an A. Such a system helps teachers and therefore parents and students celebrate what has been learned as well as identify the student’s gaps in learning. So, for the student whose report card shows a column of Ds, the old mantra of “study harder” becomes “you can add fractions really well, but I see you are struggling with subtracting them.” Speaking as a parent, I would much prefer this second conversation starter because now I have a sense of what my child needs to do to turn those Ds around.

In addition, how many times have we had the conversation about the “demanding teacher” on one side of the hall and the “easier teacher” on the other side of the hall? Traditional grading paradigms have teachers working in their own spheres, designing their own systems for arriving at grades. While those systems generally reflect fair-mindedness and clear thinking, they are individual systems and so, a “B” in Ms. Smith’s class might be equivalent to an “A” in Ms. Brown’s class. Standards-based systems help schools engage in mindful conversations about learning that focus on questions like “what constitutes an A?” and “what do good work habits look like?” As a parent, I want the teachers in my kids’ schools to agree on the answers to those questions.

And one of my personal favorite features of standards-based systems is that they encourage teachers to distinguish between academic achievement and habits of work. Students earn grades in academic subjects based on their understanding of that subject, not, for example, their homework completion in that class. The really cool thing, though, is that teachers can still report on things like homework completion, time on task and preparedness. They just do that reporting in its own place. As a parent, I would be thrilled to see those things reported separately because I know mastering things like preparedness and organization are true keys to success. In fact, author Paul Tough suggests in his latest book How Children Succeed that indicators like those typically found in a habits of work report are far better predictors of success than the the traditional indicators like IQ or test scores.

I want my kids to succeed. I think it’s safe to say parents in general feel that way. Standards-based systems provide more specific feedback on strengths and weaknesses, empowering students with the tools they need for success.

I got the report card image here.

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