Traditional Report Cards Are Obsolete

Edweek

Screen shot 2017-03-01 at 12.26.09 PM.pngDepending on where a person teaches, a school district can dictate how often report cards and progess reports will be distributed to students and parents to “communicate learning” and keep families abreast of what is happening in the classroom.

However, the idea of what report cards are and what they actually do is fatally flawed from the beginning.

Communication about learning needs to be ongoing in a meaningful way and paper report cards being mailed home or sent home with students or uploaded onto an online portal as a PDF a few times a year just doesn’t cut it.

Aside from the infrequency of sharing, the content shared is often out of date and/or not a good representation of what students know and can do.

For example, in high school, each subject teacher gets one line to present a letter grade or a number grade (sometimes without any kind of precision or explanation as to what the criteria is) and up to three pre-written comment codes to help explain the grade. Often, these pre-written comments don’t have anything to do with quality of work or skill level, but focus on behavior and compliance.

There are other pieces of information that can be provided such as number of absences and/or midterm or final exam grades.

The act of sharing information isn’t the issue, it’s what we share and how we share it. Many elementary schools use standards based report cards now that focus more heavily on skill mastery and narratives written by the teacher. This is an effective means of communication, but it only happens three times a year in many schools.

There are also parent/teacher conferences, but these conferences often just review the report card rather than go deeper and share more important information that can really help students grow as learners. Ironically, many times the students are not even involved in these conversations which takes the most important factor out of the equation.

Many online systems now make it possible for teachers and schools to share information with parents and students regularly keeping families in the loop about learning, often assignment by assignment with narrative feedback. There are many iterations of how this can happen, but we need to be asking ourselves more importantly what and why we are communicating.

In an ideal world, teachers would be empowering students regularly with feedback that isn’t aligned with grades but rather with mastery standards, offering multiple opportunities for growth.

Here are things we can do differently today:

  • Stop putting grades on everything students turn in. We can provided actual actionable feedback without labeling the quality of it with a quantity.
  • Offer more opportunities for students to get feedback from peers and from the teacher.
  • Invite parents to be a part of the process and involve them in the learning in an on-going way by making out of school learning an integral part of the practice we do every day.
  • Teach students the language of the standards and be transparent in what and why they are learning different skills and content. Make sure the reason isn’t because it’s on a test.
  • Have students reflecting regularly so you can get a fuller read on how much they are actually learning. Often their work and performance won’t tell the whole story.
  • Include students in the conversation about their learning by conferring with them regularly and providing feedback for growth.
  • Allow students to be involved in the assessment process, so they can choose how and what they are learning.
  • Be clear about success criteria and help students understand where they measure up.
  • Truly listen to students and be flexible that learning happens at different paces for everyone and often in different ways.

When we think about preparing students for the world we live in, accountability is important, but teaching students to be accountable in a way that works for them that also helps us know where we need to adjust practice to better suit their needs.

Report cards were a solution once that probably made some form of communication easier. However, the kind of communication it fosters sends the wrong message about what learning should be. As we shift the mindset about learning, we also have be mindful about the subconscious messages we send systemically about what learning actually is.

How can you better communicate with students and families about student learning that makes the outcome more meaningful? Please share

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Teach Students to Break Down Criteria for Success

EdWeek

Screen shot 2016-12-20 at 11.10.55 AM.png

As a general rule, I front load my units/projects by previewing and discussing the end product first and then using the following weeks to provide instruction and practice to ensure success criteria.

Since we’re starting our new unit now, we’ve been spending time looking at the assessment, modifying it together and now discussing how students can find success with the skills being assessed.

Rather than just provide a rubric and a sample, students were split up into groups focusing on a particular standard.

Students needed to review the assignment (which they annotated yesterday) and the rubric and align past learning with the standard they were responsible for.

Each group made a chart and shared out around the room. Students then were asked to take pictures of each of the charts and return to their seats.Screen shot 2016-12-20 at 11.12.44 AM.png

As they worked together to determine what success will look like and why they were working on these skills, I walked around the room answering questions and listening to their conversations.

After we shared out and developed a list of skills from the standards, students were asked to answer an exit ticket (that was emailed to them) that asked the following:

Exit ticket:

Based on the success criteria established and the work we’ve done in class thus far, what skills and/or content do you feel you’re already proficient in or mastering? How do you know? Which areas do you feel you need the most help with? What lessons will you need to find success?

1. What skills and/or content do you feel you’re already proficient in or mastering?
2. How do you know?
3.  What areas do you feel you need the most help with?
4. What lessons would be helpful to find success?
Thanks! Make sure to check your email and “pupilpath” regularly for feedback.
Right after class, I read their emails and provide them feedback as well as gather data to align my mini-lessons to ensure success for all. Number four is of particular use to me, asking students to identify areas of need. This is essential to helping them reflect and be more metacognative. The better informed they are about their own learning, strengths and challenges, the better they can get their needs met and I can be helpful in how that happens.
Students need to know what is being assessed, so they can name and understand what they are learning and more importantly why. In this way they can start to connect their learning to real skills that will be of use to them in the future.

When It Comes to Grading, Is ’50’ the New ‘Zero’?

EdWeek

By Kate Stoltzfus on July 11, 2016

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This fall, fewer students in the D.C.-metro area will have reason to fear their report cards.

Schools in Fairfax County in Virginia and Prince George’s County in Maryland will implement “no zero” policies to prevent students who put forth effort to finish their assignments from receiving grades below 50, reports the Washington Post. 

The districts are two of the latest to jump on an increasing trend to rethink grading practices, including efforts that make it harder for students to fail by giving them more chances to make up tests or missing work and increased evaluation on learning over behavior and homework.

The trend stirs questions about the motives for grading in the first place: Are grades truly accurate representations of learning? Should they serve as a system of reward or punishment for students’ behavioral and academic performance? How best can they be used to support student progress?

Grading policies have been slowly shifting in the Washington, D.C. area and elsewhere, according the Washington Post. In 2010, West Potomac High School in Fairfax County stopped giving out Fs. Several years before that, Montgomery County Schools in Maryland began scoring Fs as no lower than 50 percentSome middle schools in South Carolina implemented a no-zero policy even when students fail or cheat on an assignment.

Rick Wormeli, an educator and author, told the Post he estimates that close to 50 percent of schools nationwide are looking into changing their grading policies in some way.

For years, educators have debated the effects of a minimum-grading shelf in the classroom. Those in favor of the change believe such policies improve the drop-out rate and allow struggling students to stay motivated. They allow schools to focus on learning rather than behavior, Kevin Hickerson, president-elect of the Fairfax Education Association, told the radio station WTOP.  Handing out zeros for missed assignments boils down to a disciplinary measure, one that prevents schools from effectively assessing their students’ learning, argues author Powers Thaddeus Norrell in the American School Board Journal. 

Those in disagreement say such policies decrease student accountability and will hurt student college- and career-readiness; university professors will not likely be so tolerant in giving grades, and students’ future bosses will have clear performance expectations. Gina Caneva, a teacher in Chicago, spoke out strongly against no-zero policies after her school on the city’s South Side implemented one. By lowering expectations for her students, she wrote in a post for Catalyst Chicago, it gave many of them an excuse to stop working hard. 

Student cheating also complicates the equation. Cindi Rigsbee, a finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2009, was shocked when her principal suggested zeros should not be given even to dishonest students.

But after she began reassigning work and harder tests to those who cheated, she agreed with him. “I really do want grades to reflect what my students know, not what behavioral choices they make,” she wrote in an Education Week Teacher article in May 2012. 

Other teachers advocate throwing out grades altogether. Mark Barnes, author of Assessment 3.0: Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning, independently replaced traditional grades in favor of self-evaluation and reflection. And Starr Sackstein, who writes Education Week Teacher’s opinion blog Work in Progress, has documented her journey of going grades-free in the classroom over the last few years and shares how the process can work for other teachers.

“Student learning has increased and the focus of our classroom is less about end grades and more about the growth process,” she wrote in June. “Although I suspected when I started the impact that this choice would have on my students, I could have never guessed how much change would occur, not just for them, but for me.”

Researchers Draw Link Between Physical Activity, Academic Success

EdWeek

Beyond the fitness-related benefits, physical activity can also contribute to students’ academic success, suggests a consensus statement published online Monday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

A group of 24 international experts gathered in Denmark back in April “to reach evidence-based consensus about physical activity and youth.” They wound up with a 21-point list divided into four themes: fitness and health; cognitive functioning; engagement, motivation, psychological well-being; and inclusion and physical activity implementation strategies.

When it comes to academics, the researchers concluded that “physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are beneficial to brain structure, brain function, and cognition in children and youth.” Additionally, they suggested “a single session of moderate physical activity has an acute benefit to brain function, cognition, and scholastic performance in children and youth.”

There’s been plenty of research in recent years to back up these assertions. In September 2014, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE found physical activity during recess in 1st grade to be directly correlated to reading fluency in 1st and 2nd grades. A study published in the same journalthe previous September suggested higher levels of aerobic fitness could bolster a child’s ability to learn and remember information. In March 2014, a study found Kansas elementary and middle school students who met certain physical-fitness benchmarks to be considerably more likely to exceed reading and math performance standards.

Accordingly, the Copenhagen Consensus experts concluded that time taken away from academic lessons in favor of physical activity won’t “come at the cost of scholastic performance.” Research suggests there’s a tangible academic benefit to giving students a physical-activity break between hours of lessons, even if it comes at the expense of a few extra minutes of classroom time.

The Copenhagen researchers also found physical activity to have “the potential to positively influence psychological and social outcomes” for students, “such as self-esteem and relationships with peers, parents, and coaches.” They suggested “close relationships and peer group acceptance in physical activity are positively related to perceived competence, intrinsic motivation and participation behavior” in children. The experts particularly endorsed physical-activity programs with “an intentional curriculum and deliberate training,” as they are “effective at promoting life skills and core values” such as respect, social responsibility and self-regulation.

The consensus statement authors highlighted schools as a major asset when it comes to physical activity, as socioeconomic factors may limit some children’s activity opportunities outside of school hours. Having bike lanes, parks, and playgrounds at schools “are both effective strategies for providing equitable access to, and enhancing physical activity for, children and youth,” they concluded.