Standards Based Grading: Establishing Norms and Considering Transparency

When I was a fellow in Communities for Learning, Leading Lasting Change, I learned a great deal about seeking representation.

“Who will be most affected by the shift you’re making?” I was asked. “How do you plan to assess their needs and interests and include them in the planning?”

These questions came back to me as I began planning to plan a new standards based grading and reporting initiative a few months ago, and they inspired a few others as well. For instance: 

  • How will we include administrators, teachers, students, and parents in the work?
  • Who else might be influenced by it? Who are we excluding that should be included?
  • How will we create, sustain, and leverage solid feedback loops throughout the process?
  • How will we set and protect norms for our learning and our work together?
  • How will we attend to transparency?
  • How will we continue to learn and grow throughout and beyond this process, even as we gain confidence in our ability to engage in it well?

These steps have been our first, as we wade into the process: 

  • We invited administrators, teachers from each grade level, and BOCES staff developers to participate in a need finding and visioning session. This choice was open to all, and those who are participating in the work chose to be at the table. This is the team that will steer the ship. These are the support staff that will sustain the learning and the work in my absence, too.
  • We also put distance between this first meeting, where our purposes, norms, vision, and goals were defined, and our next step into the work. Between now and then, I plan to share a video introduction with everyone in the system. Those who joined us for the first session will return to their grade levels to share the full extent of our work, the commitments we’ve made as a group, and the process we intend to follow. I’ve been told that seeking representation in this way, assessing needs and designing our work in response to what I learned, and advocating for full transparency has increased trust and interest in this initiative, and we may gain additional members as a result. I think the time between sessions has enabled people to share and consider this opportunity.
  • We used varied data to define interests and needs, and this work will continue. I’ve reviewed the curriculum that each grade level has spent a good deal of time designing in previous years. I’ve studied the common assessments that are in place as well. I’m considering alignment, construct relevance, and the use of varied measures. I’ve already facilitated a listening session with administrators and interested teachers from each grade level. I intend to survey everyone who wasn’t able to attend. The findings from all of this work will inform a theory of change that will attend to nurturing school culture and protecting relationships first. They’ll inform how we design grading and reporting systems next.
  • I’ve begun establishing feedback loops between myself, administrators, and teachers, and before the work begins in earnest, we will consider how to do the same for students and teachers. Thinking about why, when, and what kind of feedback we will request is complex work. Thinking about how we will gather it is as well. And who should we reach out to when? These questions do not have clear answers yet, but I know that the team of people I’m working with will help all of us make good decisions here. I’ve done this in different ways in different places. I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas, too.
  • We’ve also established clear norms. We intend to position ourselves as learners rather than experts, and to that end, we’ve begun sharing resources, examples, and diverse perspectives about standards based grading it reporting (that’s one set of the first books that I shared in the photo up there). It’s critical that all voices are heard on our steering team, and to that end, I’m using learning and decision making protocols that demand and protect this. We’ve committed to reaching and respecting consensus. We’ve also defined clear boundaries around what of our team’s work will be shared, the degree to which it will be shared, and the settings in which it will be shared. This team supports full transparency and wants their colleagues to approach them with questions and concerns. I realize that this is a bold choice, and I’m sensitive to the complexities inherent in it, but I absolutely support it. Teachers have agreed to share what has been discussed in session openly, including decisions that are made. And while they do not feel compelled to defend those decisions, they will be willing to listen to their colleagues and bring their questions and concerns back to our group. I intend to share a video report that offers a summary of each meeting, things we’ve discovered together, decisions made, and recommended next step. The video will be shared system-wide.

Phew.

If you’re still reading, I’m thinking that you’re kinda interested in this topic, and I’d love your thoughts, all. What of what I’ve done makes sense? What would you recommend? How have you approached this work in your own world?

Thanks for considering and sharing, all. You make me better when you do.

 

 

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