Standards Based Grading: Grappling with Specificity

 

Sharing My Thinking and Learning and Work

As promised, I’ll be sharing a few peeks into my work facilitating a standards based grading and reporting initiative in a New York State public school over the next several weeks and months. Each visit will bring me back to this space, where I’ll try to make our process and more importantly, our greatest discoveries and tensions, as transparent as I can. I’m hoping that this will help the teachers who were not present in the room gain a better awareness of what happened there, and it might also help me build a wider network around this work, so that anyone who is interested might further support and yes–challenge–our thinking and the approaches we use.

Are you just joining the party? You’ll find more context in my first post right here, and I speak about our commitment to sustaining certain norms and levels of transparency here. I’d love your thoughts.

Sharing My Gratitude

I also want to tell you how impressed I am with the team I have had the privilege to work with. Putting the right people around the table matters, and I was reminded of this early on in our conversation this morning when one of those people put the following questions in front of us (I’m loosely translating, of course):

Is our current report card and grading system really representative of the kids we serve? Is it accessible to their parents? Have we even considered who they are, what they want to know about their children and their learning, and how they might make sense of this document? 

The team agreed that we needed to do far better here, and they are excited about trying.

Every time I lead an initiative like this one, there are common challenges that typically arise, time and again, because standards based grading and reporting tends to challenge all groups in a handful of similar ways.

Every time I lead an initiative like this one, there are also unexpected and unique challenges that arise, because each system is very different. This group is eager to approach this work in ways that are culturally sensitive. We’re pursuing standards based grading in order to improve equity for all of the students who attend these schools and the families who love them.

This is always my greatest purpose as a facilitator as well, so I’m grateful for this opportunity.

Sharing Our Current Struggle

Today, we learned that specificity matters. We know that the more specific we are in measuring and reporting on what matters, the greater the likelihood that learners will be well served. In a thousand different ways.

BUT.

How much specificity is too much specificity when it comes to documenting and reporting?

For instance, we might sit in our little room in district office, using curriculum documents and common assessments to determine which standards seem to matter most (based on what is taught and assessed), but what if we’re still lacking alignment there? What if everyone–or even a few people–are doing things very differently? What if some have gone rogue, despite the district’s best efforts to create equity and alignment?

What if assessment PRACTICES need to be improved as well as the reporting system and the card?

Do we just push pause on the shift to standards based report cards?

I don’t think so.

I snapped a photo of the essential question that is guiding our work this summer. It’s up there. At the top.

We’re designing standards based report cards based upon what matters most at each grade level and in each content area. We’re going to grapple with specificity along the way, though. We’re going to grapple with it because we don’t have a completely aligned curricula just yet, and we don’t have common assessments across the entire system, either.

We’re challenged by something else, too: We want to provide students and parents and others enough information and the best information to self-assess, reflect, and grow around what matters.

“When I think of a skill that empowers life-long learners, prepares them for the next level of learning, and is relevant to many content areas and units of study, precision comes to mind,” a teacher mentioned today. “But if a parent looks at a report card and sees precision, what does that really communicate? How does that help them understand what their child knows or is able to do?”

That’s the rub.

We don’t want to get so granular that teachers struggle to capture robust evidence and fudge the reporting, and we also don’t want to leave any student or parent feeling like they’re drinking from a fire hose.

Oh yeah–and we want to balance our attention to each content area as well. For instance, we can’t report on fifteen learning goals in Social Studies and English and two in Math. Well, maybe we can. We don’t really want to, though.

Sharing an Invitation

How have you wrestled with specificity in this kind of work yourself? How were solutions created?

I’d like to chat about this more, if you’re interested. Come find me on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.

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