Standards Based Grading: Looking Back, Moving Forward

This summer, I had the opportunity to facilitate a multi-day K-5 standards based report card design workshop in a new-to-me school district that has recently begun shifting their assessments and assessment practices. As this initiative began, I blogged my previous experiences with standards based reporting in this space, and I also wrote about this team’s efforts to establish  norms and attend to transparency. 

I entered this work on the heels of significant curriculum and assessment design work, and while many grade levels and departments have begun achieving better alignment there, there is still work to be done (there always is, of course). Consequently, I knew that our design process would need to result in drafts that could withstand teachers’ ongoing learning and growth. In the years that follow, teachers may choose to approach assessment in very different ways. They may change the tools they use as well. No one wants to return to the report card every year or trimester or quarter or semester in order to make significant revisions, though. We wanted to produce a report card that was specific enough to be meaningful to parents and children and the educators who might rely on it for decision making purposes, but we didn’t want to get so granular that teachers were left grappling with gaping data holes and the pressure to populate them with less than meaningful measures.

So we considered specificity very carefully. 

We also considered the needs of administrators and teachers as we completed this work.

Everyone on the team recognizes the importance of alignment and the dangers of standardization. We all want to help one another get to a place where all learners are assessed in meaningful, responsible, and equitable ways. Shared assessments matter. So do shared, promising practices. But, we don’t want to use the report card to beat anyone into submission here. We want to use it as it was intended, while helping one another genuinely improve our professional practices. That takes time.

To that end, the year ahead is all about sharing the drafts with teachers and other educators within and beyond the district, in order to gather diverse perspectives and purposeful feedback. We want to share them with parents and children, too. And we want to leave time to revise. We don’t intend to begin using these report cards until standards based grading practices are firmly in place beside a standards based reporting system. Attention has been paid to the latter. My work attends to the former. We have another year to build a bit of collective strength.

I’ll be meeting with grade level teams to explore each report card draft and help them revisit the alignment that already exists between their current curricula, the assessment moments and tools they value, and the data they produce. I’ll coach teachers how to scoop evidence from the learning they engage their students in rather than expecting them to add more tests or quizzes to their current repertoire. And we’ll explore and strive to resolve issues relevant to specificity, fairness, and equity.

These smaller meetings will help me assess everyone’s needs and interests along the way as well. What I learn will inform how this initiative moves forward.

Some of you know that this team invited me to share the drafts of the report cards with my wider network, in order to glean your perspective and get your advice. If you volunteered, they’ll be coming your way tonight, via email. Thank you so, so much for helping us out.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes, and I’ll keep sharing, as the year unfolds.

Here’s a quick video that summarizes the intentions behind our work and the results of our summer sessions. It’s intended for the teachers who could not be in the room with us, but others might find it useful or interesting, so I thought I’d leave it here as well.

Do you have thoughts? Opinions? Ideas? I hope you’ll share here or elsewhere. I’d love to chat with you.

 

2 Comments

  1. Sally Harrison says:

    Hello! What fun, challenging and critical work this is. I had the privilege of leading this work in several WA, CT and NY districts. The work is the clearest view of a district’s values and beliefs about learning. I’m wondering whether the report card is for parents or for students. I found in interviews with students that they don’t easily connect what they know and can show with the report card symbol:grade or narrative. So creating a system that reflects the levels from novice to expert in the most critical skills and knowledge performances allows the student to self assess and self adjust as well as self monitor over time. SUCH complicated work but of course teachers are up to the task!

    • Angela says:

      Hi Sally! I’m so grateful to you for taking the time to share your experiences. The card is for the parent and the student, although the student will have far more timely and frequent opportunities to reflect and goal set throughout the trimester. This initiative is about creating a standards based learning environment and culture, so teachers and students will be gathering evidence through observation, interview and conference opportunities, and other moments where learning is made visible (and on products as well, but assessment will happen in process). Of course, this is a shift for many, and we are hoping that with sustained support, everyone will develop a deeper understanding the standards, learning targets, and levels of mastery were striving to establish consistency around. This is the real challenge and opportunity. The cards allow teachers to communicate with parents and kids about progress at certain benchmark points.

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