Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Grading and academic achievement at CMS

Part I of II

Last week I highlighted just a small handful of some incredible innovations that are taking place at Carson Middle School.  Innovation is often thought of as something “new” but I like to think of innovation in education as something that allows us to apply different solutions to support or adjust to changing needs.  At Carson Middle School we are constantly considering ways in which we can innovate.

One of the innovations that we have spent a lot of time working through to support at Carson Middle School is student grading.  At the end of the 2013-14 school year we had a record number of students fail one or more classes with only 79% of all students at CMS passing all classes.  In terms of student numbers we had 869 students passing all classes and an alarming 231 students fail at least one class.  As we looked closer at our student pass/fail rates it became clear that student grades were not always reflective of what students were learning in classes.  What we noticed is that some student grades were inflated because of extra credit being assigned for non-academic assignments (i.e. brining in Kleenex boxes, being a hard worker, being nice, etc.) and some student grades were being deflated because of non-academic assignments (i.e. being late to class, not having a pencil, not turning in a permission slip on time, etc.).  As a staff we could all agree that we wanted to support having extra Kleenex in classrooms and could all agree that it is important to work hard, be nice, turn your work in on time, and be prepared for class the truth of the matter is that these were all non-academic grades that were significantly impacting student achievement within our school. 

Over the past two school years we have spent a significant amount of time learning how to implement standards based academic grades at CMS.  Our goal has been to promote student learning by reporting student grades that are accurate, consistent, meaningful, and supportive of student learning.  We created a citizenship grade to allow for behavior based grades that are still significant, but separate and not specifically related to standards based academic content (i.e. being prepared, being on time, etc.).  As a result of studying our gradebooks, from 2014 through 2016 we were able to raise our academic achievement levels significantly from 79% of all students passing to 95% of all students passing all classes. 

Think back to when you were in middle school.  Think about your experience as a student and how you were graded as a student.  What stands out to you about how you were graded?  Were you graded fairly?  How do you know?  Were you graded according to how well you learned the material?  How did you know what the expectations were about how you would be graded?  Think about how much has changed in the world since you were in school.  Often we hold the same expectations for our schools currently that we did when we attended schools.  In reality, it is a completely different world - both inside and out.  Academic grading is something that we all have experience with as a student, but very few of us really have experience and training as educators to truly understand what exactly the academic grade represents.  What goes into the academic grade and what exactly does the academic grade communicate to the student?  The parent?  The teacher?  There is a lot to consider in determining answers to these questions. 

Our teachers have been extremely innovative in building a complex system to support student learning that includes curriculum, assessment, and instruction.  As we are in the process of transitioning to support Infinite Campus as our student data management system I would ask our entire school community to be patient with the transition to a complex data system.  While we are going through some growing pains in our transition, I am confident that we will continue to create meaningful conversation between our school, students, and parents regarding academic achievement.  We are on the cusp of our SBAC scores being released and while I know our student achievement data won’t be what we would like to see as a school or community, it is a data point as we consider how to best support the learning needs of our students.  Please ask your students about Mastery Connect and how it supports student learning.  Please monitor Infinite Campus and ask your students about their academic progress.  Please communicate any questions that you have about learning at CMS to our school staff.  Most importantly please continue to build relationships with students to support academic achievement.  I will continue the grading conversation here next week – for now thanks for stopping by and please let me know if you have any questions.  Thank you!

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