Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Plan…is to adapt…small things first…


Ken O’Connor, How to Grade for Learning Linking Grades to Standards, states “when changing practices, start small; adapt, do no adopt.”

I’ve always given a lot of mini-quizzes, quick quizzes at the beginning of class based on previous HW, I walk around the room looking at student work during step 3 of “I do , We do , You do,” white boards & wikki stix for graphing equations, have students flip their TI-screens around to see their graph, post-it note quizzes, student self-assess with the STOPLIGHT strategy.  I have students rework/explain missed problems on tests – so formative assessment wasn’t a big adjustment for me.  However, this summer, I’ve come to realize how important it is to have a formal one planned and in place before teaching a new target.  I’ve always been an informal assessor – but I must be more purposeful to make the assessment even more meaningful to me and my students.

I’ve always listed my daily objective / goal on the board for students, so they would know what we were doing when they walked in the classroom without having to ask “What are we gonna do today?”  I make sure they’re in student friendly terms and focused on a related standard…and now I realize the importance of addressing them at the end of a lesson as well as at the beginning.  So again, no big adjustments here.

The whole idea that formative assessments should not receive a grade- that’s one I struggle with (notice struggle is present tense).  At times, early in the unit, I completely agree-no grade should be assigned, the content is new.  However, at some point, I feel it is important to determine at what level the student is able perform a skill/apply a concept.  Even though I assign a grade/level of mastery – it is no longer set in stone.  If a student is not at the level I feel they should be, some type of action must occur – so I initiate.  It may be as simple as verbal/written feedback to actual one-on-one time with further instruction or a different learning activity.   If a student is not happy with their level, through self-assessment, they may be the one who initiates the action – questions me, finds an online resource, asks a friend for help or simply revisiting the practice assignment.  Formative assessment simply helps us determine if we are able to move on…

Last school year, along with a few colleagues, we took a step closer to where we need to be…summative assessments 70% and formative /daily grades were 30% with the intent to make a step closer this school year 80/20.  Beginning this year, my state’s End of Course Assessment score is supposed to be 20% of students’ overall grade.  My school district has adopted/submitted a policy to count EOC 10% this school year, 15% next and then to the full 20% suggested by the state. 

Averaging.  One cannot argue with Guskey’s analogy of averaging the martial arts belts…   I knew SBG was going to be an issue with Infinite Campus (which I’ve despised since day 1). After hearing Dr. Guskey speak last week – he confirmed that of all software out there, one of the worst is IC.  Oh well. 

As a transition year, I will continue using IC as a reporting tool.  From all that I (& my colleagues) have tried, it forces you to average at some point.  I will utilize a points system within IC.  If its not as smooth as I would like, I am able to enter final grades manually at the end of the grading period…looking at student learning overall using evidence gathered – each unit separately, but then all of them as a whole to determine the level at which a student has mastered the entire content.  

Another issue I will have to address is the need for a grade for KEES money.  In Kentucky, students are awarded Kentucky Educational Excellence Sscholarship money based on their grades and ACT scores.  The higher your grades/ACT, the more money (up to $10,000) a student can earn for post-secondary education at in-state institutions.  I will likely model this after a graphic Frank Nochese has included in his letter to parents concerning SBG when entering grades for each unit.  I appreciate the idea that he sits down with each student to discuss this.  Communication is essential to assessment – throughout the process, not just at the end of a unit of study.

Summative – Unit tests, quizzes – all standards-driven

Daily – to include projects, assignments and certain class activities – things I may use on a daily basis for students to demonstrate learning (I know, I know, but I’m adapting small things…)

10% EOC – this will begin with a course diagnostic test, every 6 weeks (this idea, I’m sorry, I cannot remember the blog I read it on…) a cumulative exam will be given and the grade will replace the prior exam.  However, the grades will remain in IC to show growth / allow parents, student and teacher to observe change…with final EOC score to be weighted per district policy. 

0% Formative Assessments / Standards reporting, allowing parents to see the student’s mastery on each standard.  I will use a 4 point scale, its very similar to a marking system we’ve used in Kentucky on our open response assessments, so students should be somewhat familiar with it.

0% HW Completion, Participation, etc. to allow parents an opportunity to see the students’ work habits.

All in all – I believe the most important idea about SBG is just that – your grades reflect learning/achievement and nothing else.  My grades no longer include fluff – no bonus points, no extra credit, no penalty for taking longer to master a concept.  No grades given for effort/completion of an assignment.  My grades are based on defined learning targets.  Students must show they can perform the skill or apply the concept.  To “get the A”…one must learn and demonstrate learning and go beyond the standard.  Yes, I want the focus to be on learning and not the grade.  As I’ve often heard people state, I learned more from that B that I did from most of my A’s – b/c that teacher pushed me and challenged me…

I really like Frank Nochese‘s letter to parents and will use some of his ideas to develop my own letter.  He has some wonderful tools to share for recording progress and reporting as well.  I will continue to study his process and others like Shawn Cornally of Think, Thank, Thunk.  I know where I’m going, but I’m not ready to make the big changes.  This year will be a learning experience, but I am choosing to adapt small things, become proficient at those first, then I’ll be ready to adapt some more next year.

3 Questions…


1. What are the major reasons we use report cards and assign grades to students’ work?

2. Ideally, what purposes should report cards or grades serve?

3.  What elements should teachers use in determine students’ grades? (for example, major assessments, compositions, homework, attendance, class participation, etc.)

These 3 questions were posed by Dr. Thomas Guskey this morning at a presentation in a near-by school district.  (Thank you for allowing us to attend!)  When I consider my answers now, today, they are much different than 2 years ago.  I sat eaves-dropping the teachers behind me, who sounded much like the old teacher in Room 148. 

Here’s what I find quite intriguing about Dr. Guskey – he shares his ideas and research, not in a condescending manner, he is not pointing the finger and telling me I am wrong in my practices.  He simply poses each idea – allowing the audience to ponder, reflect on their classrooms and then, he shares his new view.  You see, he’s been in the classroom and had to make the same choices I’ve made…some were good, others, through learning he’s realized needed to be changed.  He helps you realize where you can make improvements in order to help your students.

Averaging…I am a math teacher – therefore, I average.  But his example of a martial arts student…wow…I cannot argue with it.  A beginning student has a white belt and works up through the degrees, eventually obtaining a black belt.  However, with my averaging, this student would have to settle with a gray belt. 

It reminds of a former student, I’ll call them Bob.  Bob had poor attendance, rarely did homework, simply uninterested.  As the first quarter ended, Bob’s grades had improved to a whopping 40%.  He continued doing minimal, but finally realized this was not getting him where he needed to go.  Bob’s attendance improved, was still hit-n-miss with HW, but through classroom participation and effort on his midterm, he pulled it to a D…again, due to averaging. 

Spring semester, I was excited to see the turn-around Bob had made.  He was actively engaged in class (still minimal effort on HW), earning almost an A at the end of the second semester.  However, with our school policy, his high B and D averaged to a C – which kept him “out” of the honors class his sophomore year.  Bob suffered through, bored, not being challenged.  Even his teacher shared how bored he seemed in class.  However, I am proud to say Bob worked his way to the College-Prep classes the last two years of high school, graduated and will be attending college this fall.  Had I known then, what I know now, I would have broken the rules (:o gasp!) and made sure Bob had “the grade” needed for placement in a more challenging environment.

Progress – taking a student from point A to somewhere beyond point A.  The destination may be a little different for each student, but that’s our goal – to allow them the opportunity to grow.  In order to show growth – we must pre-assess, using some type of diagnostic and communicate with them, allowing them to see areas for growth.

The process may look differently for each student as well.

In the end, the Product – based solely on achievement – what the student knows and can do is the ultimate grade, in my opinion.  I understand how important student behaviors are – how they often directly correlate to the student’s achievement.  However, we shouldn’t punish a student for not following our “prescribed process.”  We cannot tie their behaviors to the academic achievement. 

Grading will forever be debateable among educators.  In my next post, I will share what I did last year, what I learned and what I will be doing this school year.  It may not be the answer for everyone, but in the words of Dr. Guskey, “it works for me.”


Coming Full Circle – Focused on Student Learning


Yesterday in a conversation with a colleague, the statement was made “I am just scared and overwhelmed and afraid that I’m really not a good teacher at all, deep down.”  It saddened me at first because from what I know and have observed, this teacher is amazing – bringing a variety of experiences, travels and ideas to enhance teaching in their classroom.  This teacher is very strong collaborating with others – sharing ideas, using both research-based and practice-proven strategies, with one sole focus – student learning.  This person is a passionate learner, which in turn leads to a passionate teacher. 

A teacher, who is flexible and willing to adjust based on the students in front of them at that point in time, is a good teacher.  If your plan doesn’t produce the learning you intended, you step back, reflect and move forward with a new plan of action.  I believe all teachers at heart question whether they are “good” or not along the journey.  Accomplished teachers truly focus on student learning and consider how their choices will impact student learning. 

Good teachers realize teaching does not always equal learning.                                                                                   

While thinking about this past year’s experiences as a Teacher Leader for my district in Kentucky’s Leadership Network (KLN), I am starting to see it coming full circle.  It reminded me of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ Architecture of Accomplished Teaching Helix

While searching for a graphic of this, I stumbled across a report Measuring What Matters and absolutely lovedEllen Holmes’ My Copy Machine Epiphany (page 35).  She wrote “As I sorted the originals into the feeder, I had my teaching epiphany:  How did focusing on what I was going to cover for the next six weeks in any way match up to what I was learning about accomplished teaching as a National Board candidate?”  

This past year in our KLN meetings, we have focused on:

Characteristics of Highly Effective Teaching Learning (CHETL)
Assessment Literacy through work with Stiggins’ Classroom Assessment for Student Learning (CASL)
Deconstructing the new Common Core State (K-CAS in Kentucky)
We know our students. (CHETL)
We know our content and set the goals (KCAS). 
We determine how to assess. (CASL, SBG)
We deliver instruction. (CHETL)
We assess to evaluate student learning and reflect determine if the goals were met. (CASL)
We take the next step…sometimes its looping back through with the same content if students have not met goals, sometimes, it’s moving through the helix with our next unit of study… 

At times this past year, I have been frustrated.  It seemed like SO MUCH STUFF to consider.  I felt bombarded and could not figure out how it all tied together.  I felt I would cave in at any moment.  How was I supposed to be a teacher leader in my district when I could not get a grasp of it all???      

The purpose of KLN is to provide quality PD resources to EVERY district in Kentucky, allowing teacher leaders to return to our districts and share, working alongside our administrators and helping plan and provide training.  The idea is to ensure EVERY teacher has the resources to grow, bringing quality instruction and learning opportunities to EVERY classroom, so EVERY student has a chance to receive the highest quality education possible.

Now that I have made a connection with each component of KLN’s process to something I already know and understand, the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and I can move forward.  I can encourage others who are feeling the weight on their shoulders – helping them realize our destination is still the same…it’s called student learning.  The goal is to realize every student may need different paths of arriving – and it’s up to us to make sure they get there. 


Time for Innovation – Fed-Ex Prep


“Fed-Ex Prep.  Is this a model for delivering instruction?” I laughed as I skimmed the title of a blog tweeted this morning.

I was reminded at a meeting this past week that, much like our own students, we are all on different levels of teaching, learning and leading.  Where SBG is old news and mastered by several, I am new to this circle and it seems to be a pretty new topic within my building, even district in certain grades.  But by sharing our experiences, we give others opportunity to challenge us, encourage us and help us along the journey.

When we tap into our own resources – you know, the teachers in our local classrooms – I think we’ll find our most innovative ideas.  We are educators – we are professionals – we are learners.  When given the opportunity and time to sit with other educators, great ideas are brought to the table!  When given an opportunity to choose an area of research or growth, we will pick something of interest – something that will allow us to focus on ourselves as teachers, in our own classrooms – we play the part of learner and finally through sharing with colleagues – we are leaders.

I enjoyed reading Chris Weir’s post on Fed-Ex Prep.  Very interesting way to distribute prep time among teachers.  Note it was voluntary – kudos for those who accepted the challenge!  With limited time and money – this is a fantastic way to give teachers some flexibility in their professional growth… time to develop some innovative projects for their classrooms.  Wow.  The connection between the administration and classroom that evolved.  It’s sharing ideas like this that taps into our minds.  Only 3 of the 16 took him up on the idea – but what an impact in those classrooms and that school.  I am sure this will lead to even move innovative ideas in their school/district.

Our leadership may have many ideas of how to reach our goals – sometimes those are great ideas and other times, not so great.  But when they seek teacher input and ask teachers to share research/practice-based strategies, that’s when I think we’ll see true professional growth.  I believe this is part of the big picture with our Leadership Network in Kentucky.  Teacher Leaders from the district level bring information from the regional meetings – to local PLC’s.  Valuable communication between real-time teachers from different buildings is now possible and the abundance of valuable resources will finally be shared.

Currently our district PLCs are focused on Math and ELA within grade at the elementary, and departmentalized at the middle and high schools – for the simple fact that we now have the New Common Core Standards.  However, this is a learning model – I truly see our district eventually asking for teacher input on what growth needs they have and those suggestions will determine future PLCs.  For example, wanting to transition to Standards Based Grading, I hope to find Primary teachers (who, from what I’ve observed, are masters at SBG) to share ideas / strategies with me to make my/my students experience a positive one.  Collaboration between a high school teacher and a primary teacher – isn’t that what’s its all about?  Just having the time / means to sit down and have those discussions is the challenge and probably the reason its not happened as often in the past.

If we “buy-in” to what we’re learning, we are motivated to learn more – we become excited and start talking about the “cool stuff’ we’re learning, which leads to others becoming interested, which leads to their motivation – and the cycle continues.

I appreciate Chris Wejr sharing his reflection on prep time- it truly is innovative in itself, but without the FedEx model available to me, I’ll be happy to learn from anyone willing to share with this radical rational…

More Meaningful Grades


Guskey Articles & Resources

I am a believer in Standards Based Grading.  Throughout the school year and all summer long, I’ve read and searched and read some more.  I am no longer on the fence of “that might work” – I know it will and am ready to sit down with my colleages as we outline our “map”.

We’ve determined our Learning Targets – and gotten our curriculum outlined, a course organizer ready to go.  The skeleton’s of our Unit Organizers are complete – now we’re ready to look at our assessments, how we will “grade” them and report to students and parents.  I like Dr. Guskey’s questionnaire – it helps me think about my own practices and reflect on which areas will need the most focus/change.

The key to success in reporting multiple grades rests on the clear specifications of indicators related to product, process and progress. Guskey, 2006

Our grades are out of sync- they’ve gotten everything but the kitchen sink averaged in and when a parent asks how a student is doing – well, their achievement, behavior and progress are all rolled in to one big number – so, I may / may not be able to give them a specific answer.  Guskey suggests reporting all separately.  Often times, its easier to show how a students process – lack of participation / completetion of assignments and home work are affecting his/her achievement (product), thus lack of desired progress is seen.  It just makes sense.  Guskey reports parents prefer this more comprehensive profile of their students learning and performance in school.

This strategy for student grades will add value grade reports since they will truly be a tool of communication for what the student has mastered, the process / effort they put into the class and a look at their individual progress throughout the school year.


RCHSAlgebra I Outline- June 1 2011




Stop Waiting for the Map


“Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.” – Seth Godin

I totally stole my first blog title from Brian Nichols post earlier today.  As I read his thoughts, I realized how I’ve been looking to find a map to follow, instead of just creating my own.  Like any directional device, if it’s not updated, I am not quite sure how to use it or I enter the wrong information, following its given turns may lead me down a dark path.  I know where I want to go and I am researching different ways to get there, but in the end, it is my first step that will lead to success in my classroom.

In May 2010, I was handed A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor.  It was a small book, so I thought it would take only a few days to read it.  However, those few days turned into a couple of weeks.  To be honest, I was angry at times and had to put the book down.  I found most everything I had practiced as a teacher being questioned by this guy.  As the ideas began to seep into my brain, I realized I was wrong about many, many things.  (#1 let’s get this straight – I am a good teacher, who cares about my students and my ultimate goal is to help them get closer to their own goals.) However, I had given zeroes for missing and incomplete work – thus deflating a student’s grade so much, there was little hope of recovery.  I had given bonus points for participating in events like a food drive – don’t get me wrong, service projects are good things, but should not be connected to student grades; at times students were rewarded with points for effort – not learning – in the name of wanting to help them succeed.  I had to redefine what a grade was – its purpose was to communicate learning – not how well a student behaved, how hard they worked or how many extra credit projects they (& their parents) were willing to complete to get the golden “A”!

After sharing the book with other colleagues, we all agreed, things had to change.  We would not go about the grading business as we have in years past – though some of this was going to be quite difficult, maybe even uncomfortable – to break out of the known, our comfort zone. We made efforts to get rid of the fluff, the inflated (& deflated) grades and truly let our grades become a tool to communicate student learning and in walks formative assessment.  We’d gone through some afternoon PD’s during faculty meetings and knew what it was – yes, I’ve always used informal assessments to guide my instruction – but it didn’t really sink in the changes that were needed until after I read 15 Fixes and started sharing my thoughts with my colleagues. 

With the blessing of our administrator, we started our year with new grading policies.  It was an unknown path for us.  We were learning as we went.  We were drawing our own map.  Nearly every week, we would discuss questions / issues that arose – How/When do we reassess? Is there a limit to how many times we allow a student to reassess? What happens when the student does worse, does that mean their grade is lower? Our students and parents were not used to the “no bonus points or extra credit” policy.  It was an adjustment for everyone involved.

We are a little more versed, still reading and looking for models – but on Monday next week, we are sitting down to draw our own maps as we outline our policies / plan for this school year.  This journey will be shared through “the radical rational”…happy trails to you! 



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