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This webinar explored the research on standards-based grading and new approaches to making grading policies more effective.
Boston, MA – On May 30, the Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance (NCCRA) hosted a Bridge Event to explore the research on grading and to learn new approaches to making grading policies more effective and reflective of student mastery of learning.
“We are going to take on the nastiest and dirtiest issue there is in education today—that whole idea of grading,” said featured presenter Dr. Thomas Guskey, professor of educational psychology of the University of Kentucky. “It’s the major issue that lies before you, especially as you move toward a standards-based approach.”
Research shows that teachers, including those within the same schools or districts, do not agree on the purposes of grades or report cards, Guskey said. Are they for communicating information to parents? Or for helping students evaluate themselves? Should they be used to sort students into groups? Or do they help schools judge their own instructional effectiveness?
Educators disagree on what elements to use in determining student grades, resulting in inconsistencies of grading practices and confusion among students. Guskey recommended that districts develop a clear statement of purpose for their reporting system and then choose learning criteria—summative assessments, homework, effort, student progress—that will support that purpose.
Two additional important research findings are that grading is not essential to the instructional process and that grading should always be done in reference to learning criteria and never on a curve.
“Although grading is not essential, checking [student work] is,” Guskey said. “In any successful teaching and learning exchange, a teacher must provide regular and specific checks on learning progress and pair with those checks guidance and directions to students as to how they can improve…. We’ve concentrated on the development of assessments and not very much on what teachers are supposed to do with that evidence once they gain it. And that’s the really critical element.”
Guskey suggested that schools and districts adopt report cards that briefly describe the content standards being taught and that provide separate grades for assessments, homework completion, effort, class participation, and other elements of student performance. He said that such report cards are more helpful to parents and teachers for understanding what students have mastered and where they need support.
An Approach to Proficiency-Based Grading
Providing an additional perspective on the webinar, Dr. Robert Marzano, CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory in Centennial, Colo., presented some of his research on developing and using proficiency scales, rather than letter grades or the 100-point scale, to measure or document students’ achievement. Proficiency scales break content into manageable progressions and match scores to mastery of specific standards. For example, students might receive a score of 3.0 on a proficiency scale if they demonstrate understanding of a particular concept, but they would receive a 4.0 on the scale if able to apply that concept to a higher level of thinking. Similarly, students would receive a 2.0 if they master a simpler learning goal.
“Once teachers get this in their head, it is pretty straightforward and relatively efficient,” Marzano said. “Every teacher when putting up a 2.0 for a student is saying the same thing, based on the scale being used. A score means the same from teacher to teacher, relative to a specific scale.”
View the webinar to hear the full presentations and learn what’s on the mind of participants, who submitted these and other questions and comments:It’s easier to create narratives [for report cards] when you have 30 third-graders; much harder when you have 130 10th-graders.As we try to change our grading system to one that doesn’t “sort” students by decimal points, there are folks who are unhappy about it. Making learning a zero-sum game defeats what we’re trying to accomplish. Any recommendations?Do colleges still use GPA/class rank, etc.? How does standards-based grading affect that information to colleges?
NCCRA hosted the Bridge Event to inform its research focus on proficiency-based graduation requirements—the first in the two-part “Developing Savvy Students: College and Career Readiness Bridge Event Series” co-hosted by REL-NEI and REL Northwest, both of which have research alliances exploring issues related to college and career readiness.
View Bridge Event presentations and materials.
"In Google we trust." That may very well be the motto of today's young online users, a demographic group often dubbed the "digital natives" due their apparent tech-savvy. Having been born into a world where personal computers were not a revolution, but merely existed alongside air conditioning, microwaves and other appliances, there has been (a…
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"Below is a list I have been working on for awhile now. the list features some very useful Math websites specifically handpicked for teachers to use with their students. The initial list I compiled contained over 40 websites but as I reviewed it deeper I decided to take some out and keep the rest here. I invite you to have a loom and share with your colleagues. "
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EdSource TodayMontana Presidential Award-winning teachers support Common CoreRavalli RepublicCollectively, we support Montana's Common Core State Standards. We strongly believe in the Common Core State Standards and their promise for all students.
Via Darren Burris
If a student has hurt herself and is bleeding, we do not say, “Wait a few days and we will take care of your bleeding.” We help stop the bleeding immediately. However, when a student bleeds academically by showing a serious learning gap, we often delay the necessary treatment....
Via Smaragda Papadopoulou
Teacher training borrows from doctors' playbook -- teachers in residence.
Just as future doctors, called "residents," care for patients under the supervision of a practicing physician, graduate teaching students work side by side with a seasoned teacher. Teachers learning the same way doctors do -- as residents working under professionalsSchools using this method have students who face homelessness, hunger and violenceSeattle program has enthusiastic young teachers working alongside dedicated mentors
SEATTLE — No, Bethany Poon does not have an extra set of eyes, ears and hands. Yet somehow, in a matter of moments, she is helping two first-graders get started at a computer station, showing another group an easy way to add two numbers when one is nine, and complimenting two students, one for doing a "great job of saying 'excuse me' " and another for sitting attentively and being ready to learn.
It's all part of a day's work at Leschi School,where Poon, 23, a graduate student in the University of Washington College of Education, is learning about classroom realities in a way that many aspiring teachers don't — until they start their first job.
She is there as part of the Seattle Teacher Residency, a recently launched initiative that local school officials hope will attract good teacher candidates to some of the district's most challenging public schools, and keep them there.
It's one of about 50 teacher-preparation programs springing up in the last several years that are modeled after medical education. Just as future doctors, called "residents," care for patients under the supervision of a practicing physician, graduate students such as Poon work side by side with a seasoned teacher. They help plan and deliver lessons and pick up classroom management tricks best learned by seeing and doing.
In traditional teacher-education programs, student teachers typically get hands-on experience only later in their studies, after they have completed college coursework.
"That is a huge paradigm shift," says Anissa Listak, founder of Urban Teacher Residency United, a non-profit organization based in Chicago that supports a network of 18 residency programs, including Seattle's. Since it was founded in 2007, the group has grown from three, in Boston, Chicago and Denver, to 18, and more programs are in the works, she says.
The movement got a boost in 2009 and 2010 when the U.S. Education Department awarded five-year grants for programs to improve teacher education. Of particular concern: National surveys show that just half of teacher candidates received supervised clinical training and nearly two-thirds said they felt unprepared for "classroom realities."
In Seattle, administrators hope the program will prepare a steady stream of talented idealists to work in schools in which many kids face challenges such as homelessness, hunger and violence. Teacher turnover tends to be highest at those schools.
"We want teachers who want to come here," says Mary McDaniel, principal at Madrona elementary, another Seattle school where residents work.
Not all residency initiatives succeed. A few years ago, a promising program in Pittsburgh was scuttled, a victim of several factors, including a loss of union support. Listak expects some programs to end when federal grant money runs out.
Seattle's program offers renewed promise, she says, because the local teachers union and the University of Washington College of Education were active in developing it. Both are founding partners, along with the school district and the Alliance for Education, a non-profit organization that coordinates fundraising and other tasks.
Still, some Seattle partners are cautious in their praise of the residency model. "It's a good experiment (but it's) not for everybody," says Patrick Sexton, managing director of teacher education at the University of Washington College of Education.
It's also expensive. This year's 25 residents each receive a $16,500 stipend, plus tuition reimbursement and other benefits, and their mentor teachers receive $3,500. Expenses are estimated at about $1 million.
Organizers say better retention will cut the cost of recruiting teachers — estimated in one study at $10.6 million a year for Seattle Public Schools. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 46% of public school teachers leave the profession within their first five years; in contrast, some of the longest-running urban residency programs post an average five-year retention rate of 82%, data from Urban Teacher Residency United show.
In Seattle, teacher residents promise to teach at least five years in the public schools. That's fine with Sabrina Adikes, 23, a teacher resident in Madrona.
Some days are hard, she says, but it's also rewarding work. "It probably sounds cheesy, but I am grateful for the relationships that have come from this work. I feel truly connected with my students, who are so hardworking and so kind to one another, as well as to me."
Ensuring a community college is serving its students well while meeting the demands of an exponentially changing landscape requires leadership able to articulate a strong vision and implement organizational redesign.
Cheryl Roberts, president ofChemeketa Community College(CCC) in Oregon, is working on creating a leadership environment and structuring a planning process conducive to making bold moves to change the culture. She is among three leaders realigning their colleges to meet the imperatives outlined in theAmerican Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) 21st-Century Commission report who will describe their work at theAACC Annual Convention April 5-8 in Washington, D.C.
Roberts sees her effort at CCC as part of a larger statewide initiative enacted by the legislature and adopted by the entire education community known as the “40-40-20 plan,” which establishes a series of goals for 2025: At least 40 percent of adults in Oregon will have a earned an associate degree or postsecondary credential; at least 40 percent will have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher; and the remaining 20 percent will have earned a high school diploma.
All three presidents in this article will speak at the session "Organizational Redesign for 21st-Century Institutions: Three Case Studies" on Sunday, April 6, at the AACC Annual Convention.
CCC's strategy to contribute to the goal focuses on making the student experience "predictable," Roberts said, meaning simplifying the student aid process and business practices so attending college is as seamless for students as possible. It started by improving its communications with students to ensure they get their financial aid packages well before the deadline to enroll. That gives staff more time to talk to students about their options, and as a result, the number of students applying for financial aid has increased by about 25 percent.
The college is also using the same approach to improve registration and advising procedures, which often frustrates students and in turn affects completion rates, Roberts said.
It’s all about “creating the right culture and the right mindset,” she said.
Following a game plan
Sunita Cooke, president of Grossmont College in California, is working on building capacity within her college to strengthen its long-term strategic planning process and incorporate short-term measures as milestones.
“We’re using planning to drive cultural change,” focusing on communications, transparency, integrity and trust, Cooke said. That effort, which is informed by the AACC 21st-Century Commission report, began with streamlining, eliminating redundancy and incorporating more technology-based strategies in back-end, behind-the-scenes systems, such as business practices, human resources and payroll.
Next, the college will work on changing the culture around student services and academic success. The first phase will evaluate how well the college serves students — and “what they are experiencing with us” — from their first communication with the college until they begin attending class, Cooke said. The following phase will evaluate students’ pathways through the system until they complete a degree or certificate.
Cooke said she suspects the review will find that students seeking assistance are sent into a loop, rather than being helped efficiently.
A less-popular route
In Maryland, Montgomery College is looking at its infrastructure and business processes, along with better ways to engage students, grow employees and build in accountability and outcomes “to allow us to be well positioned to address the changing landscape,” said President DeRionne Pollard.
That effort includes realigning the curriculum and redesigning student services and academic affairs to better serve students in an increasingly diverse community, and to do so with fewer resources and more accountability, Pollard said. The demographic changes mean “we have to take the college to the community. We have to turn the college inside out — to reach out to underrepresented populations.”
“Dealing with the internal capacity to respond to these changes is critical — that is the joy of this work,” Pollard said. That calls for looking at the organizational structure, and if new money is not coming in, resetting priorities.
Coming in April: The release
For presidents, that sometimes means taking the less-popular route.
“We had a shared governance system. But the irony was, there was no role for part-time faculty or students,” Pollard said. Her efforts to make that system more inclusive “were not very popular in some circles.”
The new structured governance system, which reviews policy issues before they are taken to the board, is now fully accepted.
“Some things had to be tweaked along the way, and we had to spend some time affirming the role of the board,” she said.
Following a framework
Much of the reorganization undertaken around student services aligns with the recommendations in AACC’s 21st-Century Commission report, Pollard said.
“We looked at how we organized around the student experience and determined we have to be more intrusive,” she said.
The new system is also more equitable, so students have the same experience regardless of which campus they attend, whether they are full time or part time and whether they take classes in person or online.
The AACC Leadership Suitecomprises programs designed to provide emerging and seasoned leaders with professional development and renewal opportunities.
Student orientation is now mandatory, and late registration has been eliminated. Welcome centers have been installed on all three campuses, new outreach programs have been put into place and there’s a new enrollment management team.
“The biggest challenge is keeping one’s eye on the horizon, when the day-to-day political, fiscal and organizational issues take up one’s attention," she said.
Balancing it all
Managing all this change is difficult, too.
“How do you know when you should speed up or slow down?” Pollard said. People felt they could only do so much at one time, so “it takes a constant assessment of institutional capacity,” she said.
Pollard also stressed the importance of staying in touch with other presidents and being active in organizations such as the American Association of Community Colleges, which provides those developmental opportunities.
“You have to be intentional about that. Networking is critical,” she said.
Students will only unlearn helplessness when teachers unlearn helpfulness.
Unlearning Learned Helplessness By David Ginsburg on March 8, 2014 3:29 PM
"I need help," several students said in their geometry class at Esperanza Academy in Philadelphia.
"I don't think so," teacher John Roman replied.
Roman had just given students a handout with several unmarked triangles on it, and asked them to determine which of the triangles were congruent. He also gave them patty paper (tracing paper), and said that it might help them complete the task. He did not, however, show or tell students what to do with it.
But what if students hadn't used patty paper before? What if they didn't know what it means for two triangles to be congruent? How can a teacher give students so little direction and expect anything but confusion?
Sure enough, confusion is exactly what John Roman got. But more important, confusion is what Roman wanted. That's why he denied one student after another when they asked for help.
Such knee-jerk calls for help are indicative of a common reason students don't learn to their potential: learned helplessness. They encounter an unfamiliar task (or word, formula, etc.), and immediately shut down or seek help.
The good news is that because it's learned helplessness, it can also be unlearned. And because students have learned it from enabling educators like me (until I stopped spoon-feeding them), we're in the best position to help them unlearn it. We just need to stop helping kids when they don't need our help. Turns out, for example, that John Roman's students had sufficient prior knowledge of congruent triangles. They were also more than capable of figuring out how to use patty paper to perform the assigned task. What they lacked was a problem-solving mindset. They lacked qualities such as determination and resourcefulness.
Yet students will only acquire those qualities if we put them in situations that require those qualities. That's what John Roman did by not telling students what to do with the patty paper and by denying their requests for help. And his resolve paid off. After commiserating for a couple of minutes, a few students picked up the patty paper and began tracing triangles. Soon all students did this, with no help from Roman besides subtle reminders to a few students that the patty paper might be helpful.
The value for students of experiences like this has more to do with confidence than content. The more they learn with little or no help from us, the more they believe in themselves and their abilities. Sure it's important for students to learn math and science and social studies. But the real lesson for kids when teachers do what John Roman did is that confusion is where learning begins, not where it ends.
And the lesson for us as educators is that students will only unlearn helplessness when we unlearn helpfulness.
10 Principles for Planning Reading Minilessons
For a while, minilessons didn’t seem to fit into my bigger goals of the reading workshop. I realized a few years ago that I was often going through the motions of minilesson work -- using the time at the beginning of reading workshop to “share” content with students. I was spending more time thinking about what I would “do” in the minilesson work than worrying about the thinking and learning the students would do. I realized I had never really stepped back to think about what it was I believed about the minilesson part of the workshop and whether my beliefs were matching my practice.
I had to sit back and reflect on my beliefs. I had to force myself to really stop and think about what it was I wanted from my minilessons. What were my big goals for the minilesson portion of the reading workshop? Did I merely want to give myself a pat on the back for “covering” curriculum? Did I spend more time thinking about the chart we would create than the ways kids might use what I was teaching in their own reading? Most important, who owned the minilesson work, the students or me?
Although I had spent years thinking hard about the whole of reading workshop, I had never really thought hard about these things as they related specifically to my work with minilessons. I knew what the minilesson portion of the workshop would look like to a teacher visiting my classroom, but I began to think about them from the students’ perspective. What messages do minilessons give to students in the classroom? Do these messages match my bigger goals for reading workshop?
Much of the professional literature is focused on what teachers “do” during minilessons rather than the role we play. The emphasis is on management, time limits, and content. The things that are most important to me about minilesson work are not so much what I do or the content that I give to students, but the patterns of thinking that I help my students develop independently.
Taking time to identify my beliefs has helped me stay grounded when I am in the planning process. Minilessons are powerful routines that build student independence. Although this understanding makes the planning process much more challenging, being clear about my beliefs helps me stay true to my larger mission of developing independent readers. Here is what I believe about minilessons:
1. Minilessons should be designed with a vision of helping students gain the necessary skills, strategies, and behaviors to become independent readers.
As a high school English student, I listened to lectures, took good notes in class, and passed the tests on every book. My English teacher taught about themes in books, the ways in which characters changed, and symbolism. It never once occurred to me that there were strategies I could learn that would help me read for these things on my own. I did not know that I could interact with the text and make meaning. I just assumed that the teacher’s understanding was the only possible meaning. I had no idea that I could make meaning on my own.
I believe that minilessons should empower students and help them develop strong identities as readers. As Peter Johnston reminds us in Choice Words, “Building an identity means coming to see in ourselves the characteristics of particular categories (and roles) of people and developing a sense of what it feels like to be that sort of person and belong in certain social spaces” (2004, 23). Each minilesson or minilesson cycle should open up possibilities for ways in which students can make meaning.
2. Minilessons should be scaffolded across time to deepen and enrich understanding of concepts. They are not activities delivered in isolation.
Minilessons should build on where kids are, not where they aren’t. The testing environment has trained teachers to look at the things a student cannot do. Although that is important for some student needs, I find that for daily planning purposes, I can teach for deeper understanding if I build from what the students do know and what they can do.
Minilesson work should also be scaffolded across a cycle. Designing cycles so that the concepts are most accessible to students is key. Then we move slowly and explicitly beyond that beginning point to help children understand at deeper levels. Planning high-quality minilessons involves not only thinking about the lessons themselves, but ordering the lessons in ways that make the most sense to students.
Finally, I believe that we must scaffold lessons across grade levels. Because readers deal with the same concepts, strategies, and behaviors across their lives as readers, we need to help them add depth to their reading year by year. We don’t want an inferring study to look exactly the same in second grade as it does in fifth grade. Scaffolding across content is not only about providing harder and more complex texts but also about helping readers think more deeply with these skills. The Common Core Standards help -- they give a framework in which to think about how understanding builds from year to year.
3. Minilessons should be part of larger conversations that we as a community have about our reading lives and that these conversations build over time.
Max Brand, author of Word Savvy, helped me see the work of minilessons as an ongoing conversation within a community of readers. This conversation begins on the first day of school and continues through the year. We never finish a topic. For instance, if we end a lesson cycle on inferring, that doesn’t mean that we are finished talking about inferences. What we understand about inferring becomes part of all future learning. Each minilesson adds to the ways our classroom community can think and talk about books.
4. Minilessons should be interactive. Students should be the ones doing the thinking, not the teacher.
A while ago, I realized that I had been taking too much control of minilesson work -- I was the only one talking and thinking. It was the only chance I had to pull the whole group together and teach something, and was the part of workshop that felt traditional. Then I realized that not only was I the only one talking, but I was also the only one interacting with the text. I was talking at my children. I knew that if I wanted students to control their reading lives, I needed to let go of the notion that I was imparting knowledge. I realized that minilessons need to be interactive in nature, and that it was the students who needed to be the ones doing the thinking and interacting.
Even though the minilesson work is often thought of as the “explicit teaching time” in the reader’s workshop, the ways in which we run these lessons give our students messages about what is valued in the classroom and what it means to be a reader. If the minilesson is a time when I as the teacher do all of the talking and thinking, I am giving my students the message that I am in charge of reading in this classroom. Instead, I want them to own their reading lives and to come to know the power they have as readers. Katie Ray reminds us, “Expert teaching invites students to act with initiative and intention in shaping what happens to them throughout the day”. I want my minilessons to give students this message every day.
5. Minilessons should be planned with the needs of current students in mind. They can’t be canned, scripted, or duplicated year after year.
I gave up keeping a filing cabinet years ago. Early in my teaching career, I discovered that repeating the same lessons year after year did not yield the same results with different groups of students. I quickly learned that different groups of children bring different things to each lesson, and I needed to be responsive in my teaching.
Even though the curriculum is similar year after year, the way in which I teach has to vary. I cannot rely on a set of canned, prewritten lessons (whether written by some publisher, by local colleagues, or by me) for my minilessons. Instead I have to take into account what the curriculum tells me about what needs to be taught and connect that to the information I learn from my students about their needs. Of course, I have resources I refer to, and every so often a “canned” lesson is a perfect fit, but overall, I have to rethink and re-create cycles based on the current students I am teaching.
6. Minilessons should be the right length to match your teaching point. There is no magic number of minutes for an effective minilesson.
Minilessons can be effective only when embedded in an authentic reader’s workshop, with an emphasis on independent, choice reading. Because independent reading is the key, minilessons can be only a very small part of the reading workshop. Usually this means the minilesson is only 5–10 minutes out of a 45–60 minute block. The lessons work only if students have time to practice what they are learning in texts of their choosing. During reading workshop, the majority of a student’s time is spent reading books of his or her choice independently, and the minilesson shouldn’t cut into that precious time.
Ideally, I love when my minilessons are seven to ten minutes long, but there are some great minilessons that have happened in two minutes, and others that took much longer than ten minutes. Every so often, we need to have whole-class learning in a larger chunk of time. For me, it is about the patterns of my minilessons. If most of my minilessons are twenty minutes long, I need to rethink the time I am taking away from student independence. I want my students to know that the thing we value most is independent reading time, and that can’t happen if too much of our time is spent in minilesson work.
7. Minilessons should be organized in a way that makes the most sense to the teacher, school, or district. There is no one right way to organize lessons.
The minilesson portion of our work is critical, because in a workshop setting, this is the time when the whole group is involved in one conversation. But I don’t believe t