Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I am so excited about this new development in my thinking about my area of research. I have been passionate about grading practices for a few years now, so I have been doing a LOT of reading and thinking about grading and grade reporting. I've thought a LOT about it, reflected on my own practice. It's just been a big part of my life for a while now.

And now I can't stop thinking about change. What is it about changing to an infinitely better way of doing things that is so incredibly difficult for some people? I guess that's what "Change Leadership" is all about. So then how do we lead change when we have a variety of personalities that we lead? Can we differentiate how we implement change, depending on the "learning style"---or "Change Style" of our teachers? Is that going to be perceived as "unfair"? Does that really matter? We know that Fair does not mean Equal!!

What about that RtI Pyramid? Doesn't that apply to our adult learners as well? Tiered interventions for change?

Thoughts, anyone?

Friday, August 3, 2012

More thoughts about my research focus....

One of my continuing, swirling thoughts is about "dispositions". So much has research been done in the area of grading and grade reporting,  and I wonder why it's so hard to make systemic change....I do understand why it's hard for parents to grasp a new way of determining/measuring student growth. I just wonder why it is so hard for some teachers to consider something different than the punitive, "gotcha" model. ("This assignment is 1 day late, you get a zero. I'm just preparing you for the 'real world' type of approach"....so if you didn't turn in your eligibility paperwork/grades on time, did you lose a day of pay? You mean that "real world"?)

Much of what I have been reading about grading is integrally tied to assessment (as it should be); however, I don’t know which group of stakeholders actually understand this deeply, and to what extent the understanding of this helps people understand what grades really should be/mean.

So far:

High stakes testing and accountability are no longer new to public education; however, communicating student progress to parents in this age of accountability can be very challenging. Parents know and are deeply connected to the “A, B, C, D, F” grading system they experienced in school. Everyone knows what “A” means, what “C” means. This grading system is even used in many capacities outside of the school system because it is so widely understood (“Grade your website”, “Grade your Doctor”, etc.). But what does this really tell students and parents about what students really know and are able to do?  Gregory Cizek states “grades continue to be relied upon to communicate important information about [academic] performance and progress . . . they probably don’t” (1996, 104).

Assigning grades to students can be a very controversial issue; some educators have even proposed their abolition (Kohn 1999; Marzano 2000). Communicating student progress to parents (and to the students themselves) is one of the main purposes of assigning “grades” to students and GPA is used by most post-secondary institutions as part of the application and acceptance process, making abolition is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Grading is a highly volatile issue with most stakeholders. Teachers spend many hours grading papers to determine the “report card” grade.

Should a “report card” grade reflect the average of the semester’s work? Or should it reflect mastery of the course content? Or perhaps it should reflect some hybrid/combination of both? How do we inform parents and students of their ongoing progress toward course content standards and expectations?

Harlem Consolidated School District #122 serves approximately 8000 students per year. We are a Unit District, serving students in grades Pre-K-12 in 12 buildings, including a Kindergarten Center, 1 building serving 1st-3rd grade students, 1 serving 4th -6th grade students, 6 buildings serving students in grades 1-6, on 7th-8th grade Middle School, one 9th Grade campus and one High School campus serving grades 10-12. In 2009, a consistent grading scale was developed and implemented for Grades 1-6. There is less consistency in grades 7-12. While Departments at the High School attempt to align their grading expectations, teachers still have flexibility in determining the weight that homework, tests, quizzes and classwork will have in grade determination. Teachers do not want to give up control of their classroom decision-making when it comes to determining student grades.

Early during the Fall of 2010 (my first year serving as Director of Accountability and School Improvement), I received a call from an agitated parent. She was very unhappy with her son’s report card. She had spoken to the teacher several times, and was not happy with the outcome of the conversation. That school was being led at that time by an interim principal, who directed the parent to call me when she contacted him after several meetings with the classroom teacher. Mom shared with me that the teacher determines a reading grade based only on one test, and that she “gives everyone a C in Social Studies since we really never have time for Social Studies anyway”. I met with this teacher to discuss the parent concerns and her grading process; she believed that she was “directed” by the District to determine reading grades this way. The “grades” this student received in reading in this class was discouraging the child; he began to believe he just wasn’t a good reader, leading to lower grades in other content areas.

Upon further investigation with other teachers in that building and others, I found that teachers had widely differing interpretations of district expectations for grading. Some were very adamant that their way of “grading” students was right and that they were not willing to change what they do. Others were dissatisfied with their process, but did not know what to do to change what they were doing, or if “The District” would let them change their grading expectations and processes.

Much research has been done that supports the use of standards-based grading as a strong process that supports and improves student learning (Guskey, 1996, 1999, 2009), Marzano (2000, 2006).(more research). If strong research exists to guide and support best practice in assessing and reporting student progress toward grade level or content goals and standards, what prevents systems from making that change? Do dispositions affect teachers’ ability and/or willingness to change how they assess and grade students?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Data-informed? Or Data-Driven?

This has especially been on my mind over the last day or so. I have used the term "data-informed" over "data-driven" for a very long time. I believe that TEACHERS are the only ones who actually "drive" the instruction in their classrooms....data informs their work, as does myriad other things that they use to make every decision for every minute of every day in their classrooms. Yes, data plays a big part in that. But does it actually "drive" it?

When I first started working here in Harlem, I made a point of talking about being data-informed rather than data-driven. I've actually worked  hard to empower teachers to know that they are the "drivers" in their classrooms, and to change the way we talk about data.

However, I recently met with a principal who really insists on using "data-driven". In fact, he uses "driven" a lot. Assessment "drives" instruction. Data "drives" instruction. He refuses to hear what I say about teachers being the drivers. It's kind of "driving" me crazy.

Maybe it is just semantics, and I'm overthinking it. But data is just data. Just numbers. They don't mean anything without context and interpretation. So a number like 67 doesn't really mean anything unless there is something else around it, providing context. If you have 67% of your students "meeting standards" on an accountability test, you are below the benchmark for this year (92.5%). However, if you had 48% "meeting standards" last year, you have made a HUGE improvement. If you had 82% "meeting standards" last year, you have made a HUGE drop. One way means keep doing what you are doing. The other means you need to make some changes. Who/what "drives" that decision? The 67? Or the interpretation of that data by people/experts?

If it's 67 degrees in Chicago in January, it's WARM!!! If it's 67 degrees in Florida in July, it's COLD!! But the air temperature is the same. You'd take off a jacket in Chicago, but you'd put on a sweatshirt in Florida. Your interpretation of the data is what drives you to make a change. You make decisions based on your context, your knowledge of the situation as well as using the data you have.

See, the NUMBERS aren't driving anything. It's the people that have the knowledge behind the numbers that are doing the driving.

So that's why I'm a stickler about the words. Teachers are the expert drivers. They take the data and make sense of it and determine the best instructional steps based on the data....and on their own knowledge and expertise.

I'd much rather have my instruction driven by an informed teacher than by a spreadsheet.

**Definition of drive, according to Merriam-Webster.com
5a: to exert inescapable or coercive pressure on : force <driven by his passions> b: to compel to undergo or suffer a change (as in situation or emotional state) <drove him crazy> <drove her out of business> c: to urge relentlessly to continuous exertion <the sergeant drove his recruits> d: to press or force into an activity, course, or direction <the drug habit drives addicts to steal> e: to project, inject, or impress incisively <drove her point home>
6: to force (a passage) by pressing or digging
8: to give shape or impulse to <factors that drive the business cycle> <the ideas that have driven history>

Monday, July 9, 2012

My initial thoughts regarding areas of research:

My initial proposal is not fleshed out yet, but this is what I have so far:

Throughout the educational system we often see an attempt to assign “blame” at a variety of factors when students are not successful. Legislators and community members blame teachers, high school can often point fingers at the middle school, middle school will point fingers at the elementary level, while elementary will look at the parents. In fact, throughout the system, fingers are often pointed at parents when children are not successful in school.

We need to engage parents more in understanding what their children are expected to learn and to help them understand how well their children are progressing toward those goals. I have seen some incredibly distressing practice in “grading” students, practices that are unfair to students, practices that parents don’t understand, that do not effectively communicate student learning to students or parents.

What methods can a district best use to effectively update grading practices that not only communicate progress to students and parents, but can also engage students in their own learning, and improve student learning?

• What is the real purpose of grades?
• What are current perceptions of the purpose of grades?
• What is the best way to assess and communicate student progress and growth?
• How do we move practitioners to better grading practices?
• What role does the principal play in moving faculty toward better assessment and grading practices?

I continue to ponder how to focus this large, emotional area.
One of my swirling thoughts is about "dispositions". So much has research been done in this area and I wonder why it's so hard to make systemic change....I do understand why it's hard for parents to grasp a new way of determining/measuring student growth.

I just wonder why it is so hard for some teachers to consider something different than the punitive, "gotcha" model. ("This assignment is 1 day late, you get a zero. I'm just preparing you for the 'real world' type of approach"....so if you didn't turn in your eligibility paperwork/grades on time, did you lose a day of pay? You mean that "real world"?)

So, more reading, more reflecting, more conversations with colleagues.