Gathering Feedback For Growth: Grading and Reporting Changes

As I have mentioned in a previous post, this year Graded has embarked on wholesale changes to our Grading and Reporting.  This kind of change, that has an impact on the report card and transcript, typically generates some apprehension on the part of all stakeholders, especially parents and students. All through the process, we have grounded ourselves in Carol Dweck's growth mindset, seeing feedback and criticism as opportunities for improvement.  At the end of the first quarter we created three surveys for each important stakeholder group to find out perceptions of how this transition has gone so far, and what adjustments we still need to make in order to achieve success.  The following is a summary of what we discovered from the early data and some initial steps that we plan to take in order to improve.

Recently I have been reading Chip and Dan Heath's latest book, Decisive.  In the book they warn against confirmation bias when you are making a decision.  They say "When we want something to be true, we will spotlight the things that support it, and then, when we draw conclusions from those spotlighted scenes , we’ll congratulate ourselves on a reasoned decision."  I have made a strong effort here not to merely focus on the results that I hope we are attaining, but rather on areas where we still need to improve.

Here is all of the raw data from each stakeholder: Students, Parents, Teachers (I have removed the comments for issues of confidentiality: some names were mentioned)

The Good News 

There is a lot of data to support that we are moving in the right direction in shifting our grading paradigm this year.  The process of shaping the culture around grades and learning will take longer than three months, but we have already made some progress according to our surveys.  The first thing that jumps out at me is that over 90% of our parents agree/somewhat agree that our communication around the changes was clear.  In addition, 90% of parents and 97% of our students now understand the difference between formative and summative assessment.

Some of the most encouraging data is around student engagement.  Both our teachers and parents agree that the new system has stimulated higher engagement in the classroom, with over 70% of both groups seeing positive results. One of our teachers wrote: "My students view the changes positively. Students see the purpose for formative tasks and assessments, and they have been responding actively on formative feedback prior to engaging in the summative assessment. Many students also seem excited to try new and creative ideas in order to seek the 7."  60% of our students believe that the new system has also created greater motivation for improvement.  One student wrote that the system: "Shows me where I can improve, and lets me better understand and visualize my learning curve."
One parent agreed saying: "My child seems motivated to continue learning and improving, and he understands better how to set targets."

In addition we also received strong feedback from all stakeholders that our new approach is more focused on learning and less on grades.  One teacher wrote: “I feel less like a gate-keeper of grades and more like a facilitator of learning.”A parent saw a similar focus from his child "He is more balanced, less anxious, less tracking his stock Market, more focused on the job at hand, learning."

If we look at the reaction to each change that we have made, we also see broad support for the majority of the changes.  When asked how they feel about the following changes this is how parents and students responded:


Parents
Positive
Neutral
Negative
Formative Assessment and HW not included in grade
59%
11%
30%
No group scores for group work
67%
14%
19%
Students can re-assess for scores between 1-4
81%
9%
10%
No point reductions for late work
50%
17%
33%
No averaging for final grades
66%
17%
21%


Students
Positive
Neutral
Negative
Formative Assessment and HW not included in grade
51%
19%
30%
No group scores for group work
35%
30%
35%
Students can re-assess for scores between 1-4
71%
18%
11%
No point reductions for late work
64%%
22%
14%
No averaging for final grades
44%
29%
27%

As you can see from the chart above, there are no categories where positive perceptions do not outweigh negative ones.  The only area that is balanced is the student view on group work Interestingly enough, this is in stark contrast to the way their parents feel .

The best news that we have from the new grading system is that we no longer have students falling into a cycle of not producing work.  By requiring students to sit in Structured Academic Support to complete the work on time, we have effectively stopped students from perennially missing formative tasks that have a huge impact on their academic progress.  As a result, our failure rate this semester has has dropped to nearly zero.  Our Middle School consists of 285 students with seven subjects each, totaling 1,995 classes.  Overall for the first quarter we had 17 scores of 2 and no scores of 1.  As a percentage, this means that we had less than  1% not meeting expectations. Of that total, there were only 8 scores of 2 in core subjects. With interventions in place, the hope is that number drops even further throughout the school year.

Room For Improvement

The survey also reveals many areas where we need to improve in order to truly change the culture around grades and growth.  Some of the negative feedback has to do with conflicting visions of what effective grading and reporting should look like.  We still have many parents and students who feel that it is unfair to NOT include our formative assessment into the grade.  They see school work as a way to earn credit, not attain skills and understandings.  A typical comment from one of our students is: "I feel less motivated to hand work on time, as I know it won't affect my grade. Also, every work we do should count. I don't like how I work hard for a good grade and it might not be worth it." This vision of work that is "worth it" only if it counts in the grade is something that we need to deal with head on.  The best way to address this is to continually improve our formative assessment practices so that students can see the direct link between practicing the skills formatively and then effectively producing excellence on their summative assessments.

It is clear that working on changing mindsets about grades does not happen overnight.  At the heart of our system is the hope that our students will want gravitate towards challenging work and have the will to continually improve.  In polling our students we found that they were evenly split when asked what they would prefer, a more challenging or an easier task. 

 Beyond the differing visions that we might have about grading and reporting, there are also areas that call for major improvement mainly in terms of consistency of implementation.  One parent commented: "I think the school feels it has communicated well but the kids seem confused. All give different answers when you asked them what the grades mean. Some work around the system and in the end a grade is a grade and that is what the kids have to work toward."  Another commented, "It seems that each teacher is applying the system differently, and this is creating confusion for my child."  One piece of data that we hope improves in the second semester is that 33% of our students felt that their grade was not an authentic reflection of their achievement level.  By the end of the year, we hope that this number is nearly zero.  Our current system should take away the mystery of grades and create greater transparency and understanding for accurate self-assessment. 

Our teachers also provided useful feedback on what they need in order to improve implementation. They assert the need for more training on rubric design that is aligned to the new 1-7 scale.  While they overwhelmingly feel that our faculty meetings have been productive (92% of faculty agreed!), they also acknowledge that the new system has required more work of them and greater expertise.  One teacher wrote: "We need more time for planning, collaborating, and moderation of assessment. More models and examples of rubrics and assessments. Time to implement these changes deeply and effectively before moving on to the next big change.”

Initial Steps

In order to address the concerns that have emerged we have already made adjustments to our implementation and created greater opportunities for teacher training.  Here is just a sampling of some of the steps already taken: 
  • Clarification of the minimum number of summative assessments per quarter (3). 
  • Adjusting rubrics to create a clearer definition of what a 7 looks like so students can work towards attaining the highest possible achievement level.
  • Clarification of the re-assessment policy for teachers and the development of department specific additions.
  • Workshop for teachers on effective formative feedback.
  • Teachers creating strong self assessment tools and conferencing with students so that they better understand their grades.
  • Professional development opportunities for teachers, including a workshop in January in Brasilia with Damian Cooper and ongoing online courses from Robert Marzano
  • Second Semester PTA coffee to re-orient parents.
We know that we have a long way to go, but by thoughtfully analyzing our data, adjusting our practices and providing professional development, we feel that we are moving forward purposefully to the benefit of our students.  We hope that by the end of the year we hear more comments like the one written by one parent who said: "Love the changes! It gets to the heart of what the kids are in school for - to learn and have a chance to improve!"

As Michael Fullan has said, the "name of the game is reculturing".  He writes, "The change required is in the culture of what people value and how they work together to accomplish it; never a checklist, always complexity. There is no step-by-step shortcut to transformation; it involves the hard day-to-day work of reculturing." We have a long way to go, and we will take this journey one step at a time.

I would love to hear some of your feedback on our work.  Make sure to leave a comment!

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