Monday, October 10, 2016

On Grades

Hey Folks,

Your friendly, neighborhood long term substitute here. Mr. Nichols is my name. At the moment I’m sitting at a desk. It is relatively cluttered, but that is besides the point.

The point here is this: I would like to bring some clarity and understanding to Grades in the Middle Level. To start, I’m going to introduce some terms.

Proficiencies - As you might know, the great state of Vermont has mandated that its schools shift to models of Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements. Each academic department has their own proficiencies. These are often stated “I Can” sentences, for example, “I can comprehend, interpret, analyze, and evaluate a wide range and level of complex literary and informational texts.”

Essential Learning Outcomes - Proficiencies are broken down into subcategories called Essential Learning Outcomes (E.L.O.’s). These E.L.O’s are also often stated in I can sentences, for example, “ I can analyze a set of ideas, characters, or events within a text and explain how they interact and develop using evidence.” As a result of both, Proficiencies and E.L.O.’s often appearing in “I Can” sentences, they are easily confused.

Learning Scales - E.L.O.’s are broken down further into Learning Scales. Learning Scales are the first place that something like grades appear as they categorize students as “Getting Started,” “Making Progress,” “I Can Do This,” and “ Transfer.” Each of these categories are assigned numbers from one to four.

Ok, Proficiencies, E.L.O’s and Learning Scales. Great. Good. Now I’ll make this more complicated.

There are two types of assessments used at Hazen, Summative and Formative. Both use E.L.O.’s and Learning Scales but they are separately averaged. Again, they are separately averaged. Why? Well…
Formative assessments are treated as practice. Activities intended to be assessed as formative, are designed for students to become familiar with the skill or concept being taught. These activities are deliberately introduced as low consequence. It should allow and encourage students to experiment, risk failure and grow.
Summative Assessments are intended to serve as main events. They are snapshots of a student’s ability or performance at any one point in time. As such they are used by students and teachers as evidence that a certain E.L.O. has or hasn’t been met.

Now for two confusing matters.
  1. Apart from how they are averaged, Formative and Summative assessments ideally mirror one another. This follows the athletic mantra of “Practice like you Play.”
  2. Academic Habits - Academic Habits are another means of assessment and are used to determine extracurricular eligibility. So they are important. Academic Habits are broken down into four categories, each of which are evaluated on scales ranging from one to four. As evidence of Academic Habits, students and teachers draw on both formative and summative assessments, as well as in class behavior. They are reported every two weeks.

Alright, so now that you know everything about assessment at Hazen, this is what I will leave you with - to start the school year the middle school teachers did not assess anything as summative. This was done for a variety of reasons. One result is that the most recent progress report, a report intended to relate a glimpse of student summative assessments to date, likely had very little data to draw from, if any.

That’s it. I’ve got to tend to some other matters of significant urgency. I’ve spilt my coffee.
Good luck out there!
Mr. Nichols