For decades, schools have been giving out singular grades for student performance in a course.
“How did you do in geometry this year?”
“Are you good at English?”
“Well, I got a B in LA this year. “
But often these scores aren’t truly reflective of what’s going on in terms of learning. This year, based on extensive research and keeping up with the latest in best grading practices, MAK’s middle school students and parents will experience a change in our reporting system: the separation of product scores from process scores.
When I taught in the humanities before becoming a principal, my gradebook typically looked something like what is listed below. This is a typical gradebook setup for more traditional American secondary teachers.
Unit Tests 15%
It’s no doubt a familiar scenario. And many of us certainly remember, in our own schooling, figuring out how to manipulate the system. Let’s consider a scenario.
Student A knows early on in his algebra class that he is going to struggle a bit. Naturally, he goes to the syllabus and figures that he can pad his grade with perfect participation and homework scores, which are a high percentage of the grade, allowing him the room, despite lots of studying, to struggle through a couple quizzes and bomb a test. Say he ends up with a B in the course. A friend of his in the same course is brilliant in math. But she isn’t so great with her homework or participation. For the sake of argument, let’s say that she, too, ends up with a B, and then let’s consider the following grade breakdowns, based on the category weights above.
Which of these two students is more accomplished in algebra? Which of these two students is likely a more disciplined and engaged student? The differences are quite apparent here, and clearly one overall grade on a report card does not accurately portray what is going on.
In a compelling analogy, Thomas R. Guskey, an expert on best practices in grading and reporting, states the following:
“If someone proposed combining measures of height, weight, diet, and exercise into a single number or mark to represent a person’s physical condition, we would consider it laughable. How could the combination of such diverse measures yield anything meaningful? Yet every day, teachers combine aspects of students’ achievement, attitude, responsibility, effort, and behavior into a single grade that is then recorded on a report card – and no one questions it.”
In the scenarios above, we see this hodgepodge, to use Guskey’s term for it, at work. In the case of Student A, what should be communicated to parents is that the student is truly struggling with the key concepts of the course – and needs help! – but doing an excellent job in work habits and participation. Conversely, Student B’s parents should be told that she has a brilliant mind when it comes to algebra but that her learning habits are incredibly poor – something that may have serious consequences as the material increases in difficulty.
Now at MAK, typically our staff do an incredible job of communicating this more detailed information to parents, usually through comments and conferences. But starting the first quarter of this year, we will have a change in our middle school report cards that will make this information even clearer and more readily available. This information is also available through the parent portal in Power School.
Middle school report cards this year will include two, rather than one, score. The first score, a traditional A, B, C, D, or F letter grade, will focus on product. By product we mean the what of the course – the content. This overall score will be determined from assignments that directly reflect performance on the course benchmarks. These will likely include things like quizzes, projects, and tests.
In order to differentiate between process and product, the process grade will be given on a numeric scale, and students will receive a 4, 3, 2, or 1 (4 being strong and 1 being poor). This score will reflect the how of student learning. Unlike the singular product grade, the process grade will be given in three categories: Engagement, Responsibility, and Respect, our core behavior guidelines in middle school (Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Engaged).
Scores like daily homework completion will contribute to the Responsibility score, and elements of participation that have to do with respect (for example, attitude toward classmates and the teacher) will now be a part of the Respect score. The Engagement category allows teachers to communicate with students and parents on many of the values of learning expressed on this space such as asking questions, taking risks, collaborating, and seeking the truth.
In our scenario above, then, each student’s scores would be communicated like this:
In the examples above, the conversation with the parents, teachers, and advisors of Student B will naturally focus on the process of her learning. Why does she have a hard time with engagement? Why is her attitude about learning so disparate from her content knowledge? These discussions will likely be related to her character. Conversations with Student A will focus on specific areas of the content that he struggles with. Moreover, by separating out the process more clearly, teachers, advisors, and parents can now see that while Student A completes assignments and is respectful, his interaction with the material – his engagement – looks to be having a negative effect on his learning.
At MAK we want to take seriously the value of true learning, and the heart of it is about the process of learning. By putting process in our quarterly reporting, we are allowing our values to be at the forefront of our assessment of student growth. Families have a better opportunity to discuss it. Advisors have a clearer vision of how to assist. Teachers are asked to consistently assess it and, more importantly, are able to better diagnose the problem. My hope is that through this tweak in reporting, the foundation of true learning can come closer to the fore.