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Category: Project 180 (page 1 of 17)

I Reject Your Reality: Project 180, Day 165


“Ironically, neither this narrower grade distribution nor a century of research and experience in scoring students’ writing seems to have improved the reliability of the percentage grades assigned by teachers. Recently, Hunter Brimi (2011) replicated Starch and Elliott’s 1912 study and attained almost identical results. Brimi asked 90 high school teachers²who had received nearly 20 hours of training in a writing 3 assessment program²to grade the same student paper on a 100-point percentage scale. Among the 73 teachers who responded, scores ranged from 50 to 96. And that’s among teachers who received specific professional development in writing assessment!

So even if one accepts the idea that there are truly 100 discernible levels of student writing performance, it’s clear that even well-trained teachers cannot distinguish among those different levels with much accuracy or consistency.”

–Thomas Guskey


As I begin to look ahead, I must look back. And as I look back, I begin to recall the myriad reasons I began Project 180 in the first place. And so, as the year continues to wind down and the Project prepares to pause, I will begin to reexamine some of the “why’s”of 180. I will present them in no particular order.

I Reject This #1: There exists no-real evidence to support traditional, percentage-based grading practices.


It is what I have called education’s dirty little secret. And what’s sad is that it’s a lie that most educators unwittingly perpetuate because no one taught us differently. In truth, traditional percentage grades have been in play so long that few ever really question their effectiveness, and what’s more, in most cases, we simply use them because they were used on us.

Most outside of education, I believe, assume that there exists a standard uniformity to grading practices in our public schools, that there is a tried-and-true system in place to ensure accuracy, objectivity, and reliability when it comes to grading. It’s a lie. For the most part, teachers grade how they want to grade, enjoying an incredible amount of autonomy. Most of us only took a 3-credit course on assessment in college, which only–if it all–presented a broad stroke of the grading landscape across a sparse canvas, a canvas that we were then forced to fill on our own to survive, which resulted in our necessarily reverting back to how we were graded, leading us to make things up along the way. That, in a nutshell, is the expanse of teachers’ grading expertise.

Deep down I think I knew this a long time ago, but in the absence of any real answers or help, I conformed to the system because it was there. And I am not alone. I know others, many others, who, too, have struggled with traditional grading, wondering, really, if it was helping or hurting learning in their classrooms. And finally, after stumbling across standards-based grading, the 15 Fixes, and other alternative views of grading practices, I started to shed my traditional robes, seeking to make changes in my classroom that made better sense when it came to responding to student work and reporting student achievement. Last year, I reached my breaking point, and decided to wholly reject the status quo, seeking to call attention to the lie.

I gave every kid an “A” at the beginning of the year. I did it to take grading off the table, completely off the table, so the focus would have to be learning. I did it on a hunch that kids will work without grades, that kids can learn without grades. I did it to call attention to and raise the alarm over the BS in traditional grading practices. I did it to swing the pendulum too far the other way, so perhaps we could eventually come to a balanced rest in the middle. I did it to reject traditional grading practices. I did it because I was tired of looking at the absurd grotesqueness of a naked emperor. I did it because I believe we can and have to do better.

And to that end, the pendulum has already begun to swing back the other direction, as I seek to refine my grading practices from what I have learned this year. But I will never go back. Never. And though this year’s journey with 180 is near its end, my crusade has just begun.

Happy Friday, all.

Teamwork: Project 180, Day 164

Yesterday, after several early-morning meetings, Ms. Tamura, Ms. Alderete, and I put the finishing touches on the document that outlines our unified approach for grading next year. And while I am pleased with the product, which I will share in the coming days, I am more proud of the process. We three work really well together. We share a genuine love for kids, a common vision for learning, and a undying devotion to progress. Armed with these shared attributes, we dive willingly and deeply into our work. And though we get along famously, often finding our work interrupted with fits of laughter, we just as often have tough, candid conversations, which frequently lead us to disagreement. But we have learned to embrace those moments as necessary steps in our collaborative journeys, seeking compromise, finding middle ground.

And our recent work has certainly been a testament to the strength of our personal and professional relationships. Case in point, one of the cool features of Google Docs is that keeps track of your revisions; even cooler, you can watch the Draftback, a “video” of all the changes you’ve made along the way. Our current document, ended up with 5,585 revisions. One, this is an indication of the time we spent. Two, this is an indication of the careful work that we put into this endeavor. I am so lucky to have these two awesome vibes in my tribe. They are selfless, dedicated, passionate educators, who above all else, are willing to put up with and follow my crazy. Couldn’t do it without you, ladies. So proud of the work we’ve begun. So excited by the years of work that remain.

What’s next? This morning we will set to work on our Google Slide presentation for rolling out our plan and vision to kids next year. We will present our work to the administrators and counselors before year’s end, so they have an opportunity to see our vision and offer input. Excited to continue this journey with my tribe.

Happy Thursday, all.

For Them: Project 180, Day 163

Best job. Tough job. It is especially tough this time of year.  But despite the challenges, teachers lead blessed lives. Not sure I could/would do this job if not for the kids. They keep me young. They keep me inspired. They keep me striving to better myself and education every single day. And while I am so looking forward to summer’s rest, I am also dreading the days ahead without they who lift me up. For them, I would teach all year. For them, I would teach for free. For them, I would challenge the world. For them.

Happy Wednesday, all.

The Loser Test: Project 180, Day 162

Got interviewed again yesterday. No flattering, make-me-look-better-than-I-really-am video included. No preparation. No anticipation. I was put on the spot.

Walking back from the office during my prep yesterday morning, I was hailed by Tony, Tony the Tough, Tony who is as likely to glare at me as she is to smile at me. But that’s the nature of our relationship, has been for nearly three years.

“Got noodles?”

Some of you already know this, but for those who don’t, I feed kids. I started having food available on occasion to now having a full-fledged project called Feed Forward, through which, with the generous help of our community, I am able to feed dozens of hungry kids each day.

“Uh, yeah, I think. Haven’t looked yet, but if I don’t, I have some out in my truck. Let’s go look.”

Turns out there were a few, but they were all beef. And Tony wanted chicken, so I told her to wait, and I hopped out to my truck, grabbing the now near-daily supply.

“Here you go, Tone.”

“Thank you,” she smiled. And the interview began.

“Why don’t you think I like you, Sy?”

Taken off-guard. “Oh, I know you like me, but I also know that I have a knack for irritating you. And so that’s how I find you most days–irritated. So I play along.”

“Well, I like you.” 

“I know, and I like you. But this is weird, Tone.  I’d rather say, ‘good morning, loser’ than exchange pleasantries with you. That’s who we are.”

“Do you like–really like–being a teacher?”



“‘Cause they overpay me to make fun of kids.”

“No, really, what’s so good about it?”

“Well, kids fill my cup every day. They make me happy. They keep me young and hopeful. And so, I try to make a difference for them.”

“You do. You are.” As she moved to the door.

“Thanks, loser.”

“Whatever, loser.” 

Interview over. Back to normal with Tony after a brief Twilight Zone episode. I know that some will raise a brow at my calling kids losers. I get it. My job is to build them up, not break them down. And so, ‘loser’ may not be the best choice of words. But I have used the “loser test” for years. I use it to gauge the strength of my relationships with kids. I figure if I can call them loser without their getting hurt or offended, then I am in. It’s really about trust. They know–they trust–that I am not being mean. They know, in albeit an odd way, that I am really saying, “I am fond of you.” Again, I know that some will scoff at such logic, but it works for me. And I think those who know me best know that there is nothing more important than relationships in my classroom. Of course, I don’t call all kids losers. And I certainly do not begin the year calling kids losers, for I have not yet earned their trust. But every year, for now over twenty years, I have utilized the loser test. That’s a lot of years. That’s a lot of losers. Love every one of them.

Happy Tuesday, all.




Brilliance: Project 180, Day 160

So many great moments yesterday. I want to share two.

For the speeches, the kids had to select an injustice to address. We loosely defined injustice as a wrong to be righted. It could be personal or universal, past or present. The kids then had to prepare and present a speech. And while the text of their speech certainly carries some significance, in truth the primary purpose of the task is to get kids to step up to the podium, face their fears of public speaking, and say something–to be a voice, to be heard. Yesterday, two kids’ voices in particular still reverberate and echo in my mind. They spoke. We listened. I can still hear them. They became voices in our little speck of the vast universe. Bright lights in endless space.

Dylan. All spring long in practice, he has struggled to face his fear of speaking. And yesterday–the day–he stood atop a precipice, and for one brief frozen moment, I thought he wasn’t going to be able to muster the courage, but as time resumed, he leaned into his first step and made his way to the podium. But even then, deep breaths and head shakes beset him, and I grimaced, willing him strength with nods of reassurance. And then the chorus began. “You got this, Dylan. You got this.” His peers, his community, hoisted him up, smiling and nodding. And then, he took one final breath, opened his mouth, and a masterpiece tumbled out. He not only did it; he did it beautifully. Truly. He spoke of the injustice of poor parenting in our society, calling on his peers to take the charge seriously when their time came. Such a wise young man, a young man I have gotten to know through his masterful essays this year, a young man who found his voice yesterday. Moment indeed.

Haley. Haley’s entire speech is below. She gave me permission to publish it this morning. To begin, Haley is perhaps the most obnoxiously optimistic, genuinely gregarious person I know. Her infectious smile and attitude extend as infinitely as her long blonde curls. She is such a force. She does not make an impression. She is an impression. As such, she has made a huge impact on me this year, and I have gotten to know her quite well. But, as I learned yesterday, I didn’t know her as well as I thought. None of us did. Out of trust, as she intimated in the preface to her speech, she shared a deep, personal part of herself, calling attention to the injustice of the quick labels that we place on the people around us without ever really getting to know them. She also invited mom to class. Who does that? Haley. Only Haley.

And so, with mom, a few friends, and another teacher as part of her entourage in the audience, she stepped to the podium, smiled her impossible smile and spoke to the world. And for four minutes, we all sat in wonder as we witnessed a masterful, beautiful performance from the young lady we all thought we knew. Truly a momentous moment. My heart soared for Haley. It soared for kids. It soared for humanity. Kids are truly amazing. Truly.

Happy Friday, all. More speeches today. More brilliant lights. Lucky man.

Who am I? (pause) The goofy, tall, blonde haired girl who can not stop smiling. (pause)

Smiling every day. Rain or sun. Monday or Friday. (pause) Even on the days where I forgot to

brush my teeth, you will still see that smile stretching from ear to ear. (pause)

But a smile is merely just a sticker placed on the face. (pause) A bit of cover up to hide the pain. (pause)

Many of you may or may not have already created this assumption of what my life may look like.

While I don’t know what that picture you have painted in your mind for me is, I do know that it is probably all wrong.

So, instead of letting you think that I am a teenage girl with a great life and all rainbows and unicorn frapuccinos, let me give you just a small glimpse into my past.

As a child I went through many things children are not suppose to go through. (pause)

While some children were out playing with their daddies, I didn’t see my “daddy”. (pause)  

Some may have been picking around their dinner wishing it was something else, while my mother would go without dinner in order to make sure I got something to eat.

For some, the smell of their grandma’s perfume filled their noses, for me, the smell of cigarette smoke crawled into my nostrils.

For some, birthdays were the best day of the year. For me, it was a reminder that I was the result of a teenage romance gone wrong. (pause)

For most children the the most painful thing they experienced was falling and scraping their knee.

My biggest pain was not my loneliness, or even my broken heart.(pause)

My biggest pain was listening to my mother cry and cry at night when no one was around. (pause)

The sound of her cry still lingers in my head. I will never get it out. It is stuck in there like glue.(pause)

The day we left was the greatest decision my mom ever made. My “daddy” didn’t agree.

As he grabbed my mother’s arm so hard it broke, the idea of never getting out of there seemed so real.

Grabbing her purse, choking her, ripping me out of her arms. There was nothing she could do to make it stop.

I screamed and reached for her. I wanted my mommy. (pause)

I do not know why….but…. I do know that it is by God’s grace that my mother and I are together today.

The sound of my screaming must have been the only thing that stopped this man from going any further.

Somehow in that moment of anger, the man whom I called daddy all my life became a man to fear.  (pause)

My childhood is merely stories, not memories. (pause)They have begun to disappear.

Unfortunately all I feel and remember is pain. Maybe it is because I don’t want to remember, or maybe I really cannot remember.

The small amount of memories I do remember are not ones that I like to think about; however, they are what make me who I am today.

I am not up here today to seek sympathy from all of you. Everyone goes through crap, and the crap I went through is not even close to the amount of crap some kiddos have been through. (pause)

I share these things with you in order for you all to see that behind the curls and pale skin lays a strong, confident girl who won’t let her past define her. (pause)

So when I ask “who am I”, the answer is Haley Rae Pemberton. (pause)

The goofy, tall, blonde haired girl who cannot stop smiling. (pause)

But now you know that smile represents something more. (pause)

I am not just a goofy, tall, blonde haired girl, but I am a broken, and damaged little girl.

I have been through a lot, and I have more to me than just that girl who is always happy.

That smile represents life. (pause) It represents my triumph.(pause) It represents how lucky I am to be here in front of you, living a healthy and lovely life. (pause)

We all have a story. (pause)

Tate is so much more than just the rodeo girl.

Luke is more than just the tall athletic guy.

Walter has more to him than just his humor.

Believe it or not, but even my bio dad had a long story of pain and suffering behind that drug-addicted, abusive face I grew up knowing.(pause)

We all have something behind the image that we work so hard to create for our peers.

For all you know the girl sitting right next to you could have been abused and beaten as a child and ripped out of her own home to go live with strangers. (pause)

Or the boy you pass by in the hall who is always wearing a black sweater with his head down, is shamed at home for his “lack” of manliness.

Our peers could be starving, harming themselves, abused, in pain.(pause) But we would never know because we don’t bother to get to know the real human beings that they are.(pause)

Unfortunately so many people these days go through this kind of thing.

They get a label from someone who doesn’t even know them that sticks with them whether they like it or not.

I stand here today in front of you with no smile. No cover up. No hiding.  Here I am. (pause)

This is the part where I say we should stop labeling and figure our lives out and yada yada. But this time I leave you with this one idea. (pause)

Before we fill out the name tag for another person, let’s take a step back and have a little sympathy for our peers.

I am not going to say we need to go out and get to know the personal side of every single person in this school.

But can we come together to be less quick to hand out a label to a person and instead give out smiles and high fives and compliments. (pause)

Because for all we know the Regina George of the school could be painting on a smile everyday to hide the pain no one knows about.  Thank you.

Life’s a Roller Coaster: Project 180, Day 159

Peaks and valleys. Heavy heart today. I will be attending a dear, nearly lifelong friend’s father’s funeral this afternoon. Hard to go from the high of the past few days to the low today. As my fellow teachers know, one of the bigger challenges of the job is turning off the outside world, so we can be fully present for our little critters. I will do my best. Of course, when we have relationships with our kiddos, they can be powerful supporters. They really are awesome little creatures.

Continuing with speeches today. Experienced some powerful moments yesterday. From a young black woman sharing her hopes and fears to a young gay man expressing the liberation of a revealed identity, we were struck to the core. Powerful stuff. Powerful kids. Powerful moments.

Happy Thursday, all.

Pep in My Step: Project 180, Day 158

Morning, all. Yesterday was a super day for me. Project 180 was validated–to a degree–by this year’s SBA scores. NEWESD 101 and STCU honored me with the above clip in their “101 in 101” campaign to honor previous ESD 101 Teachers of the Year. At times, Project 180 has been a long, hard journey, and yesterday I felt like things were finally coming together. It felt good. It came at the right time. It put some pep back in my step.

But, as those who know me best will attest, I am not one to rest for long. Much work remains. And with this year wrapping up, I am already charging ahead into next year, eager to take what I have learned and improve on it. And I am excited that I have picked up a couple of travel companions in Jenna Tamura and Maddie Alderete, my grade 10 team, to journey forth with me next year. In an earlier post, I had mentioned that we were collaborating on a unified grading approach at level 10 next year, and the work is well underway. We three have committed our early mornings for the rest of the year to roll up our sleeves and put our heads together to create and refine a grading approach that truly fosters both proficiency and growth in our classrooms. I am lucky to have two such partners with whom I can dig into this transformational work. We will share our plan by year’s end.

Back to speeches today. Kids in their moments, even more pep to my step. Gonna be another super day. Happy Wednesday, all.

The Scores Are In: Project 180, Day 157

Standardized test scores are not the end-all, be-all in education, but they do carry a fair amount of weight, especially when they are used–as they are at present–to determine who will graduate and who will not. They are published in the newspaper. They are made public on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s official website in the form of a “report card,” so parents and others may view how their schools and districts stacked up to the rest of the state. They are also scrutinized at the district level to see how individual teacher’s classes performed; my professional evaluation takes these scores into account.  And the list goes on. And until we come up with a better or different measure in education, it is, in most senses, “the measure.”

Of course, I have not been quiet about my concerns and doubts with such measurements, especially in regards to the current high-stakes, high-cost reality in which we presently find ourselves. But despite my misgivings, it remains our reality. It seems I cannot change that, for it’s hard to imagine that this politically-charged, money-making reality will chart a different course simply because of the protestations of educators like me. It’s our reality. It’s our measure.

And so, it is with that in mind that I go on to share this year’s scores. When I set out on the Project 180 journey last fall, whether I wanted it or not, this year’s SBA scores would be a factor in determining success at the end. If my kids had performed poorly, my critics would have been quick to cry foul on my approach this year, maybe uttering such things as, “Well, what did you expect? Did you really think that kids would learn, would grow when you gave them an “A” at the beginning of the year?” Yes, I did expect that. And yes, they did.

  • 84 students tested.
  • 81 students met SBA proficiency levels (96.5% proficient).
  • 82 students met Washington State graduation requirements (97.7%).
  • 53 (63%)of my students achieved Level 4 proficiency, which means they exceeded standard.
  • And while there are many scores to still come in, with 33,379 tests scored, the Washington State average proficiency rate is at 73%.

Over the coming days and weeks I will process what these results really mean as I reflect on my experiences with 180. But for now, I would offer that these scores suggest that we have a lot to learn about learning. With grades off the table this year, my students achieved a 5% higher proficiency rating than my “graded” kids last year. Lots of processing and reflecting. But for now,  I am going to enjoy the success of my kids. I am proud of them. I feel like they have lived into the A’s that I gifted them 157 days ago.

Happy Tuesday, all.


I’m Gonna Change the World: Project 180, Day 156


So excited to introduce “Project Change the World” today. This is but another culminating task that creates a kids-in-their-moments opportunity for me to witness and cherish as our time together comes to a close for the year. I have devoted Mondays and Tuesdays as work days for the project. We will continue to deliver speeches Wednesday through Friday until all are complete. Below is the introduction that I will share with the kids today. I am eager to see what they dreams they will seek to turn to realities. I eager to see them stretch their minds and discover their creative and imaginative capacities. In earnest, I believe they can change the world. I want them to believe that, too.

Project Change the World

When I better the world, I make a difference.

When I make a difference, I change the world.

So, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna change the world.  

General Overview and Guidelines

Your culminating task for the year is to come up with an idea and plan for bettering the world. Your plan can have a local, national, and/or global impact, but it must be something that somehow betters the world–big or small. You will compete against other teams in the international “Change the World” Summit in June.

  1. Create a project for bettering the world.
  2. You may work as an individual or in teams of two, three, or four but no more.
  3. You must develop a project plan/proposal (see specific guidelines below).
  4. You must present your project to the class.
  5. You will compete for the following awards of distinction: Most Original, Most Creative, Most Inspiring, Most Ambitious, Most Impressive Impact, Best Project Title, Best Logo, Best Slogan, Director’s Choice

Project Guidelines

Ideas are great, but ideas without plans never get very far. So, using the guidelines below, you will develop a plan for making your idea a reality. In an effort not to put any imaginative or creative limits on your idea, I am asking you to think beyond any present time or resource limitations that may present themselves. Remember, you are developing a plan; you are not necessarily putting that plan into action, though some plans may indeed be ready for action during the project. However, many of you will develop plans best left to some future time when you have the necessary resources. Dream big, but think realistically. The goal here is to create an actionable plan for bettering the world.

  1. Project Title: Please begin with the word “Project.” Project You Matter, Project Feed Forward, etc.
  2. Project Mission Statement: Here you will define and present the project goal.
  3. Project Logo and Slogan: This will mark the beginning of marketing your project. Think catchy. But also, think about communicating purpose.
  4. Project Plan: Here your job will be to create a comprehensive, realistic plan for your project. You need to think, “turn idea into reality.” More specific requirements for this part to follow.
  5. Proposal Letter to the “Change the World” Board: Here you will write a letter to the Board, pitching your plan, seeking a spot for the presentation round of the competition. Spots are limited. Letters must not exceed 250 words. Your goal here is to catch the attention of the Board, so they invite you to the presentation round.
  6. Presentation: If (when) you are invited to the summit, you will need to begin thinking of a compelling way to present your project. More specifics to follow as we get closer to June.

Happy Monday, all. So excited to get this project underway. Man, I love kids.

Sometimes It’s Too Much: Project 180, Day 155

Back at it today. We have a full complement of speeches scheduled each period. I can’t wait. I’ve said it a million times, and I will likely say it a million more, I love witnessing kids in their moments. For me, beyond the massive amounts of monetary compensation I receive for this job, there is nothing more rewarding. I purposefully end the year with speeches and presentations, for it provides the perfect opportunity for the kids to make final and lasting impressions. It becomes my last and, in many respects,  most memorable experience with my kids. Love it.

But for a few, it does not end with “happily ever after.” For a few, it abruptly stops with “the end.” No triumphant moment. No beautiful crescendo. No exclamation-pointed finale. Nope. A few never get on the stage. Collin (name changed) is one of those few this year. He will not deliver a speech this spring. He has chosen not to. Oh, he’s not being defiant or even resistant. He’s being real. For him, the glossophobia is too real. I know this. I have seen him struggle–truly struggle–with the practice opportunities, so when he came to me, barely able to speak or breathe with tears threatening, and told me he couldn’t do it, I was not surprised.  And so, I just simply looked him in the eyes and said, “Okay, Collin. Okay.” I patted him on the back, and he returned to his seat.

I had a decision to make. I, too, am making final, lasting impressions. Some may suggest that I have not helped this young man by letting him off the hook. There may be some truth there. But I am not convinced that making a kid do something that he is truly afraid of is going to really benefit him either. He wrote his speech. He participated in the practice opportunities. He made progress. I am not going to undermine that by making a power play at this point. His time will come when he’s ready. He’s not ready. For him, right now, it’s too much. I believe that. I honor that.

Fortunately, most of my kids are ready. And I know this because they have made a choice. I have told them since the beginning that I am not going to make anyone give a speech. It is their choice. It is an opportunity to grow. Either they will take the opportunity or they won’t. Commitment, not compliance is the path here. And I am beyond proud that most of my kids have committed. There is no grade to force compliance. There is only choice to prove commitment. I am proud that I have been able to get kids to commit to their growth in an area for which most find real fear. Proud of that.

Happy Friday, all.

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