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Out Here on the Frontier: Project 180, Day 167

Yesterday, I offered a glimpse of our grading plan for next year, asking for feedback, and I was pleased to have fellow gradeless frontiersman and Washington State teacher Aaron Blackwelder pose a few questions about our work. Thank you, Aaron. I have attempted to address your questions below. I am not sure how well I did, and I probably wandered a bit, but it was a great opportunity to walk through our thinking. Sorry it’s so long.

As I working through this lengthy explanation, I was struck by how much thought we frontiersmen and frontierswomen put into our work in an attempt to improve teaching and learning in our classrooms. And I also thought about those critical of the movement, and I wondered how frequently those folks post their work and seek feedback. When is the last time a traditional grader made public his policies for scrutiny? Ever? But, I guess if he were to do so,  he’d have to join us out here on the frontier, where things are hard won. But that’s why we are here out on the frontier. We believe that nothing worthwhile is easy. We believe that there exists a better way. And we embrace the hard work necessary to build a better world for those we serve. We are frontiersmen.

Happy Wednesday, all. Big shout out to all my fellow frontier men and women. We can do this. We are doing this.

Q1: At what point do you determine if a student can simply make up/revise work to meet proficiency to earn credit or require him repeat the class? My colleagues and I are currently wrestling with this concept now.

Great question. We, too, grappled with how to address this issue in our approach. Here is our present thinking around using SBA results for students to demonstrate proficiency and earn credit when they have not done so within a grading period.

Our Must-Meet standards will closely align with the high frequency, emphasized targets found on the SBA. For instance, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1, “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text,” is central to the SBA. It is also central to our classrooms. Focus Standard #4: “I can integrate cited text evidence into my writing to support my thinking.” With that in mind, when a student passes the SBA, we will have measure of confidence that he/she has satisfied our requirement for the Must-Meet standard. At present, SBA scores are still linked to graduation, so we feel this is a fair trade. Of course, if the SBA scores are delinked from graduation, we will have to rethink this.

Must-Meet “proficiency” must be demonstrated on Performance Opportunities, formal opportunities designed to demonstrate proficiency with the standards. While kids may always make-up/revise Practice as a means to make progress, this will not be considered for Must-Meet proficiency. Of course, this means that we will have to recreate some Performances so kids have continued opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.

Our district does not allow students to retake classes. If students fail a class, then they have an opportunity to retrieve credit in our after-school or summer-school credit-retrieval programs. However, the other grade 10 teachers and I do not necessarily have a lot of faith in this being a fair trade, which is another reason for why we settled with the SBA. Since kids will not have an opportunity to be with us again the following year, we were forced to find an acceptable alternative for them to earn credit once they have left us.

We anticipate very few students being in this boat. Must-Meet means high expectations. And this is as true for us as it is for our kids. So, just as we set must-meet expectations for them, we will also set high-support expectations for ourselves, which requires a concerted effort to provide the necessary supports and opportunities for the kids to achieve proficiency. Our goal for each term is that every kid demonstrates proficiency with the Must-Meet standards. For the few who do not, we, again, think passing the SBA is a fair trade.

 But, that said, and this is not something that we will necessarily advertise, we did discuss that there might be some situations where we can and will make some exceptions. For instance, if a kid has met 3 of the 4 Must-Meet standards and is really close with the fourth, then we imagine personalizing a plan for them to demonstrate proficiency either the next semester if they are still with us, or the next year as long as we are able to create the right conditions with the next year’s teacher. But this is where we felt like we were beginning to wade into the mud, which is why we settled with the SBA plan. We wondered here, too, if we would then let the kid self-select a grade or if he would just get a “Satisfactory.” And again, it started to feel muddy, so we settled with the latter. What’s more, we figured that the few who do actually find themselves in this boat will  be more worried about earning credit than selecting a grade.

Q2: Why differentiate between “Near Miss” and “Far Miss” if either is going to require a student to make up/redo/revise work? Do you have clear descriptors of the two levels?

Another good question. Couple of things going on here with our thinking. I’ll do my best.

We have found “Near Miss” and “Far Miss” to be student and parent friendly. But we have also found it to be teacher friendly, allowing our professional judgment to come into play with each individual performance, more fluidly addressing the things that don’t always fit neatly into rubric cells. Really, we only provide clear, descriptive criteria for the target. From there, with each attempt,  we want kids to know how close they are to the target if they don’t hit it. The articulation of this through feedback calls attention not only to the target but also to what needs to happen to help move them closer to the target. The distinction between “near’ and “far” relies on professional judgment, which is supported by the language in the target descriptors. Again, the goal here is to help kids see where they are in relation to the target.

Skyward, our online grading system, is our most consistent, continuous form of communication with parents. Because there will be no “grades” to report all semester, we want a consistent way to meaningfully communicate progress to parents. Regardless of whether the “redo” is required or optional, we want to communicate to kids and parents where the attempt landed.

For Practice, we want parents to know the level of completion. Our hope, here, is that parents and kids begin to see a connection between practice and performance. And while we would never penalize a kid for incomplete practice, we do hold that practice is generally consequential to one’s performance. Thus, by keeping record of completed practice, we believe we help provide a piece of history of sorts for kids to reflect on as they analyze their learning journeys over the term, hopefully making a connection between practice and performance.

For Performance, we want parents to know how kids are performing relative to the standards. Our hope, here, is that parents utilize performance scores as a catalyst for either making contact with us and/or encouraging their child to actively seek retake opportunities. We really need parents to be partners, so our hope is that we provide a simple but meaningful way to communicate progress.

We are striving for consistency. Admittedly, “near” and “far” fit Performance better than Practice.  Certainly, “near miss” and “far miss” more clearly connect with the idea of hitting a target, but as for Practice and completion, the connection is less clear. Still, we believe it works, and we ultimately settled for consistency over clarity. We are gambling that parents and kids will “get” that, for completion, a near miss indicates “mostly complete” and a far miss indicates “mostly incomplete.” It’s not perfect. But it’s what we’re going with for now. If it doesn’t work, we will change it.


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