One of the great hurdles to moving toward a Standards Based approach to learning, teaching, grading, and communicating is the fact that our students have been conditioned to operate in a points based system. They have been raised in a system that focuses more on earning points for grades than on standards based feedback focused on learning.
Educators and schools making the shift to SBL philosophies often develop strategies and plans for communicating SBL principles and practices to parents. The thinking is that parents have been conditioned by the same system that has trained their children and that parents will be upset if their children are faced with a new constructs, lingo, and grading practices. While communicating clearly with parents is important, focusing first on how to win over parents overlooks the most powerful communication ally teachers possess - students.
If students understand the goals of SBL and how it will benefit their learning, then they become powerful advocates for meaningful assessment strategies. Students are the buffer between school and home. We should never underestimate the importance of making sure that they understand the value of what we're doing with them in the classroom. If they can articulate a concept appropriately, then their parents are more likely to hear about practices such as SBL in a positive manner - even if we have never directly communicated with them about those practices.
Beth Denton, a wonderful Math teacher at Salem High School, recently shared the following email with me. The first paragraph is Beth's explanation to me. The second paragraph is from the student to Beth. Notice that Beth recognizes that the student is still too focused on the grade. However, the outcome, even if influenced by a desire for a higher grade, is one that leads to a student taking ownership of learning as a result of Beth's standard based feedback.
Here is the email I received from Beth:
An email from a concerned student. While it's still grade focused, I see hints that we're moving in the right direction. This student knows what she needs to improve on and is looking for MASTERY of the topics! Yay!Hi Mrs. Denton! I haven't gotten a chance to have a conversation with you about this so I thought I would send you and e-mail and come in some time next week after school to start working. My current grade in this class is an 87 and my goal for this semester is to have an A. I realize that since the points are different, my best bet is to make up some of the previous "1.0's" that I got and of course, continue to ace tests and any graded assignments. According to JumpRope, the skills that I personally need improvement on include: Determining whether figures have been rotated, dilated, or reflected, Parallel Lines cut by a transversal, and finally, The unit 5 congruent triangles portion of the test. I would like to improve my mastery on these skills not only to get my grade up, but to do well on these topics during the SOL. If you are available I plan to be staying after school as much as possible next week. So sorry for such a long e-mail haha! Thank you for understanding.
Are you training your students to think in terms of SBL? Are your students still coming to you chasing points, or are they, as Beth's student exemplifies, able to communicate their specific areas of strength and need based on your standards based feedback? (By the way, JumpRope, the standards based grading system referenced by the teacher, is a phenomenal tool for standards based commmuncation.)
If this student's parent were to ask her to explain how Mrs. Denton grades, I have no doubt that the students would be able to do so in a way that would cause the parent to appreciate Mrs. Denton's instructional practices. More importantly, this student would be able to communicate that Mrs. Denton is grading and assessing in a manner that enables her to learn.