Monday, September 6, 2010

Grade Postings - My First Mini-Roadblock

So, I realize that my approach to this SBG thing has been very different than others. I read posts from @druinok and @misscalcul8 and others as they are trying to get their minds around the assessment/reassessment routine with a certain level of detachment because I haven't made that piece a big part of my classroom dynamic. I knew there were downsides to that series of choices and I've been waiting for them to rear their ugly heads. No horrifying beast has emerged just yet, but I'm getting a sense of the nature of the monster when it does choose to make his appearance. So, let me pull back the curtains for you all on what awaits me:

The Background: Our school operates on a Block Schedule. My classes run for 90 minutes each day and the semester marks the end of the course. The class I am doing SBG in is actually two separate consecutive courses that incorporate the full body of Algebra 1 Content Standards in two distinct terms. The grade in one term has no impact on the other, with the exception that a failing grade in the first term will remove you from the course for the second term. Official Progress Reports are issued every 4 1/2 weeks but are grades are cumulative in nature throughout the term. Our administration requires that we assign two grades per week (on average) and grades are uploaded from Edline for Parent viewing once per week.

Our Approach to Grading: Our first unit of study runs approximately one full month. It includes a total of 9 specific content Target Skills. We are also starting to look at an additional 2 overarching Target Skills (Writing; Cooperative Work). We have no plans for mini-quizzes or assessments throughout the month. The kids are working on a group project that utilizes all 11 skills. On or around Sept. 28, they will also take a cumulative assessment that covers the 9 Target Skills plus some Writing. Their grades on the skills then will be based on their group project (which culminates with an individual written component) and the cumulative assessment. Opportunities for reassessment after that will exist throughout the semester and will be more targetted to specific objectives.

The Problem: I like the overall approach we are taking because I like the necessity of integration of the unit into a whole for assessment. It means, however, that we are left with a couple of equally unpleasant grading options as we are working our way through the unit:
  1. Leave the gradebook empty until the project and assessment are complete at the end of September. This will likely lead to parent complaints, and ultimately admin heat.
  2. Grade the students fairly low at this juncture (i.e. an A means to me a consistent 4, so it would be pretty much precluded at this stage because of the consistency ideal). Kids are demonstrating somewhat emergent abilities in some areas at this point. For example, the writing is extremely weak and not at all where we hope it to be. If we grade the students on what they are capable of demonstrating RIGHT NOW on these 11 objectives (i.e. using work samples, observations, and our pretest), we would be recording a lot of D's and C's which would likely lead to parent alarm.
  3. Grade them based on an observation from a given lesson. For example, after we taught Histograms on Friday, most of them demonstrated a level 3 understanding. The ability to regurgitate back what was just taught, however, without truly mastering the material is fairly common with all learners... particularly true with students with Learning Disabilities. If we record a bunch of B-type grades at this point, we will likely be lowering many of them when they attempt to apply the skills on their project and/or assessment. Lowering grades is something we want to do only in extreme cases because it is here that we fear the most backlash. We have aimed to grade conservative, with the room to raise grades in an effort to avoid too many scenarios such as this.

A Possible Solution: My mind has been toying with this all weekend. I logged on to our Edline to play around with the grades and see what options exist. We generally record letter grades, but I realized that it will take a 0-4 set of numerical data and convert it to the corresponding letter grade (4-A, 3-B, etc.). This doesn't necessarily eliminate the problem, but it does allow the parents to see a set of numerical grades alongside the "traditional grade." We can also assign each grade (Target Skill, in our case) a value of 0 points. This would, I believe, cause the parents to see a set of numerical grades without a corresponding letter grade. It would at least provide parents with some concrete feedback, thus mitigating the intensity of parent reaction to approach #1 (above), but there would still be the "So, what is his/her grade?!?" question to contend with.

Perhaps I should just take it as it comes but I'm trying to avoid a situation that leads to a parent calling one of our principals, or worse, the Board Office to complain...leading to the ole' other foot dropping down and killing our SBG initiative before we are really under way.

Any thoughts? What seems to the lesser of the evils here? Or do any of you have a better suggestion?

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