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Grading on What Students LEARN, Not What They EARN

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Ask most traditional high school teachers how they handle a student who doesn’t submit an assignment and their answer most likely will be this: The student receives a grade of a zero for that assignment. Ask that same teacher to explain to you what their justification for that practice is, and I’ll bet you will get an answer like this: The zero will lower the student’s overall grade, thus motivating them to try harder the next time. The zeros serves as a punishment for not doing the work in the first place. School leaders, I’m going to be blunt with you. If these answers seem acceptable to you, I am here to tell you as a fellow school leader that you need to rethink what the purpose of grading is. Grading does not exist to punish students. Low grades such as zeros will not motivate students. The true purpose of grading is this: Grading is about what students LEARN, not what they EARN.
On this topic, last month Deborah Yaffe of District Administrationwrote a compelling article to school…

Competency-Based Education: Lessons Learned After a Decade of Transformation

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It has been nearly a decade since Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire made the decision to shift to a competency-based system of learning. Having served as the high school principal during this transformation, I learned a great deal about what worked for us and what we would avoid if we had it to do over again. Competency-based learning is sometimes referred to as mastery learning, proficiency-based learning, and even, to a lesser degree, standards-based learning. To be clear, we need a common understanding of what this model means for schools. Chris Sturgis (2015), provides context for this by identifying five tenets for competency based learning in schools today. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.Learning…

What Are You Thankful For as an Educator?

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Later this week, most of us will gather with friends and family to celebrate the tradition known as Thanksgiving. Whether you plan to celebrate in a traditional manner with turkey and all the trimmings or whether you plan to take the road less traveled, let’s take some time to celebrate some reasons why it is great to be an educator in this day and age. To help you develop your own list, I share with you the seven things that I am thankful for this season as an educator.
7. I am thankful for the educators that I learn from each day. There are thousands of educators from coast to coast who regularly share resources, tips, and strategies that you can use to become a better educator. Not sure who to follow? The website TeachThought has compiled a list of over 50 educational blogs worth following. Do you learn better from Twitter? The website Getting Smart maintains a list of 125+ educators worth following on Twitter. I’m on that list, you can follow me on Twitter here!  
6. I’m thankful th…

The Impact of Suspensions on Students With Disabilities

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As a high school principal, the kind of meeting I hate having the most is one with the parent of a student who has just engaged in behavior in the school that warrants, according to our School Board policies, a suspension from school for a period of time. In these kinds of meetings parents and guardians, rightly so, ask what good will come of keeping their child out of school where they will fall further and further behind from their peers. They are absolutely right. Over the last decade, my school has worked hard to reduce the number of infractions that lead to an out of school suspension and instead incorporate other forms of disciplinary consequences and restorative justice practices. My school has also looked at ways that the number of suspension days can be reduced for infractions that do require an out of school suspension. Still, I don’t believe that ur efforts have been enough, and what worries me further is that other schools are even further behind than my school in their un…

Effective School Communication

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As a school principal for a medium-sized New Hampshire high school, I am always looking for the best way to communicate with my school’s stakeholders. There are so many choices these days including email, text, automated phone messages, social media, and the good old fashioned traditional letter in the mail. While there may be a time and a place for each of these means of communication, the research suggests that some are better than others when it comes to providing effective communication from the school.
In a recent eSchool News article, Meris Stansbury asks, “What does the research say about how parents and school communicate? Is there an overall preference?” In the article, Stansbury suggests that parents are looking for communication from schools to be “timely, targeted, and personalized to their children or their interest areas.” The article referenced the latest data from the Speak Up Research Project, including this observation: Approximately one third of parents surveyed indi…

When School is a Game, Nobody Wins

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As school principals, most of us are measured by how many of our students “meet the standard” for “getting to the next level” and therefore we often focus first on making sure that failing students don’t fall too far behind. But what if this is the wrong metric and the wrong mentality? The fact is that the way we measure educational achievement today puts too much emphasis on staying above the bare minimum, rather than aiming as high as possible. And I’m not just talking about helping the most gifted students do even better. Too many of our students at all levels have figured out how to be “successful” without mastering all of the skills they actually need. If we are to truly advance learning in our schools, something needs to change, and it needs to change fast.
To prove this point, consider Kasey, a typical eleventh grade student. Kasey has a stable family support system and aspires to go to college. Her parents know what colleges look for in the admissions process, and together they…

Shifting Gears To Competency-Based Learning Through PLCs at Work™

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This blog article was written originally for Solution Tree by Jonathan Vander Els and Brian Stack. The link to the original article is here. “Once you learn, you never forget.” We have all heard that statement as it relates to riding a bicycle, and any of us who has ever taught a child to ride a bike know that for most children, this learning process requires time, patience, and perseverance. Riding a bike isn’t easy. Children are required to transfer their learning of a number of different skills (pedaling, balancing, steering, turning, and stopping, for example) and eventually put these distinct skills together to be a successful bike rider. For those of us in a position to provide the support and guidance, we find ourselves constantly providing feedback, with the ultimate goal of helping the child learn how to ride a bike safely and successfully, recognizing that they had to start somewhere. We have all been in this position in the learning process, either as the learner or the tea…