The Common Core is the Latest Reason Your School Should Move to Competency-Based Grading



Recently, The Atlantic’s Jessica Lahey reported out on how the adoption of the Common Core could usher in a new era of standards-based grading. In her article Letter grades Deserve an F, Lahey went on to describe all the reasons why a traditional grading system is inherently flawed and how, when properly constructed and supported, a standards-based grading system is a more powerful, meaningful, and relevant way to measure student learning.

If your school hasn’t started discussions on what it would take to move to a standards-based model, I hope this article will inspire you to finally start planning. My school made the switch five years ago and we haven’t looked back. On a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, administrators in my District are asked by educators from all over the country and the world how they can begin this process. I’ll share with you some of the advice our team gives them.

Step 1: Educate yourself as an administrator on the standards-based grading philosophy and how it is structured in schools today. Educational researchers like Rose Colby, Tom Guskey, Robert Marzano, Ken O’Connor, Doug Reeves, Rick Stiggins, and Rick Wormeli have written countless books and articles on the topic, they have conducted research in schools all over the country, and they share their work regularly with educators all over the world.

Step 2: Decide with your school what it is you want all students to learn. Whether you organize this work into standards, competencies, or proficiencies, these learning expectations should be written in such a way so as to measure a student’s ability to apply content knowledge and skills in and/or across content area(s). You should be able to separate school-wide learning expectations from course-specific learning expectations. To check your competencies for rigor, use a tool like the Competency Validation Rubric developed by the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Step 3: Decide how you are going to assess student learning. Develop a new philosophy for grading as well as a common set of grading procedures for your school. In your procedures, explain how your school will separate academic behaviors from grades. Explain how teachers will use both formative and summative performance assessments. The research suggests your common grading procedures should address the elimination of zeros, allowing for reassessment, moving away from an “average by quarter” system to a total points rolling grade system, and moving from a 100 point scale to a rubric scale. O’Connor offers a sample policy in his book How to Grade for Learning, K-12.

Step 4: Decide how you are going to change the organization of your school so that your teachers can respond when students aren’t learning and also when they have already learned a topic or skill. A Small Learning Community model can be an effective way to organize students by grade-level. The Professional Learning Community model, when correctly implemented and supported by administrators, organizes teachers into teams who work interdependently to advance student learning and academic performance for which they are collectively responsible and mutually accountable. Build daily flexible grouping times into your school’s bell schedule and empower your teacher teams to use those times to provide relearning and enrichment opportunities for students.

Step 5: Jump in! There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.” Once you take the time to study the standards-based model, you will be convinced that the traditional grading model you use is both unfair and a poor measure of student learning. This means that for every day you don’t make the move to go standards-based, your students will be losing ground with their peers. Don’t have that guilt. Get started. What are you waiting for? 

This article was originally written for MultiBriefs.

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