Monday, April 20, 2009

Groundbreaking Progress Report

I spent last Saturday with the 5th and 2nd grade teams from my school and one other in our district learning about a new progress report they will be beta testing. (I was there because my former principal is heading up this project and she knows my very strong feelings about grades. She invited me to join them and give my feedback.)

This progress report is being created by our district and the folks at Thinkworks. They created the thinkblocks that many of us have blogged about recently. I've got a couple of pages of notes and thoughts from the day and other random ideas swirling around in my head. It may take a while for it all to settle and truly make sense to me, much less anyone else!

However, the gist of the new progress report is that it will include traditional content areas (math, reading, art, etc), social/citizenship skills (uses time wisely, works well with others, etc) and the patterns of thinking from the Thinkworks folks. This much I understood before Saturday.

The progress report will not have any letter grades. That's worth repeating in case it didn't really sink in, there will be no letter grades. Everything will be scored on a scale of 1 to 3. 1 means 'needs more time to approach standard.' 2 means 'approaches standard.' 3 means 'meets standard.' There is also what is being called a 3E, 'extends standard.'

Those scores will be used for the patterns of thinking in the same way as the traditional content areas. This will be the progress report for grades 1-6 in our district in a few years (if all goes well). I can't begin to describe how exciting I think this is.

I'm impressed with the elimination of letter grades. For years now I've felt that letter grades do little or nothing to communicate with parents about their children's learning. If that's the goal of a progress report I think it comes up short. I'm also very, very impressed with the idea of communicating progress on the patterns of thinking.

We talked a little on Saturday about students who would be successful in the patterns of thinking but not in the traditional content areas. I immediately thought of a student of mine from 5 years ago. He had a learning disability and was almost completely unable to decode text. As a result, he was convinced he was stupid. However, when I read a book aloud his comments and questions were the most insightful in our class. I'm not sure if it was his learning disability or his lack of confidence that made school so difficult for him, but I am sure that he deserved better. I think if he had been able to see his strengths on a progress report like this one it would have made a world of difference for him.

(I don't think this post makes nearly as much sense as I would like it to. For that, I apologize. I'll try to be more coherent in the future.)


Anonymous said...

It's great to get rid of the letters, but you've basically just switched to numbers. It may stay the way you intend it right now, but once teachers and administraters shuffle around and move on, it's going to be very tempting to turn those numbers into something other than straight representations...then you start getting "2.5" and "4". I'd be afraid of a gradual transition to a 4.0 GPA system, since so many people are familiar with that, and some might argue that it will prepare the students for their future grading systems.

Why not just print "needs more time to approach standard," "approaches standard," or "meets standard" in those spaces? Yes, it takes more space and ink, but room can be found on the paper versions and before long most of them will end up online. The benefit as far as being totally unambiguous to parents is great.

What's tricky is that teachers will likely be told to turn in their progress report grades as 1/2/3 no matter what is being printed, which means some teachers are probably going to grade assignments on the 1-3 scale and start averaging the numbers.

The only way I can think of to prevent this is to use initial letters to represent: maybe NT-A-M for needs time/approaches/meets. It might seem fractionally more difficult, but teachers are smart folks and I think ya'll would surprise us with how fast they adapt to the letters.

Teacherninja said...

Yea, no grades! I keep wondering when this will catch on. I didn't have grades in college (Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, or Incomplete) and it was so freeing. The hardest part is convincing parents, but I've seen it done. It just makes so much more sense.

Franki said...

It is so exciting that you are using the Patterns of Thinking in this progress report. This is so smart. Even if the actual progress report doesn't work out exactly as you hope, the talk around it has got to be amazing and making huge impacts on assessment and parent communication. A great message and a great way to think about kids and learning. Thanks for sharing:-)

katied said...

I was thrilled for you as I read this post! Any step toward communicating and helping families better understand student successes and struggles is huge! Good luck!

Tracey said...

This is our first year using standard based report cards. We use numbers and not letters too. It does take more space and time. Some averaging still can't help it. Too bad state testing doesn't match how we are grading them.

The Science Goddess said...

I hope that you'll share a sample of the progress report sometime. I'd love to see it!