I’ve been studying and investigating standards-based learning, including grading and reporting, for about 12 years or so now. Back in the spring or summer of 2004, when I was a K-12 curriculum coordinator for a large nonpublic school system, one of our high school principals had attended an ASCD conference in Denver. He came back and said he heard this guy named Ken O’Connor speak about shifting away from how we’ve always done grading in the classroom and toward new practices that allow for much clearer communication about student learning. This principal thought our system should have Ken in to talk to us about these new ideas. We all agreed, and it fell to me to arrange for this in the fall of 2004.
Well, once Ken arrived to visit with us over two days, I, the wearer of many hats at the time, fell to being his chauffeur. In our system, our schools sat spread out over the whole southwest quadrant of the state of Iowa, so I arranged for Ken to present to a large group of administrators and teachers in one section of the state, and then the next day he would present to the other half of our educators in another section of the state. He and I had a lot of car time, and in fact, we became good friends through all of our car-time discussion about education and, OK, golf. And OK, politics.
Long story short, I have been working with (then nonpublic and now public) schools in Iowa for years on supporting them to make shifts to repair their broken grading systems. I have used Ken’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades with many schools. As Ken himself might say, all the fixes are important, but Fix 1 (separating student behavior from academic learning) and Fix 8 (using performance standards/levels) are perhaps more key than others for genuinely shifting to new, sound, clear, and beneficial grading practices within standards-based learning systems.
I would offer, though, that implementing Fix 8 is a lot easier said than done. We educators have used a 101-point grading scale (0-100) for a very long time, with no super well-known reason for doing so. Parents are familiar with it, community members too. Tradition often drives things, and it seems tradition has been driving our classroom grading methods for decades, with no research base, to boot. Shifting to using performance levels is a solid new practice, but you might ask, How do we do this? What might a performance scale look like? As Ken states in the explanation of Fix 8, “The challenge is to create clear descriptors of our overall levels so that we have a delineated achievement continuum within which we can consistently judge student achievement to be competent or to deserve a certain grade….The most important performance standards, [however], are those used to give students feedback and/or scores on their demonstrations of learning” (p.69).
If you’re a classroom teacher, or a leader in a building or system, and if you are at just the beginning of your understanding of what performance levels are and how they’re used, this session could be for you!
I’d be pleased to have you join me in our breakout called “Fix 8—Creating Performance Levels: How Do We Make this Fix Come to Life?” It will be held Thursday, Dec. 1, from 2:45-4:00. Our learning targets will be the following:
We’ll read, talk, discuss, question, and create. I hope you can join me!
Becca Lindahl earned her doctorate in administrator leadership in teaching and learning from Walden University. She currently is a Professional Learning & Leadership Consultant with Heartland AEA 11, a mid-level state educational agency in Iowa whose consultants work side by side with central Iowa teachers and administrators. Becca supports K-12 educators in accredited public and nonpublic schools as they strive to implement Iowa Core/Common Core and national standards. This support includes helping districts and schools, through system-level change, become assessment literate and implement sound standards-based grading and reporting practices. Becca also helps schools put into action effective collaborative teaming practices within a larger professional learning community. As well, she helps lead systems-level work in adult learning.
Before supporting schools in Heartland, Becca was a central Iowa high school French, English, and Spanish teacher for 17 years. From there she became a high school principal in central Wisconsin, and then, upon moving back to central Iowa, she became a K-12 curriculum leader for several years. She brings to her consultant’s role the many hats she’s worn and a passion for supporting educators as they do the hard work of continuous improvement for students.
Ken O’Connor is a former Curriculum Coordinator with the Scarborough Board of Education in Ontario, Canada. He is an expert on grading and reporting with a particular emphasis on using these techniques to improve student achievement through student involvement. With over twenty years of teaching experience in secondary schools in Australia and Ontario, he has presented hundreds of workshops for teachers at every grade level. Ken is the author of A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, 2/e, Pearson (2010).