Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What is the purpose of grades?

Musings from BVP Director of Academics Dr. Lori McEwen

Three times a year, BVP scholars and their parents await the release of report cards.
As families review the report card together, some may celebrate while others console.

In my own home, with my two middle-school aged children, we see letter grades.  My children are pleased to bring home As and worried about Bs or Cs.  As a parent, my initial response is often to feel pride over that high mark and worry over a lower one. As an educator, though, I immediately question both the grade and my gut reaction to it. 

After all, what does that ‘B’ tell me? Does it accurately and adequately explain what my child now knows and can do? Does it mean that she understands and can do 85% of what is expected at that grade level? Does it mean he understands the material, but failed to turn in some work? Does it mean she did better on some more highly-weighted tests or that the average of several quizzes raised his grade? Does an A indicate true mastery or lots of extra credit work turned in before the end of the marking period?

The answers to those questions-- for families, scholars and teachers-- should be clear. Grades should report an accurate description of what students have learned and are able to do.  At our two BVP elementary schools, report cards are designed to do just that. This year, we will do the same at our middle school, letting scholars, families and teachers discuss progress in terms of proficiency on our identified essential standards. This is Standards-Based Grading (SBG), also referred to as proficiency-based grading and competency-based grading.  

Standards-based grading allows teachers, scholars, and families to discuss learning and proficiency in specific terms.  Previously at the middle school, grades were reported as an average of quizzes, tests, homework, exit tickets, etc.  An average can give us false information in either direction.  It is possible for two children--one who does well on review quizzes early in the year, but poorly as new material gets more difficult and another who does poorly at first, but doubles his effort and does better as time goes on-- to receive the same averaged grade, yet clearly we cannot say they are equally proficient or that they need the same level of support for learning. 

SBG allows us to report levels of  proficiency on each standard, so that the teacher and the learner can identify specific areas for growth. This allows us to truly hold scholars to high expectations, while supporting where necessary.  Further, SBG helps scholars advocate for themselves and assume real responsibility for their own learning by showing them where they stand with regard to mastery.

Especially for those new to SBG, one brief blog post is not sufficient.  Questions about how this plays out on a daily basis and whether scholars will still receive grades on individual assignments (short answer: yes!) and how this plays out as we move from middle school to high school will be discussed in a number of formats, including several coffee hours with Mrs. Souza and other MS staff*.  In the meantime, you might read this article and view this video. Feel free to contact me directly with questions as well.

In the end, we want our scholars to truly lay claim to that moniker.  Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a scholar as “a person of deep wisdom or learning.”  Grades that focus on learning allow our scholars to take control of that learning as they gain deep wisdom.   

*Mrs. Souza is holding information sessions during her coffee hours for middle school parents on the following dates:
·        Saturday, September 21st from 11:00 am-12:00 pm
·        Tuesday, September 24th from 9am-10am
·        Thursday, September 26th from 6:30 pm-7:30 pm
If you are interested in attending one of these sessions, please contact Ms. Cruz at (401) 475-2680 or  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What the First Day of a New School Year Means To Me: A BVP Blog Series

 Thoughts from a Converted Comfort-Seeker and Rhode Island Mayoral Academies Chief Communications Officer

My message to BVP scholars:

When I was a kid going back to school meant a mixture of nerves and excitement—that uncomfortable flutter in your belly that comes with a new year, room, teacher, and classmates.  
I remember starting every year feeling like a fish out of water. I just wanted to get to the point where everything would feel familiar again, when I would know what to expect from every day. Inevitably, that would happen. Everything would become predictable and rote.

Now that I am an adult—and know what good education looks like—I wish my schooling experience had been different. I wish my teachers had surprised me more on a day-to-day basis—encouraged me to reach for more and pushed me beyond what felt comfortable.

Why? Because “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Today, I know that going back to school can and should mean endless possibilities. Minds opening. Horizons expanding.

So, from an anxiety-ridden, not-so-wonderfully-educated kid who turned into a not-so-bad, super-educated adult, I ask all of you supremely intelligent scholars to embrace your inner greatness! Own it. Believe it. And then, push yourself as far as you think you can go. Then, go further.

Going back to school should mean pushing past the place that is a bit uncomfortable, and surprising yourself with all you are capable of accomplishing. You can achieve more than you ever dreamed if you are willing to work through the stumbles and the roadblocks.

Going back to school means challenging yourself to accept new ideas, new people, and new spaces because they might be the greatest ideas, people, and spaces you ever meet! And, who wants to miss out on that by being afraid?

Remember that you have so many people in your corner! Your Blackstone Valley Prep teachers will make your tummies flutter, not with anxiety, but with anticipation of the incredible things you are going to learn on your first, fifth, and 180th day of school. They will support and cheer you on as you reach your goals. And don’t forget how much your parents believe in you. They are your first and best teachers!

So, go forth and prosper, BVP scholars.  Your possibilities are endless. You certainly “got college,” but maybe you also got PhD, or entrepreneur, or world traveler, or foster parent, caregiver, or all of the above!  Don’t settle for the comfortable. Embrace the new and the unexpected and the world will offer you unlimited gifts.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What the First Day of a New School Year Means to Me: A BVP Blog Series

 Thoughts from a Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy Parent

What does the first day of school mean to me?

It means getting back into a routine, early wake-ups, sleepy faces, brushing long hair, big kisses and hugs, buses and happiness— happiness not because I'm the mom who wants to rush summer along, but because I just don't want to hear “I’m bored!” again. 

Mostly, though, I want it to move along because I simply can't wait to be part of this amazing community at BVP again. I can't wait to learn about all the exciting leaps and bounds my daughter will make in first grade. Her education at BVP has gone so far above my expectations. I'm thrilled that she will be surrounded by friends, teachers and staff that she loves. I really couldn't ask for better.

I'm also excited for myself! I'm looking forward to being involved with my daughters’ education, meeting her new teachers and helping out in any way that I can. The Family Leadership Council (FLC)! What more can I say? I love the FLC and hanging out with all the new friends I've made there. I encourage all families to come to a FLC meeting and see what it's all about, share your ideas to help better the community, and get involved in some awesome events— all while making great friends.

At this point, with the first day right around the corner, the only thing that would make everything complete would be for my daughter’s school— BVP Elementary School 2— to have a permanent home. As we seek approval for this at 52 Broad Street in Cumberland, I'm emotional.  This would be so amazing for the community. Not only would more families be given the choice to send their children to BVP for many years to come, we would have a beautiful building to call home, and an awesome playground for all children in the community to utilize.

It is my greatest hope that other parents and families will have the chance to feel what I will on this first day of school: immense pride and gratitude for the opportunity to send my child to a high quality public school in my community. 

Jessica Bliss
Proud BVP ES2 Mom, Life-long Cumberland Resident