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  

No comments:

Post a Comment