What Does An A Mean?

Recently, I sat in and listened to a conversation between a group of ninth grade students students and a representative from the Great Schools Partnership. He asked them What does an A mean? Here are some of the answers he received:

  • You are really good at copying things from the board.
  • You handed in your homework.
  • You did all your work.

While I listened, here are a few thoughts that came to my mind from the question:

  • With current grading practices, an A is subjective, and holds little relevance as to what a student has learned.
  • Grades are often inflated by habits of work (HOW) instead of demonstrating mastery of a standard.
  • Without a common philosophy and practice around grading, a learning institution will not be able to provide appropriate supports for students.

In the student’s responses, I heard more about compliance than I did about a student demonstrating what it is that they learned. We have created and fostered a grading system that trains students to learn how to game the system, and game it they do.

For educators to personalize learning for all students, and provided opportunities for durable learning, we must abandon our archaic grading system. A standards-based grading system (SBG), or as some call it, a mastery-based grading system, is a viable way to assess student’s on their knowledge in any given subject area, while providing teachers a more accurate system to validate student learning.

While there is much momentum towards standards-based grading, there is still one hurdle that threatens to derail any implementation. In a SBG system, students can move through content at a pace that is best suited to their needs. Therefore, some students will move through curriculum quickly, while others take longer. Maybe, the standard K-12 trajectory will look more like a K-11, or K-10. Or, for those students who need a bit more time, K-13 or K-14.

Breaking the conventional paradigm will take much effort, especially when rallying community and parent support. It’s easy tell parents that their student is going to graduate early, embark on their next stage ahead of their peers, and be privy to a host of opportunities. It is a whole other conversation explaining to students and parents the benefits of delaying graduation.

Our students deserve a better grading system, and SBG may hold the key. Let’s just make sure we take our time and do it right.

Are you or your district implementing an SBG system? Take a moment to share your roadblocks and success in the comments.

Use Empathy To Connect With Students

After years of struggling in school I found myself faced with a life altering decision, Should I drop out? I was sixteen years old. Up to that point, I had struggled with a documented LD, was retained twice, been suspended numerous times, and shipped out of district to an alternative program. My mother and I were on welfare, and my father was nowhere to be found. So, with all the wisdom and foresight my adolescent self could muster, I made a choice. I dropped out of school.

That was twenty-four years ago. Today, as an assistant principal, I find myself working with kids ready to make the same decision. Each time I ask myself one question, What could someone have said or done to keep me from dropping out? In that moment, it is about one thing – making them understand that someone cares and believes in them.

Empathy is my weapon of choice. No kid in crisis wants to take advice from someone they perceive to be disconnected from their situation. By empathizing with students, you begin to earn their trust and open lines of communication that may help them stay the course.

3 Strategies To Empathize With Students:

Listen To Their Story: Listening is paramount in establishing trust, because if a student feels that you are not listening to them, they will never trust you. Also, it will help you better understand their situation and provide you references for future conversations.

Acknowledge Their Frustration: To show that you truly understand a kid’s situation, you need to acknowledge that what they are feeling is legitimate. Connecting is key, and validation is one method that can help a belive that you care.

Collaborate on a Solution: Kids in this situation often feel a lack of control over their lives. Working as partners towards a solution is the best way show the student that they matter, and that you are their to support and help them get over the roadblocks.

Comment with your strategies on how you help students feel connected.