Interview with Cari Medd, Principal of Poland Regional High School
With all these years of standards-based grading under your belt, how has the work or the focus changed, from when you first started? What has matured about it?
A common, electronic gradebook: We’ve been operating in a standards-based system since 1999. For the first 5-6 years, we didn’t have a common grade book and while each teacher’s practice was, in some form, standards-based, there was a lot of variety from teacher to teacher. The use of rubrics was common, but long-range tracking of achievement was not common. We had some high profile disputes around things like GPA which helped us see the value in moving to our first electronic grade book; that brought on one big shift: Teachers who were still using a point system could no longer do that.
JumpRope: The shift to JumpRope made us think again about what we are doing. The ability to carefully track mastery, the inability of individual teachers to manipulate calculations, and the centralized standards helped make our work more transparent. It feels like we’ve moved to a more pure form of standards-based practice. Now we think about what is reasonable in terms of number of standards and what can be assessed. Centralized calculation methods and standards gives teachers less control, but they provide clarity to students and parents. Additionally, teachers feel they are more efficient since they are clear on the standards.
Not displaying course grades: Our latest change is requiring students to meet every standard in a course in order to earn an overall course grade. This change encourages us to think more about things like how much is enough evidence and what is good evidence. It’s a big enough step that we’re now re-writing our faculty grading guide too.
As you look back at your implementation of standards-based grading, what were the most significant bumps in the road and how did you manage them? How about your most significant wins?
Tracking data and disparate views: When we began using a standards-based system, our lack of a central mechanism for tracking data was a real challenge. Also, the lack of a common conception of standards-based and how to implement it was hard. Recently, changes to the state policy around proficiency have also caused us to rethink our work.
Common gradebook and grading guides: Switching to our first grade book made things better, but still they were not perfect. Writing a faculty grading guide (FGG) was the first game changer because it helped us frame our purpose and philosophy; it also gave us some “rules.” The FGG made things concrete; it gave us a document to reference and a resource to provide direction to teachers who were struggling with standards-based practices. We also wrote a family grading guide which helped streamline our message to parents and the way the message was delivered. We learned to handle our issues internally first and then to address them with parents or the general public.
K-12 standards-based: In 2003 our elementary and middle schools also transitioned to a standards-based practice so the 2015 senior class had experienced a 4 point scale for their entire educational career. That was great! Moving to a K-12 system of standards-based made it so much easier as students rose to the high school.
JumpRope: When we started using JumpRope, we had concrete reports to look at, and we could plan PD accordingly. We collected data to debunk myths which also really helped to answer questions in ways that satisfied our community.
If you were to make a recommendation or two to a school or district just starting this journey, what might those recommendations be?
Professional development: Spend a lot of PD time on rubric development: how and why to write and use them and making their use part of routine practice.
FGG: Our FGG gave us a chance to think about, chew on, and refine our practices. We shared our FGG all over the place, which really helped to build common understanding and buy-in.
Get a tool: Don’t wait too long to get a tool that requires a standards-based practice -- using a tool is where the rubber hits the road. It pushes people to really examine practice. People who struggle will do so as long as you let them.
Communication with students, parents, and community members can often be a weak link in any standards-based grading system and has been known to thwart implementation when not approached thoughtfully and pro-actively. You spoke to this quite a bit above. Do you have any other wisdom to add?
Transcripts: I don’t necessarily think we need a standards-based transcript -- this might just create too many wrinkles. There is no need to stay pure for the sake of staying pure. I am firm on implementing and using standards-based practice within classrooms because it inspires better teaching and learning, but once the audience is only external, that is not so important. The issue of transcripts feels like a huge uphill battle with colleges. High schools have a broad outside audience, and so minimizing the confusion with that audience is important. Calculate a GPA, use a traditional transcript to speak to that wider audience, and focus on excellent teaching and learning with a standards-based practice.
Use language that works: We have always translated our 4, 3, 2, 1 scale to corresponding terminology: “distinguished, meets, etc.” Lately, I see less of a need to translate the 4, 3, 2, 1 into words. This is especially true since our elementary and middle schools only use 4, 3, 2, 1, so it may make sense for us to follow suit at the high school. As I see it, like using a traditional transcript, letting go of language will not really impact the teaching and learning cycle. That’s what counts.