Getting Back in the Loop

April 23, 2015

 Our school [Polaris Charter Academy] made the decision to shift to standards-based grading last year. We were excited about the idea of implementing a system that would allow us to better communicate where kids were in relation to targets, in both academic areas and with our habits of work. This system would allow us to separate those areas from each other, track progress, and use grading practices to help solidify a growth mindset in our students.

 

Excited to embrace the shift, we jumped right in - head first! - and, boy, were we surprised by the many insights unearthed by this shift to standards-based grading. All of a sudden everyone was questioning everything - from grading and assessment practices to what exceeding standards looks like to whether or not standards-based grading is “right” for all students. The responses that resulted from this big adaptive shift were incredibly varied, but one thing was consistent: Our previously-successful-feeling-teachers were definitely thrown for a loop.

 

However, given time (for teachers to learn by doing) and support (both to help strengthen SBG practices and to help navigate through the change process), we feel as though we’ve successfully traded in our thrown-for-a-loop status for some honest-to-goodness solid footing.

 What helped us get there? In addition to a couple rounds of differentiated PD (with follow up supported in coaching cycles) and a heavier focus on looking-at-student-work protocols, one thing that really helped us in this shift has been having monthly JumpRope reflection meetings.

 

Here’s what these look like: The first week of every month, one of our instructional guides meets with every teaching team in the building. We start each meeting in silent reflection, with a note-catcher and a sampling of JumpRope reports for various students in that grade cluster. We dig deeply into the data that those progress reports reveal, looking for what that data tell us about grading and assessment practices, about learning targets, about student progress. We look across the team’s data, and then teachers dive into their own data, comparing from one month to the next. We talk, we question, we synthesize.

 

The addition of this structure - these monthly reflection meetings - has allowed us to move forward in our standards-based grading practices. We meet every teacher and team exactly where they are and give them time to sit with and mull over the data, reflecting, making connections, and having, we have found, a variety of a-ha moments. Every single time so far, both our thinking and our practice get pushed, which has allowed us to move forward with this important work, both as individual teachers and administrators and as a whole school.

 

 

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