• Abner Oakes

Fully Engaging Parents and Community Members

Some of you may know that we have a set of implementation benchmarks for an effective standards-based grading system - see here and here for more info - and we’ve had a few blog posts on these benchmarks, picking one and diving into more detail about it. For this blog post, you will see from above that we address one that all implementing schools and districts need to think very carefully and pro-actively about: How does a school or district ensure that all community members understand the standards-based grading system, on all levels? It’s not an easy task, but it is a crucial one. Over the past couple of years, there have been some high profile flops for districts trying to bring this new system onboard, with community member confusion a contributing factor.

Now, Jesse wrote about this issue back in March, and we’ve done some further thinking about this work, with help from a variety of school and district partners. We think that there are four key parts or stages to this work.

The first is start early. Schools and districts that wish to implement standards-based grading need to do a lot of preliminary work before they launch any sort of standards-based grading system, and that early start needs to include parents and community members. We know of several effective implementations that have included parents on the very first committee or group that was exploring the change to standards-based grading. These schools continued to keep parents on the various groups that emerged from the initial one, which paid off.

The second is: Communicate with your outside audience in the right way. Over the years, various schools and districts have shared with us their very thoughtful communications with parents and other community members, and part of the reason they struck us as so thoughtful is that they were carefully written for that audience. For example, most parents will know traditional grading practices - what they experienced in school - not standards-based practices, and so how do we ensure that communications with them, with that audience, keeps that lack of knowledge in mind?

Let me give an example of remembering your audience: One of the interesting conversations that I get into with schools and districts thinking of using JumpRope is how assessments will roll up into a final grade for each standard, and one calculation method that JumpRope offers is the Power Law.

Now, as I continue to talk with interested schools and districts, I often ask them: If this is something that you want to use - the Power Law - how do you plan to explain this to kids and parents and community members, given its complexity? Might you want to use a more easily explainable trending calculation, such as a decaying average? By asking that question, I do not mean to quash an interest in using the Power Law; it’s meant to push them to think more broadly about it and the ability for the school or district to properly explain it to all of their constituents. A standards-based grading system is just that - a system - and a choice such Power Law impacts other areas of that system, such as communication with students and parents. So, I guess, in short: Choose and communicate thoughtfully.

What’s the third key part to this work with parents? Overcommunicate. I know that schools and districts talk about this strategy all the time, no matter the issue. With my son’s middle school, we get a recorded call from the principal with important info, followed by an email with the same info; I like that repetition, and it makes me remember the info.

The same goes for your standards-based grading system. Remember what I wrote above: Most parents and community members experienced traditional grading methods during their schooling, and so standards-based grading is brand new. All the more reason that those important constituents get more than one email or call about what is happening; all the more reason that they are told about this work in different ways - not just methods of communication (phone or email) but also using different styles or approaches, in the same way that we might differentiate for our students in the classroom. I think about that when I communicate with my family members about my work; they have no idea what standards-based grading is, and so I try and frame it for my father, for example, in a manner that might work for him - that relates to one of his past jobs (an ice hockey coach), that tries to frame it in that context.

Erik Good from JumpRope partner school High School in the Community had this to say: “The buy-in for our parents has been about true college and career preparation - we use the analogy of the driver's test to think about demonstrations of mastery.”

And here’s what Kylie Holley from partner school Pataula Charter Academy said: “We held a parent training on what SBG is and why we were making the switch. We showed them how to navigate the JumpRope parent portal. I think the "why" part of the training was the most powerful piece to gaining buy in from parents. We used the portal to show how much more specific detail parents can get on how the child is doing than with a traditional report.”

The last stage of this work: Test your methods, collect some data, and see if what you’re communicating is working. Yes, that can happen in the public forums that’re often part of a standards-based grading roll out, with a simple raising of hands about some question. But we know of schools and districts that have distributed surveys, that have held focus groups, that have even had standards-based grading information tables at school events, to hand out and collect quick bits of information. There are many ways to collect data and test the effectiveness of your communication.

This last stage really supports the ongoing nature of this work. It’s not static, right? It’s a process and, as with all processes, needs to be attended to.

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