Grading and Assessment Newsletter to Parents

I want to thank everyone for attending parent teacher conferences in November. The goal of these nights are to facilitate conversation between teacher and parent about how your son or daughter is doing in school. I hope you found it helpful and informative.

Discussions are also occurring at a larger level in the education world. Most of what you read in the news focuses on dwindling funds for public education and thinking of ways to do “less with more”. Yet beneath these debates are more productive conversations about the daily teaching and learning happening everyday in school. One of the most pressing topics is assessment and grading.

When you and I went to school, and even still today, an A on a report card meant you were working your hardest and learning to the best of your abilities. Here in town, you can walk down the street from Howe to rent movies for free based on how many A’s you receive. Leaving near the Wisconsin Dells, I recall more than one summer as a kid, bringing my fourth quarter report card to get into a water park for free. I cannot remember what I did to get the A or what exactly I learned, other than to meet my teacher’s expectations.

These practices are changing. The focus on how a student is doing academically in education is moving toward growth of the student’s skills and knowledge toward mastery of a standard, such as adding two digit numbers. This is in contrast to getting a grade for turning in quality homework, raising your hand in class X number of times, or reading so many books per month. The former criteria tells you where a student is at in their abilities; the latter tells you more about their work habits, behavior and ability to play the game of school, all thrown together in a pot to concoct an average for nine weeks of work.

A great example of how grading and assessment will look when moving toward a growth model for mastery is karate. Dr. Thomas Guskey, a recognized expert in grades in school, states that went a karate student progresses from white belt to eventually black belt, he or she does not receive a “gray belt”. His example is a clever way of pointing out that an average is an inappropriate way to recognize mastery in an area. That student earned the black belt because he or she demonstrated the ability and knowledge that all students of karate must attain for this level of achievement. It is irrelevant whether it took them three months or three years to get there. The important thing is that mastery was reached, measured with reliable assessments such as a physical demonstration.

As I stated, when parents and teachers meet, the focus is on communicating information about your son or daughter’s learning. My goal for the changes in how grades are reported are that conversations will be more substantial because better data will be shared between both parties. If you have questions or ideas on this topic, I’d love to hear them. Stop by or give me a call.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

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