Take it from a Pro: Tips for Teachers in Standards-Based Grade Reporting

When I saw my doctor recently, he took me off some medications that I had been taking for a few years. He provided me a rationale for that change. I had lost a pound or two, and a couple of indicators in my bloodwork that he had been tracking were looking pretty good. Plus, I reported to him that I am still working with my trainer twice a week – so all of those factors together lead him toward that conclusion. My doctor is deliberate in linking current research, multiple data points, and personal knowledge of me in his assessment – and I trust him.

Last year, my dentist recommended a crown – much to my chagrin. During the examination, her pick stopped a bit on a certain tooth when checking my teeth. That, along with the x rays and her overall knowledge of my teeth, led her to the conclusion that I needed a crown. My dentist is deliberate in linking current research, multiple data points, and personal knowledge of me in her assessment – and I trust her.

Also last year (it was a busy year), my wife and I visited our broker who examined our finances thoroughly. He looked at our current investments, expenditures, and debts. He examined possibilities in the market and asked us about our retirement goals. From all of that data, he recommended some courses of action for us to pursue that would help us to securely meet those goals. Our broker is deliberate in linking current research, multiple data points, and personal knowledge of us in his assessment – and I trust him.

So why do you care?

My doctor, my dentist, and our financial broker are all professionals. They and many others like them are experts in their fields. They assess a given situation and provide us a thoughtful evaluation – usually with a course of action. And we tend to trust those recommendations.

Teachers, too, are professionals – experts in our field. Yet many times, we teachers lack the confidence to use our professional knowledge to render evaluations to parents. Standards-based grading practices should provide teachers with some assistance, as the focus of any grade is the relationship between the standard and the student’s mastery level of that standard. Teachers often tell me, however, that they fear the subjectivity that accompanies their personal assessments to parents. They would sometimes rather hide behind an 86.34% average, as if that figure represents some kind of definitive, objective evaluation.

So what can we as teachers learn from these other professionals?

  • Professionals use research when administering assessments and interpreting results. Professionals take the responsibility to “stay current”, to know what practices merit what level of implementation and what strategies should be employed in what situations. Their work, at all stages, is impacted by research. Teachers who allow research to inform their instruction – the work that they have students do and the manners in which they assess that work – will bring increased credibility to the table when talking with parents about their children’s progress.
  • Professionals use multiple sources of varied evidence to drive their judgments. Professionals recognize that one single assessment is NOT enough evidence to make an effective evaluation. Just as several different kinds of tests work together to shape a doctor’s opinion, the best teachers utilize multiple assessments in their evaluations. One key here, though, is that these multiple assessments are also varied in nature. My doctor looked at different kinds of blood work, but also conducted an examination, questioned me, understood that I was working out regularly, and used ALL of those varied data points to reach his conclusion. Teachers need not shy away from their observational data on students, as this “soft data” provides valuable, confirming information when lined up alongside other sources of evidence.
  • Professionals recognize that evidence and research must align with what is unique about an individual. Professionals do not operate in a vacuum. Most professionals are working to some degree with people, who all have different motivations, goals, and circumstances. My broker could have just offered me cold numbers to help with my retirement. But that data was useless in the absence of my personal goals for my post-work life. My wife and I wish to travel, while someone else may want a winter home. When teachers report out on student progress toward mastery of a learning target, individual student growth is an important component. A student could still be performing sub-par on the whole but may have made unbelievable progress from the previous grading period. The context of what is happening in a student’s life could drastically affect a number of data points and how that data is interpreted. The best teachers can offer a more personalized evaluation of a student’s set of data points, taking into account the context of a student’s given situation.
  • Professionals who combine best practices with multiple sources of evidence in a personalized context inspire trust. I have only had one cavity in my entire life, so it would be somewhat understandable for me to question my dentist’s recommendation for a crown. But my dentist didn’t suggest that I just take her word for it. She understood how I would receive this news, because she knew my history well. I appreciated the newer tools and x rays she had begun using. And I couldn’t argue with the data that she had presented. At the end of the day, I trusted her. But it’s important to note that it wasn’t blind trust; it was justified. Teachers worry that their standards-based grades and evaluations will be discounted by parents or seen as too subjective. The truth is, most professional’s evaluations usually are subjective to some degree. Teachers should not be afraid to utilize their professional judgment in assessing students. They should just be sure those subjective judgments are undergirded on a sound rationale and delivered with sensitivity.

Because….the BEST teachers are deliberate in linking current research, multiple data points, and personal knowledge of their students in their assessments – and students and parents, therefore, trust them.

Dr. Patrick Chappell is a veteran teacher and administrator in Homewood Schools. Patrick currently serves as the Director of Instructional Support for the school district and has worked as an adjunct at Samford University. Patrick has served several positions in AASCD, including president, and is in his 3rd year representing AASCD on the executive council of the CLAS Board. He and his wife, Sharon, enjoy reading, traveling, and watching films.

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