Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Toxic Grading Practices

Last month's teacher workshop at Belmont High School was extremely productive.  We reviewed our goals for transitioning to competency-based education, studied the core principles that drive this work, and each teacher had the opportunity to reflect on how their practice will change in order to be successful in the months and years to come.

One of our work sessions was designed to build a better understanding of "toxic grading practices."  When we refer to "toxic grading practices," we are referring to any practice that contributes to a student's grade being less accurate than it ought to be.  One of the core principles of competency-based education is that academic performance is monitored and reported separately from work habits, character traits, and behaviors such as attendance and class participation.

This principle is often misunderstood and misapplied in schools and classrooms that remove deadlines for turning in work and fail to hold students accountable for their actions.  At Belmont High School, we believe deeply in the value of a strong work ethic and student accountability.  We also believe that it is part of our responsibility to cultivate a strong work ethic in our students and that the ability to meet deadlines is important in school and in life. The claims we make about academic achievement, however, must be accurate.  Academic success must be defined by the achievement of expected standards and must be an accurate reflection of what students know and are able to do.

Equally important, behaviors such as meeting deadlines, responsibility, and work ethic must also be valued and reported on separately (we would expect to see a correlation between work ethic and academic performance).

This change in perspective requires significant challenges to how teachers approach their practice. Teachers are rethinking the ways in which they manage their gradebooks, how they categorize and weigh assignments, and how they assess and record student progress.  The change process is not easy.  I've been impressed with our teachers willingness and ability to collaborate and share ideas to develop viable solutions and first steps to improving our grading and reporting practices.

I've included a short video of writer and consultant Doug Reeves talking to a group of educators about common "toxic grading practices." We are already working to eliminate these practices from BHS and I hope the video is helpful to parents who are still developing an understanding of the rationale for our transition work.  Reeves has a bit of an edge to his delivery and I think his take on student accountability and "getting the work done" is spot on.  I hope you find the video helpful.

Doug Reeves - Toxic Grading Practices