Guest post by Cameron Soester

Grading has always been a tricky issue for school leaders to master. How do you ensure it captures the full picture of a student’s progress and achievement?

Thomas Guskey suggests that a well-rounded and comprehensive grading policy has three well-defined components. They include a product grade that assesses what students know and can do at the moment the assessment is given; a process grade that measures student behaviors; and a progress grade that considers a student’s improvement over time. Unfortunately, most grading practices lump all of these into one overall grade—which skews and distorts the measure of what students actually know.

Our Approach

At Milford Junior/Senior High School, we have invested a great deal of time and energy into separating these three strands of grading. We began by considering what others had done, in particular, Robert Marzano and Tammy Heflebower’s Teaching and Assessing 21st Century Skills, where they discuss the idea of cognitive and conative learning domains.

report cardAt Milford, we have tackled the cognitive domain and have grading practices that restrict product grades to what students know and can do relative to our essential learnings. Over a pretty long period of time we have developed a way to measure the cognative domain (behaviors, attitudes, and dispositions) by measuring three distinct areas: personal responsibility, work ethic, and personal relations.

To arrive at this point, we had to consider what these items mean and how we are going to measure them. Under each area we developed a series of indicators that are measured using a five-point Likert scale to gather teacher perceptions and student reflections (take a look at this example to get a better idea). One benefit of this is that we now have a meaningful way to communicate Guskey’s process grade. Having the process grade lets teachers minimize the distortion of including behavior and attitude in an overall product grade. This allows for more authentic teaching and learning experiences in our school system.

The Challenges

One of the main issues that our district has encountered with this process is reporting. How do you put a report together for students and parents that is useful? These types of reports have existed for decades in an elementary setting, but at the secondary level, a teacher’s student load makes this process more difficult because of the sheer number of students on their roster. We created a Google Form that utilizes Autocrat, an add-on tool that merges data from a Google Sheet into a custom Google Doc template, to generate the reports. Our school has around 330 students and it generates around 2,500 responses. Teachers fill out the form for each student, and students complete the form for self-reflection. Teachers then print and give the reports to parents at our spring conferences.

Looking to the Future

Moving forward, we are looking for more efficient ways to collect, retrieve, and utilize this data. We are looking at building a more sophisticated database system that will allow us to track student and teacher responses over time. This process will also enable us to utilize this data in the next step in our implementation of the Marzano instructional model. Our plan is to link concepts from The Art and Science of Teaching, Becoming a Reflective Teacher, and Causes and Cures in the Classroom by Margaret Searle, to help us understand the data we retrieve from our process report card.

How can someone utilize this type of data to aid in student achievement? What benefits might someone see in separating knowledge and behavior in grading? Start a discussion in the comments below.

Cameron Soester is the assistant principal of Milford Junior/Senior High in Milford, NE, as well as the 2016 Nebraska Assistant Principal of the Year.

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