Many of our teachers need time to review the content and curriculum to determine what learning standards should be addressed each year and to what degree each standard should be taught and assessed. This is not unique to Comstock Park High School. Across the country at the secondary level educators are teaching primarily content, not standards in many subject areas. There is nothing wrong with teaching content. However, a standards based approach allows the instructor to be very precise in diagnosing student strengths and weakness and, as a result, much more efficient and focused when supporting student learning.
The system we are moving to at CPHS allows significant flexibility for teachers to begin making the transition to a more focused and precise model of student assessment. Essentially, all that is required in the new system is a new scale (the 4pt scale) that is more accurate and fair for students. If an individual teacher does not wish to change anything else, the teacher could continue to grade using a percentage scale. He or she would only need to do a simple conversion to the 4pt scale before entering the grade into the book. Students will still receive letter grades including plus and minus grades (A-/B+, etc . . . ) and, as stated in a previous blog, the outcome grade would be no different based on the scale. The only real difference is that the 4pt scale is less punitive.
Let's imagine that it is the beginning of the new school year and I am your history teacher. We are at the end of the first week and there are two assignments scored and in the book. You turned in the first assignment and did extremely well - 100%. You missed the second assignment because your parent was ill and you had to take care of your siblings - you did not turn the assignment in and, as a result, scored a zero. What is your overall grade in the class at the end of the first week? Assuming that both assignments are weighted the same, you are failing the class with a 50% on a percentage scale. Truthfully, you are not only failing the class, you are failing miserably - by nine full percentage points. Is this an accurate representation of what you have learned?
Now let's imagine the same scenario on a 4pt scale. You turned in the first assignment and received an Exemplary score - 4. You missed the second assignment and received an unsatisfactory score - 0. What is your overall class grade? You would have a 2 or C-. There is still a consequence for missing the assignment, but I would argue that the consequence is more appropriate on the 4pt scale. Further, in the percentage based scenario above, you would have to have perfect scores on the next three assignments just to recover back to a B. Think about that. Five grades in the book - four perfect and one missing and your final grade is a B. Is that an accurate measure of what you know in the content? In the 4pt scale scenario, you would recover back to a B with one perfect assignment. Which model is more accurate in representing what the student has learned?
It is important to note that there is no perfect system - at least not that I have been able to find. We will certainly learn and adjust for the good of our students as we implement this change. Our goal is to be fair, consistent, accurate and, above all else, we want to ensure that none of our students are ever inadvertently encouraged to give up because the system is overly punitive.
In my next blog, I will discuss the student grade conversions I've done to test this model.