Grade With Purpose!

With 7 years of experience teaching business and computer concepts to high school students, there were many challenges I was able to manage and grading miracles I was able to create with integrating technology in my learning lab. In fact, technology helped me to develop my former business students’ academic discipline and innovation with rigorous projects to assess their knowledge and skills. Further, I was able to provide timely as well as personalized feedback through grading software and online management systems! Reflecting back, there were many resources that helped change the grading game for me as a facilitator and consequently prepared my high school students for their college, careers, and life!! Thus, grades and meaningful feedback, if carried out effectively, can result in more career opportunities and impactful life lessons for our future leaders!

Since many people in the Baltimore region are discussing new grading policies and procedures, it motivated me to blog this month about education. After reading Superintendent Dallas Dance’s Op-ed: “What’s in a Grade?” and browsing through Baltimore County’s new grading manual, immediately I reflected on my own grading experiences as a teacher. So let me to take you on a 400-meter dash filled with questions, concerns, my own experience, and finally — passing the baton to you! Although the Olympics is officially over, my mind is still racing about how I can encourage Education Leaders to compete and grade with purpose, putting student’s needs in 1st place!!

“First 100 – How Can We Accelerate, Running the Grading Curve?”

  • The first thing that came to my mind about Baltimore County Public Schools’ grading initiative was: “Releasing this grading manual publicly in the beginning of the school year is probably giving teachers more anxiety and pressure to become more accurate and specific with their grading – the same anxiety a runner has when “taking his or her mark”.
  • Second, I thought of the potential burden that teachers may have if they don’t have the proper support or resources to provide their students with timely and meaningful feedback along with personalized lesson planning. Therefore my question is, ”Who is going to ensure that teachers are “set to go” and grade efficiently?”
  • Third, when teachers upload their grades online, we cannot forget how parent involvement could turn into cyberbullying via email regarding grades. Not all parents do this, but a furious few is more than enough! With that being said, what type of protection and intervention is available for teachers when parents and students respond aggressively about grades while they are transitioning to this new grading approach?
  • Fourth, how will Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) new grading system and report card layout impact high school students when colleges review their applications? Based on this new grading system, will students in the future experience culture shock when transitioning from school to college or work?
  • Finally, I know some educators are thinking, “Before unleashing this policy, perhaps the school system could have first provided them with:
  1. a co-teacher in order to give proper feedback to each student,
  2. an administrative assistant to answer incoming phone calls as well as emails from students and parents specifically regarding grades, which could be a potential distraction for teachers staying on track with outgoing calls to parents about some of their student’s disruptive behavior
  3. a private counselor and a doctor on site to manage their blood pressure or mental health between classes
  4. a class monitor to assist with tracking attendance, lateness, behavior, and team projects so that the 2nd portion of the report card could be filled out accurately, and
  5. tech support available to help them to effectively and efficiently grade using online management systems.”

Yes, teachers are CEOs running a major business and they need additional personnel and partners to support the needs of their students, in addition to, their very own managerial duties! So it’s great that Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) recommends that departments work more collaboratively instead of teachers working in isolation! However, what about the one-person departments? Yes, there are teachers in secondary education who teach all grade levels! So, will “all teachers” really have the time to connect with their peers across the county and how will this grading initiative be executed in a timely fashion so that students will feel supported through this new grading system?

My concern is that if this grading strategy isn’t clear for students and teachers, it may cause some serious problems related to accuracy because let’s be honest, “grades have never been a 100% accurate reflection of students’ achievement”. This is because they have been distorted by bias, lack of resources, and constant education reform. Thus, in the midst of this “Race to the Top” education reform, the effort of BCPS is appreciated, but we must straighten out the “grading curves”!

Second 100 – Now We Are at the “Straight Away” – “Making the Transition & Finding Your Comfort Zone!”

After reading Baltimore County’s grading manual’s quote, “Conduct and skills are critical and belong on the report card, but they should not distort the academic grade. Separating the academic grade from the conduct grade holds students accountable for both.”  – I agreed with this concept as a student and disagreed as a former athlete. I began to reflect on my sports background analyzing “team sports” in correlation to grading. For example, only a certain amount of players can be on the court or the field at a time. So let’s say that “playing time” in a competition is equivalent to a grade because most players look forward to scoring or receiving accolades when participating in a game or event. Generally, most teams have policies set up so that when athletes come to practice late, they have to run extra laps or do a certain amount of pushups. In addition, if players do not display positive conduct towards their teammates and coach, even the referee – the player would be penalized with a technical foul, loss of an offensive possession, or the loss of playing time. Yes, there are consequences for behavior and poor choices in sports. Inappropriate behaviors are challenged almost immediately in order for players to understand the importance of discipline and respect!

So do you think it’s totally fair in education to create chances for some children to half-way complete assignments or turn in their work late without a reasonable excuse? Is it fair for some students to have the possibility of receiving 50% if they completed 25% of their work or even receive the same grade as the student who was punctual and hardworking? Also, let’s keep it real – “What about students who are caught cheating? Will these students receive a 50% bailout in the future?” Now let’s think about how this grading system would impact the morale or the work ethic of the students who seriously prioritize their time in order to achieve success! Therefore, I believe there has to be an accountability system, especially for secondary schools to ensure they will meet college and career expectations. Additionally, I would like to point out that this learning approach with extended time to support student’s achievement discussed in the grading manual is perfect for elementary and middle schools so students would not be discouraged from trying harder and becoming more responsible for their learning outcomes. However, I believe by grade 7, the grading policy should change. If the grading process is consistent with academic discipline and learning support systems from pre-K to 7th grade, then 7th grade and beyond should be more tailored to prepare students for college, careers, or entrepreneurship demands!

See, I’ve learned that “grades” are like paychecks in education. I recall my former high school students trying to negotiate grades at the end of every quarter like salaries. The more I used online grading, the more frequently I was approached by my students. Sometimes I felt like it (online grading) interfered with them actually learning because most students focused on immediate results instead of enjoying the adventurous process of learning. Some students rushed through their work just to be finished before most of their classmates and others were practical enough to put in the necessary time for their final product – conscious of their professional development. Then, others did enough to get by and were cool with a capital “C”. Whatever the student chose to do, it showed when they had to present their final product to the class. As a result, my students and I learned that the truth will reveal itself at some point in the game, when their skills were tested with a performance assessment or with an impromptu quiz.

So I predict that some students are going to take advantage of this grading policy – not to necessarily have a second chance to truly learn a concept, but a second chance to cram in some work for a better grade. Depending on the student – content will be going into his or her short-term memory just for the grade, not for the knowledge. This is just my perspective from teaching high school students and observing how they reacted to grades and what they were willing to do or not do for grades, especially if they feel what you are teaching them is not relevant to their lives at that current moment. So how can we convince more students to be satisfied with the learning process or find relevance in the assignments they receive? Perhaps, pay them for their effort or not give them a grade at all?

Furthermore, in this grading manual, grades are “separate yet equal” in importance. Therefore, my question is, “How will teachers hold students accountable for their behavior or attitudes without deducting points from their final grade?” Perhaps, taking away privileges such as recess, but parents want their children to have more recess for health reasons so that may not be as effective. Maybe giving parents fines for their children’s intentional bad behavior or giving parents the option to observe their child in school from their smartphones to reduce conduct issues would be effective? 🙂 Imagine if we would follow the police department’s’ initiative, by putting body cameras on students or placing cameras in all classrooms to help teachers’ grade students behavior more accurately and report it more efficiently? Well, that may not be a great idea because this type of surveillance system may support the school-to-prison pipeline even further. Can you just visualize teachers along with the administration reviewing video after school because often it’s tough for teachers to write behavior reports in the heat of the moment while simultaneously managing class? Perhaps that is why grades should be impacted by behavior because teachers would have less issues during class if students knew it was going to impact their grade. Some parents would argue that they would not have a true representation of their child’s knowledge deducting points from their grades. Then, I would argue that allowing kids to turn in their work late is not a true representation of “being responsible” if you give them “full credit”. This is a gray area I think BCPS should reexamine in their grading manual because I think “extra credit” is still available to students if you are allowing students to find new ways to make up work to increase their grade.

We, also, need to equally consider how a student’s attendance and behavior impacts their classmates in terms of learning achievement, classroom procedures, and group work progress. Both attendance and behavior alone can impact grades from being equitable, accurate, specific, and timely. For example, during group work if there are some students who are being playful, how can grades be totally equitable? More importantly, there are students who are being bullied during class and have low achievement due to anxiety. Thus, grades may not be an accurate representation of those students’ learning abilities. So to report behavior separately does not tell the entire story of how behavior impacts not only the student’s grade who chose to misbehave, but the total class or group learning outcomes.

Not to mention, teachers who are not providing students with multiple teaching approaches or may not have all the resources to address students’ diverse needs and learning preferences. Consequently, a student may receive low grades because he or she is not engaged with how his or her teachers teach. Yes, I do believe that teachers alone are not effective in order for their students to achieve! It takes technology, experiential projects, and strong business partnerships to bring more relevance to academics! Ok, I know this race is a little wordy, but you must endure with me! Now let’s pick up the pace! We’re almost done!

2nd Curve – The True Test of Your Endurance at the 300 Meter Mark: “Reflecting on Why You Are Truly Running This Race!”

In retrospect, I was a little “old-school” with my grading in order to keep order in my class. Holding students accountable for their behavior or irresponsibility were factored into their final grade. It helped me manage my class based on professional standards, but some students were going to socialize and be a distraction regardless. However, what mattered most was how I structured my students’ learning experience. My lessons had to be extremely organized and creative, yet flexible enough to allow my students to guide me in the right direction. For example, after every class assignment, my students would work on enrichment activities such as using the internet as a research tool and experience real-world application projects in order for them to see how our content exists outside of the classroom. Notably, during each unit, we had team projects to promote social learning and collaboration! Project-based learning definitely impacted my students behavior and attitudes in a positive way! It can also increase attendance and lateness to class because students will actually look forward to the variety of experiences you provide them with and enjoy taking ownership of their learning with personalized projects.

Additionally, integrating technology as a quick way to execute formative assessments and provide immediate feedback accelerated my former students learning and changed their attitudes about how they wanted to improve their progress. When I would provide more formative assessments consistently, it created a chance for me to cover more material during the school year. Furthermore, I believe web management systems such as Edline, now acquired by Blackboard, can accelerate teaching and learning for teachers and students who need to improve their organizational skills, thus achieving more throughout the school year! In fact, using Edline, along with Easygrade Pro, allowed me to upload comments to assist students with achieving their learning goals with reminders and notes about how they could improve. Another excellent grading resource was using Google Docs which allowed me to coach students during class projects or writing assignments providing detailed feedback conveniently online.

Most critics say technology takes away from human contact, however, I was able to effectively communicate and motivate my students to complete their assignments by actively commenting in their Google documents or on their wiki workspaces – which was just as encouraging as human contact. Imagine a student riding the bus home receiving an email alert from their teacher after school giving them some feedback on a project. Do you think the student will feel supported and encouraged to work on their project for homework? In most cases, yes, based on my experience. Thus, technology can bring you closer to your students by becoming their virtual assistant!

Throughout my educational race, I’ve learned that the secret to success is simply providing multiple learning accommodations for my students in order for them to develop successfully, which is stated in BCPS’s grading manual through technology and teamwork! For example, over time, I changed my grading style – becoming more flexible with classwork, allowing students to complete assignments at home if they needed more time and I was more firm with projects in terms of deadlines to better prepare students for college expectations and career demands. Therefore, homework kind of phased out with it either being an opportunity to have more time to complete classwork at home, work on school projects in order for students to make my deadlines or take out time to study online sources, or take online practice assessments. (Look on your left under the Book Overview section for examples) Please note, providing online assessments for homework can save teachers time with grading and if students have any additional concerns, the teacher can address those needs during class because students’ progress can be tracked electronically through certain grading software.

Moreover, transitioning to online learning included a lot of experiments, trials, errors, and successes so I enjoy sharing my experiences with Education Leaders to help them make sound decisions for both teachers and students! In fact, about two years ago, I discussed this topic at a local board meeting in Baltimore County. I made predictions based on my teaching experience using online management systems between 2009 and 2013. Therefore, I humbly acknowledge that grading was a complex experience, but with access to technology I acquired a lot of wisdom and truly discovered something promising about education. That is why I am still running in this educational race! What about you?

“Come on now, stay with me! We’re almost done!”

Keep in mind that in sports, no one gives you much credit for how well you did in practice because what really counts is how you perform in the game or during a competition! So I suggest that drills and homework should not be uploaded as actual achievement grades, but participation grades because students are participating in their progress to master their learning. More importantly, as educators, we have to work and grade smarter – not so hard that you lose your strength at this point in the race! You’ve come too far and impacted too many lives to give up right now! Our students need your motivation as well as your unique gifts that you delight them with every day! So endure! Breathe! Push further! Stay encouraged! No one can do it like you! You are a champion! Your creativity and dedication matters!

Finally, reflecting back on the sports life, no one ever gave me extra points for practicing my game before or after practice. I had to motivate myself and want to become a better athlete which applies to student’s attitudes about their education, especially in secondary schools! Remember, homework is practice and if the teacher aligns his or her formative and summative assessments with homework assignments, students should not have to be a great test taker in order to pass the class, if students apply themselves the same way they do in their social lives or participating in their extra-curricular activities, such as sports!!

The Last 100 Meters – “The Final Stretch is When You Give It All You’ve Got!”

For the final 100 meters, I wanted to share some final thoughts for teachers who are on the verge of quitting this race! My overall goal as an education consultant and motivational coach is to assist with retaining teachers when they are considering other career options due to education reform or policy decisions. Trust me, there is hope!

Based on my experience with Baltimore County Public Schools, I would like to point out that I believe a globally competitive graduate must have sports discipline, but the way this current grading policy is set up, does not demonstrate the total appreciation and respect for the type of work ethic and accountability that I’ve experienced in sports in order to achieve great success! I agree with the grading initiative in terms of students being accountable for achieving, setting learning goals, and tracking their progress! Yes, I agree, we should support students’ emotional and social needs with intervention programs that build up their character, help them manage their stress, and conquer their learning obstacles, while preparing them for success!

Even as adults we have to join support groups or constantly review content that we may not have mastered for professional development. We may not get points, a promotion for it, or a pat on the back, but I’m sure we all have found out that becoming more competent and able to master our jobs can be just as rewarding. Therefore, we have to show our students to accept that they may not get the grade that they wanted, but it should not deter them from putting in more effort to achieve a life or career skill. In fact, people or organizations may not give you a second or third chance to get a better grade or rating, but you still have to work hard if you want to achieve more and take your talent to a higher level! So I’d rather students be prepared to understand the concept of work ethic and strategic planning early so they will not have to face unnecessary obstacles during college or throughout their careers.

More importantly, we have to ask ourselves, “What is Equity?” in terms of grading in this globally competitive world? Remember this summer, we had to ask ourselves about fairness during the Olympics in Rio after the Women’s 400-meter dash. Take a look!

If you look at the end of this race, Allyson Felix and another runner came over to Shanae Miller to help pick her up and congratulate her for winning the race. I wonder how those ladies truly felt about the outcome of that race after the hard work they put in preparing for four years to achieve the Olympic gold, silver, or bronze medal?

I can relate to this actual race reflecting on my career in education, however, sometimes your hard work may not matter to those who will have political power with or without you being on their team. So, Education Leaders, you must continue to play with pride and dignity, knowing you can and will make a difference in your students’ lives!

Here’s the baton:

Let me see what kind of answers or solutions you will provide for these open-ended questions related to equity in education:

1. Are we going to allow students to win by the rules or allow students to leap to the finish line while others chose to win the proper way – striding and striving for excellence?

2. Is the education race the same or equitable if everyone is not treated with the same expectations or respect?

3. Does equity create opportunities for students or education leaders to cheat in order to compete?

4. Will “equity” that everyone is striving for create “new achievement gaps” for students who were privileged by the traditional rules of education?

5. Are we making changes in grades because we do not want our students to experience failure or education leaders do not want to look like failures?

6. Essentially, how can we find that balance of power for all students to achieve and learn valuable lessons about respect, empathy, discipline, perseverance, and teamwork?

Finally, we have to be extremely careful when implementing grading policies such as this because lack of accountability is the reason why so many people are suffering in this world today personally and professionally. Think about how a grade or even your behavior has impacted your mental, emotional, social, or economic situation today. With that said, teachers along with our future workforce depend on our commitment as a community to enforce equity by applying ethical and moral reasoning to our instructional and political decisions!

Now, we’ve made it to the finish line! I appreciate your endurance and let’s continue to run this purposeful race together!  #competewithpurpose and #gradewithpurpose!

Marian Moore is a former instructor from Baltimore County Public Schools and an aspiring consultant for Superintendents, school officials, and education supporters!

compete-with-purpose-business-card-goal-1

Cited Sources:

Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Ph. D. “What’s in a Grade.” The Baltimore Sun. September 3, 2016. Web. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-dance-grades-20160903-story.html

Division of Curriculum and Instruction. Baltimore County Public Schools Grading and Reporting Procedures Manual, 2016. http://bcps.org/academics/grading/Grading-and-Reporting-Procedures.pdf

Baltimore County Public Schools High School Sample Report Card  http://www.bcps.org/academics/grading/ReportCardHigh.pdf

Marian_Competes Reply: https://twitter.com/Marian_Competes/status/750069209372110849

EasyGrade Pro’s Website http://easygradepro.com/

Google Docs https://www.google.com/docs/about/

Instructor Companion Site: Principles of Business, 8th Edition http://www.cengage.com/cgi-wadsworth/course_products_wp.pl?fid=M20bI&product_isbn_issn=9781111426941

Public Comment: Board of Education Meeting. October 12, 2014 https://plus.google.com/102878542061602434531/posts/jQ2e2wE7qZp

Public Comment: Board of Education Meeting. August 9, 2016  https://plus.google.com/u/0/102878542061602434531/posts/NAivQPDDVJo

 

Examview Assessment Suite – https://www.turningtechnologies.com/products/ExamView

NBC Sports YouTube Channel:  Bahamas’ Miller dives to beat out U.S.’ Felix for 400m gold

USA Today: Shaunae Miller dives for a gold medal in women’s 400-meter

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