School will be back in session before we know it, and we should be thinking about how to help our children get the most from the classroom. Beccastone spoke with Nichole Shabazz,* an educator, K-12 librarian, and literacy advocate, about improving educational outcomes and measuring academic progress.
What do you think of our current grading system?
As an educator, I am not a fan of our current, narrow, teacher-centered grading system. As is often the case in public education, in particular, we choose to use the easy, often unfairly subjective, one-size-fits all approach to grading that is so inflexible and limiting that it actually leads to inauthentic assessment. This can be particularly detrimental to our learners who cannot be placed into neat boxes or grading categories.
What does a good grading system look like?
Authentic assessment is hard, time consuming work for the educator. I think that individualized performance and ability assessments are necessary to determine a learner’s progress. It is important to use measures that identify and demonstrate what a learner can do based on objective criteria, as well as what that learner is capable of doing or has the aptitude for, based on the professional assessment of the teacher who is interacting with the learner on a daily basis.
Currently, many grading systems that measure school outcomes do not measure a student’s true mastery of a given subject. For example, a learner might do well on a standardized test, but not so well on the assignments presented in the class itself. In a system that elevates test scores above classroom assessment, that student’s grade may indicate that she is more advanced than a student who has not done well on a standardized test, but has completed all assignments and activities in the classroom. One way to assess learners is through oral assessments that enable learners to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of a subject or concept. Performance assessments also allow learners to show what they know by completing a project, or by teaching others.
Is there a grading model currently in use that you like?
Personally, my preference is for grading models that measure school outcomes place a greater important on depth over breadth and that are learner-centered, performance-based, and customize assessment in a way that optimizes learning and achievement particular to the individual needs of each student.
When I was a classroom educator, I was introduced to a wonderful instructional model called the Layered Curriculum™. This method of instruction, learning and assessment is differentiated, individualized, customized and highly student-centered. It was very engaging and effective and my high school students absolutely loved it! I modified the method to fit the needs of my learners, but it is just as great as is. More information about this model can be found on the Kathy Nunley, the creator’s website at www.help4teachers.com.
Another powerful method that I employed, in the classroom and in the media center as a school library media specialist, is known as The Paideia Seminar. This active learning and assessment method is a collaborative, intellectual dialogue about a text and is facilitated with open-ended questions with the aim of helping students develop their social, intellectual and oral skills. The Paideia Seminar is a great student-centered method for encouraging deep, meaningful discourse and debate around document-based evidence. More information can be found atwww.paideia.org.
What does a “successful school year” look like?
In a successful school year, a student demonstrates measurable academic progress and the student’s social and emotional needs are met through positive engagement and interactions among teacher(s), parent(s) and/or family and stakeholders within the school community. The school cannot live apart from parents, families and the community if it is sincerely interested in positively affecting the achievement of all types of learners and educating and preparing them to become productive members of the community.
As parents, how can we measure the success of our children, to get the best outcomes
Parents have to remember that they are their children’s first and most influential teachers. That is to say that parents should remain engaged and involved with their children’s education from beginning to end. This will often require some education on their part, but this knowledge, once gained, will be worth its weight in gold over the course of their child/ren’s academic career.
Parents measure the success of their children by researching, selecting, monitoring and evaluating the performance of the overall school system, the educators in the school, the community in which the school is situated and the academic practices and curricular materials and methods used during teaching and learning. Parents have the right and the responsibility to expect high quality education and to demand removal of individuals who are not performing well.. An educational measure such as the National Assessment for Educational Progress or NAEP is considered the nation’s report card and ranks every state’s educational progress. For more information visithttp://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard. In addition, just about every state provides some reporting system that offers citizens information about how each district and individual school is faring.
While such measures offer some insight, it is important to note that parents cannot solely depend on this limited information. Parents must be visible, vocal and vigilant in the schools that their children attend if they are to truly measure success and get the best outcomes for their offspring.
How can we get the best outcomes, without putting too much pressure on our children
Simply put, if parents and stakeholders want the best outcomes for children, we have to give our best. Children learn what they live. We have to be present, purposeful and willing to persevere when faced with educational challenges and pitfalls. Parents have to rethink school and their historically passive role in it.
Parents should cooperate and collaborate with other parents and support the schools and teachers in the classroom. The Rethinking Schools website- www.rethinkingschools.org offers great resources for learning about working to change and improve the ineffective, outdated, teacher-centered models and grading systems that many schools use today.
*Note: Nichole holds a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum & Instruction from the Master of Urban Secondary Teaching (MUST) program at Cleveland State University, an Education Specialist degree (Ed.S) in Instructional Leadership with a focus on Brain-Based Learning from Nova Southeastern University and is currently pursuing her Ph.D.