Two years ago, I joined the administrative team at Eyer Middle School. On my first day, principal Michael Kelly (@principalmkelly), filled me in on the work the school had done to improve grading and assessment practices. He shared some research with me, and as a self proclaimed book nerd, I happily dug into the texts. Less than a year later we embarked on an original experience, as we put an end to marking periods and created a continual grading period pilot in our sixth grade. You can read more about the pilot at principalmkelly.com, but the specifics are not the focus of this post. I am writing this post, because this was the first time I was part of leading a significant change. Don’t get me wrong, I read the books and blogs focused on “leading change,” but this was my first time in the “major change” trenches. I had a lot to learn. Below are my top four takeaways.
Focus on Non-Change
Before jumping into the continual grading period school year, we spoke with some authors we felt could provide insight into this work. In a conversation with Doug Reeves, he suggested that we focus on the things that would not be changing. We recognized that this was good feedback, and we even made a list of non-change items. However, when we got into the thick of it, we lost sight of this concept. The lesson here: be specific about the non-change. Create a bullet point list of components of practice that will remain the same during the change process. Share the list in all correspondence about the initiative: presentations, website, flyers, etc.
Continual Grading Period Non-Change Items
– Students and parents can access their current grades online, at all times.
– We will praise students for academic achievement. Honor roll will still be recognized.
– Teachers will communicate with families if students are struggling.
Reforming grading practices is not something openly discussed outside the world of connected educators. A typical school community is not hyper-focused on the radical inconsistencies whittled into our traditional grading methods. Therefore, when we presented the continual grading period to our parents last year, we also addressed the concepts of retesting, zeroes, and late work. Without intending to, we married the concepts together. This made collecting feedback challenging (and I will talk more about the feedback in the next section), because we crossed our messages. Retesting, not accepting zeroes, and accepting late work, were not new to our building, only the continual grading period was new. The lesson here: make sure your initiative is clear. Isolate the change from the noise and be specific about the components of change.
Continual Grading Period
– Our continual, year-long grading period removes quarterly report card grades.
– A student’s final grade is calculated cumulatively.
Listen to Feedback
We asked for a lot of feedback throughout this process. We held parent nights, where we answered questions posed by the community. We surveyed our teachers and parents. During our monthly lunches with students, we talked to them about their feelings and experiences related to the continual grading period. Not everything we heard was positive, but we shared all of the feedback openly. The lesson here: hearing feedback and listening to feedback are two different things. This transparency allowed us to work with our teacher leadership team to construct a stronger system moving into next year. We crafted specific procedures for reteaching, retesting, and collecting late work and established a clear message to share with families.
We tried our best, but we could have done better. We had to be honest with ourselves and our school throughout this process. As far as we know, a continual grading period is not a well documented venture. We did not have a guide book or a specific protocol to follow. If we buried our heads in the sand, this experience would have been negative for everyone. The lesson here: own the risk and be real about the experience. Our transparency and reflection earned us the right to move our continual grading period into the next school year and drop the “pilot” from the term.
I am proud of the work we did this year and I am looking forward to the next phase of this experience.
What are your “major change” takeaways?