Regular readers of this blog know that during the last semester of the 2008-2009 academic year, I piloted standards-based reporting in my high school math classroom. After conversing with my building principal, he has given me the green light to continue this pursuit towards assessment, reporting and ultimately culture reform in my classroom. While I did not have any difficulties with parents questioning this grading/reporting practice last year, I am anticipating that may not be the case this academic year.

"Why?" you might be thinking?

Last year, I used the first nine weeks of the second semester as a "feeling out" time period with my students. Because we have a 4x4 block schedule at the high school where I teach, the second semester brought a fresh group of approximately fifty Geometry students. The first nine weeks of the semester, I would often take a few minutes each week to hint at a change I was thinking of making in my classroom and see how students reacted. After one test, I recall asking students,

"What do you think it would be like if you ALWAYS had the opportunity to retake a test? Better yet, what if you would be allowed to re-take only the parts of the test you did not do well on?"
I was alluding to the aspect of standards-based reporting that initially attracted me to it and that is a focus on reporting learning. I don't think it's fair that students who "get it" later are punished because they did not understand the content by the time I decided they needed to take the test. This, of course, excited the students immensely. As do many of the high school students I've had in my classroom, they always enjoy it when you tell them a story or go off on a tangent that doesn't seem to relate to "school stuff." My tangents related to what better grading might look like were naturally of interest to my students. Finally, the consensus of the class was to "try out this crazy new grading system Mr. Townsley keeps talking about!"

This year will be different. I am hoping to use standards-based reporting from day one. I mentioned to my principal that it could be a drastic change for a ninth grader to adjust to high school, an 84-minute class period block schedule as well as a new grading system in his/her math class. (Note: the grading system issue could be quickly resolved if all middle school teachers used this system, too, but I digress...) In other words, I don't plan on taking nine weeks of building a rapport with my students before rolling out my grading system. When secondary students are confused, upset and/or angry, parents often get involved, too, or at least that is my experience locally. I will continue to explain to the students during the first few weeks what standards-based reporting looks like, why it it beneficial and how it differs from traditional grading, but I also thought it would be necessary to have a communication piece ready to go. If it doesn't end up being asked for, that's a good thing and I've probably done a good enough job explaining it to the students. I also think it will be a good tool to use with colleagues as their curiosity once word travels around school via students' conversations. Here is a draft of the communication piece.

If you were a parent of a student in my classroom, what unanswered questions would you have about standards-based reporting after reading this document? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below.