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Class grades and Standardized Test Scores

One of the most effective strategies I've picked up from PHENOMENAL teachers is how to hold the best parent-student-teacher conference.  Listening more than talking (which if you knew me, is quite difficult most of the time!) earns my trust in parents and affords me opportunities to openly discuss issues such as failing grades, lackluster attendance, counter-productive behavior, or potential learning difficulties which are all uncomfortable issues for parents' ears.

It is because of my skills in the parent-student-teacher conference, I was asked to attend a meeting with a young man's parents about his consistent failing grades in honors and AP courses. The recommendation from his teachers was that he was probably inaccurately placed in these course, and that perhaps his schedule needed adjustment.  I was "debriefed" that these parents were unhappy about this meeting.  No prob- I pulled data on their son and found out that over the past three years, he performed at the Below Basic level of proficiency in all CA Standards Tests.  Ok- I would place him on my student monitoring list, provide beyond-the-bell assistance for him, and his parents would leave happy and satisfied that their child was receiving all of what he needed from our school.

Or so I thought...

His parents were not happy with my suggestions.

They were armed with data, too.  They had his previous three semester's report cards from our school and one other school in our district that showed that he was passing his courses with A's and B's across all core classes, including honors English and World History. 

Insert awkward silence here.

I struggled to explain how our Honors English course is standards-based, how there must be a foundation of understanding, or near-understanding of essential concepts in order to pass the course, and that their son's test results, by cluster, over the past three years showed that he may not have a developed foundation for the rigor of the course.

"Then why did he get A's on his last three report cards?"

I couldn't give his mother an adequate answer for that question- just a Mea Culpa on how the grading policy did not help report his true strengths and challenges.

This is the potential uncomfortable moment we all face if we don't start thinking like parents when we creating grading policies. 

Recognizing that in one test sitting, such as the state tests we are all experiencing this spring, a student can not be 100% evaluated on how they are progressing with concepts and skills that are found within state standards.  However, the cluster data is very useful over time as a formative framework to pin-pointing students' strengths and weaknesses and THEN towards creating interventions, and/or course pacing.

So then why is it, then, that many teachers shy away from using standardized test data to help frame actual progress reports and/or report cards?  Let's face it- a student's grades should closely resemble their level of proficiency on state standards and state tests.  If they are so out of sync, it is the responsibility of the school to address the discrepancies.

Recognizing this, some schools and school districts use categories such as STANDARDS MASTERY, STANDARDS PRACTICE and INDIVIDUAL DETERMINATION for grade reporting. Moreover, some school districts, such as the San Diego Unified School District (my former employer :-) ) which has over 130,000 students, have moved toward a standards-based report card for grades K-6.  The rationale has three key reasons for the change in grade reporting:

  1. I will ensure that there is more consistency of expectations from teacher to teacher.

  2. It will help teachers and students focus on the standards from the very beginning of the year, giving students a chance to get help sooner if they are not making adequate progress.

  3. Parents will learn exactly how their students are doing based on the standards—they’ll learn which big ideas and concepts their children have learned and what they need to work on to ensure they are ready for the next grade level- and to not rely soley on the standarized test results.

This last reason is perhaps the most imporant of all.  It sure would've prevented a lot of awkwardness and heated debate in the parent-student-teacher I mentioned earlier.


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