Below is a letter from Julia McIntyre, a language arts teacher at EHS, who has found that using best grading practices with her students is super-effective in both her instruction and in her student learning.
I firmly and devoutly support each and every point that Julia makes because I've seen the same results in hers and many other teachers' classes. The teachers at EHS are vested deeply in student success and continue to learn--themselves--new and better ways to not only deliver their lessons but also to give their students the kind of feedback that will help them grow, learn, and succeed. This doesn't make the previous methods of grading students wrong; when we know better, we do better!
Please read the letter and really think about what kind of teacher you would like YOUR child to have in the classroom during the formative years of high school when learning the skills that will prepare them for college and career is the most important achievement they can experience.
Dear Dr. Wipke,
My name is Julia McIntyre, and I teach 9th and 10th grade language arts at Eureka High School. I would like share with you my experiences practicing Standards-Based Grading.
Since I started working here three years ago, the expectation for teachers in my department has been to implement the guidelines of SBG in our classrooms. It is my pleasure to tell you that these guidelines help students to grow in wonderful ways! I am not sure that you get to see the inspiring phenomena that teachers who are following these best practices experience.
No, our students are not penalized for practicing. This is so freeing for students! They understand that it is okay to make mistakes because they know they will get feedback from their teacher on their practice before the “real deal.” Our students do know the difference between formative and summative work, and they understand the purpose.
Students seek teachers out for extra help, and sometimes, this means re-dos or re-takes. Re-takes involve help sessions with the teacher, extra practice, and in many cases, a different form of the summative test, quiz, or project. If a student knows he can illustrate mastery, who am I to deny him the opportunity? Students take risks with their learning because they do not have to experience the anxiety of the summative being the last chance to demonstrate what they know . I see, on a daily basis, struggling students learn tenacity because they are given the opportunity to do so. Saying that a test or quiz is the be-all and end-all does not teach perseverance - it teaches defeat. Students keep trying because they know they can. They are not taking the easy way out; they are working for mastery. This is quite the opposite of lowering expectations; students know that they have to practice a skill until they get it right.
Dr. Wipke, I have seen so many students flourish with these practices. They know that I, as their teacher, want them to be successful, because I give them every opportunity to do so. Every day, I have students come in for help, or to go over formatives again, or to rewrite an essay because they genuinely want to learn. My students know what it means to be advanced, proficient, basic, or below basic in a skill. Though these are just words to some, to my students, they are an indication of how far they have to go to achieve mastery. Students may not know this meaning in exactly those words, but they do know it. They strive to be advanced. They want to be experts. I know if I want to do what is best for them, I cannot deny them the opportunity to try.
In my heart, I know that what we are doing is what is best for our students. We are teaching them not to settle, not to give up, not to quit. This works. Students are learning, and they are being reflective of their own learning. They are looking at feedback and applying it. They aren’t just learning the “school skills” we are teaching them, but they are learning to be determined, to be curious, to work hard, to advocate for themselves, and to seek help when they need it. These are life skills, and this practice supports the teaching of them.
Thank you for all of your work in allowing me and my colleagues to continue to teach this way. Thank you for giving teachers the opportunity to help our students to grow in unimaginable ways. It is working.
Language Arts teacher
Eureka High School