Purdy schools explore 
evaluating without grades

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Middle school teachers focus on learning steps over letter evaluation

For a couple months, the Purdy Board of Education has conducted a book study on grades at the conclusion of its meetings.

The discussion has been spurred on by a few courses, mainly in the middle school, where teachers have experimented with identifying missed steps in the learning process, rather than just checking items wrong and scoring, Superintendent Steven Chancellor said in described the process.

Chancellor called the discussion valuable, though board members have had difficulty staying on topic.

School districts such as Monett and Cassville have explored standards-based approaches to grading. Chancellor called Purdy's approach different, attaching symbols to the evaluation to identify steps and improve feedback.

"Kids say they love it," Chancellor said. "Kids that may not be great performers in the classroom are doing it. Before, students might have said, 'If I get a 10 out of 30, that confirms I'm not good at this,' and they shut down. Now, we're seeing teachers partnering, talking with students about the difference. Students say, 'If I do this one step, I get a star.'"

Students have generally responded positively, asking to see the strategy expanded to all their classes.

"It makes parents nervous," Chancellor said. "They're asking, 'Are my children on the A honor roll or not?' We're playing with computer apps and other things so that parents can follow along. Teachers are making notes to kids and the parents can see that. This approach has a lot of promise, but it's not perfect."

Initially, the school board headed off in so many directions that Chancellor had to reassess how to refocus the dialogue.

"The board members' point of reference is their experience in school," Chancellor said. "I was talking about some abstract ideas and they said, 'I got a B is school. What does that mean?' I had to teach them the educational lingo so they don't get lost in the weeds.

"My goal is not to change a bunch of things, but to bring awareness to something that needs awareness. We had some passionate discussion about what we should be doing for our kids. It was great, but it was off-topic. Next meeting, we're going to focus on direct questions. If we can figure out how to communicate with parents, we will have met our goal."

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