Eliminating Marking Periods

MarkingPeriods (1)

Our Story

Over the past several years, our school has been working to improve our grading and assessment practices. This included identifying flaws in traditional grading practices, and identifying more effective approaches. As a result of this work, we reached a point where marking periods became an obstacle to implementing our practices. More background about the origins of our story can be accessed here and here. Ultimately, we decided to remove marking periods entirely, and transition to a year-long grading period.

Two years ago, after meeting with and getting permission from our Superintendent, our school piloted a “continual grading period” in sixth grade. We gathered a lot of data in our first year, and solicited feedback from students, parents and teachers on multiple occasions. In addition, my assistant principal @Murphysmusings5 and I were lucky enough to get some guidance from grading guru’s Myron Dueck and Doug Reeves. This definitely helped with communication, planning and implementation.

After making some adjustments, last year we implemented our continual grading period into both sixth and seventh grades. Our second year of implementation went a little smoother, and the overall feedback we gathered was increasingly positive.

A Sign of Success

Last year, thanks to the amazing efforts of our teachers, we ended the year with no retentions, and not one student who qualified for summer school. I’ve always disliked summer school, feeling it was a poor approach and ineffective. A few years ago, my former assistant principal @mr_tbloom came up with the idea to “put summer school out of business.” We thought that if we implemented remediation and support programs throughout the year, addressing deficiencies and low grades before they grew too large to overcome, we could eliminate the need for summer school. Last year, that vision came to reality. It wasn’t the elimination of marking periods that led to this success, but rather the hard work and effective grading/assessment practices of our teachers which ultimately helped us reach our goal. However, removing marking periods removed a barrier to those practices, allowing them to be more successful.

The Death of Marking Periods

This year, we are implementing our year-long marking period into all grades in our school (sixth through eighth). We are putting to rest an outdated practice which creates arbitrary timelines for learning, and is an obstacle to effective grading and assessment practices. I am proud of the way our teachers have embraced this change, and excited about the success it has yielded. Our staff showed a willingness to take a risk, and so far, it has paid off. Trying to change traditional, entrenched practices such as grading, is often seen as a daunting, if not dangerous task. However, as leaders and educators we have to be willing to challenge the status quo, take a risk, and embrace change. It won’t always be successful, but when it is, it’s pretty cool.

Do marking periods still serve a purpose in your school? Are they an obstacle to effective grading and assessment practices? What are your thoughts?

 

 

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A Learning Pathways Approach to Professional Development

A Learning Pathways Approach to PD

In May, I published a post on Leading Professional Development. This post emphasized our school’s need and readiness for a more personalized approach to professional development for our teachers. This approach has been implemented in more schools recently. From micro-credentialing, or badges, to complete free choice. One of the dangers of this approach is having teachers pursue a hodgepodge of topics that are disconnected and/or not aligned to building or district goals. As @RossCoops31 writes in his blog post, “We need to balance choice with vision.” I agree a balanced approach is necessary, and a school should only implement a personalized learning approach if it is balanced with other department/district professional development aligned to its vision, mission and goals. Feeling confident in the quality of department and district professional development, and its alignment with our vision/goals, was a prerequisite for our school choosing to pursue this model for our building PD.

After soliciting topic ideas from teachers, we narrowed down our Learning Pathways into the following seven topics: School/Classroom Culture; Foster Traits of an Effective Learner (3 small groups); Growth Mindset; Project-Based Learning; Social-Emotional Learning; Technology Integration; Digital Citizenship. We then organized teachers into small groups of no more than 4-8, based on their pathway choices. We organized groups with a focus on creating diverse representation of grade level and content areas.

My assistant principal, @MurphysMusings5 and I, then met with our SILT (School Instructional Leadership Team) and identified teacher leaders that would facilitate the work for each pathway. We are extremely fortunate to have a large group of effective teacher leaders, which we have been encouraging and empowering the past few years. This was a major factor in giving us the confidence to take our learning pathways approach. During our meeting we shared a Learning Pathways planning guide. This included guidance on creating norms and goals, identifying materials and resources that will be used, and developing a plan. It also includes ideas for how the work can be shared at the end of the year. This guide was designed to assist our teacher leaders with the facilitation of the work their groups would be pursuing.

The most encouraging thing so far has been teachers who have already begun work on their pathway before the school year has even begun. Teachers have shared planning documents, access to their Google Classroom page they will be using, research they’ve found, and resources they would like to pursue or purchase. This evidence of motivation shows signs of a good start. I am excited to see the learning and growth this empowering approach yields throughout the year. I plan to update our progress in future posts.

What thoughts or feedback do you have on this approach so far? Has your school tried a similar approach? If so, what guidance do you have for our school on our journey?