Next week, I'm heading out to work with some teachers who have been trying to implement best practices in grading this year and are running into some issues. I'm very much looking forward to the discussion. The questions they sent ahead of time about assessment issues, power standards, and student motivation are thought-provoking in the most delightfully nerdy way. This will be an awesome day.
To prepare for this adventure, I've been doing some snooping, er, background research about the school. I've looked at their test scores, demographic breakdowns, and teacher information. I visited their website. I read the most recent edition of the school newsletter. I Googled.
What I've learned is that this is very high-performing school according to traditional measures: SAT scores, AP, Jay Mathews/Newsweek ranking, and so forth. The accolades are impressive. And yet, from the information the school directly shared with me, they have some very traditional problems with kids not doing homework or who are permitted to retake tests (but don't...or fail them on purpose first so that they can go back and retake them).
In some ways, this is not a surprise. From the external front this school is putting out, the school values performance (engaging in behaviors that result in grades/rewards). The teachers I'm going to work with, however, value mastery behaviors (learning for the sake of learning). Kids are therefore a bit confused. When the overall message from the school environment is "AP! WASL! Top School!" and within one classroom it is "Take risks! Keep trying!" there is going to be some dissonance.
It will be interesting to have a discussion about striking a balance. The fact is, success should be celebrated wherever it is found---from great AP scores to the most recent drama production to Joe/Jane student meeting standard after a long struggle with a concept. I don't know that we need to throw out our performance messages, but I think we need to emphasize other aspects more. How powerful is it when the lead story in the school newsletter reflects different learning opportunities happening at the school rather than the AP test breakdown? How do we communicate both the fact that WASL scores are well above district and state averages and also provide context for these to reflect learning? I think it can be done. We just have to be more purposeful in the making the outward messages we give to students and the community match our intentions about learning.